Ask any group of leaders what robs them of sleep, and you’ll likely eventually hear something about challenges related to connecting with their team or peers—and struggles with how to more gracefully guide others through the stresses of change that are inevitable and inherent to any organization. Successfully managing through these issues requires finesse and acknowledgement of the importance of possessing some of the more intangible soft skills. One of those capabilities may seem insignificant on its face, but when appropriately used can actually wield enormous influence: Storytelling.
For many of us, our long-ago childhood bedtime rituals frequently included a story to coax us into our dreams. We revelled in the cozy simplicity of the voice of a parent or loved one reading aloud, making up a tall tale or sharing a treasured vignette about when they were once small themselves. Everything else would become still, and we listened intently—our minds filling with images and ideas that would usually last well beyond the telling.
Fast-forward to now, and it’s likely you still love a great story. We get pulled into them in spite of ourselves—on social media, television, movies or perhaps just overhearing someone while waiting in line at the DMV. National Public Radio even names their best, most captivating stories “Driveway Moments” because they’re so interesting we stay in our cars to listen to the end after we’ve already arrived at our destinations.
Work environments are no different, and leaders who are good storytellers have a real edge when striving to be relatable to team members and peers. The right story at the right time can be extraordinarily powerful. It has the potential to generate emotion, energy and establish a personal connection. Well-executed stories can frame up what needs to be learned or achieved by allowing listeners to create a relevant vision in their own minds that is memorable and relatable to a broader subject.
“Good stories surprise us. They make us think and feel. They stick in our minds and help us remember ideas and concepts in a way that a PowerPoint crammed with bar graphs never can.” - Joe Lazauskas and Shane Snow, The Storytelling Edge: How to Transform Your Business, Stop Screaming into the Void, and Make People Love You
Not everyone is a natural storyteller, but leaders worth following know a great story has the potential to jog memories well into the future and can influence behavior and actions in a positive way—or even reinforce the organization’s vision and values. With practice and intention, there are several techniques that can help almost anyone craft good stories:
- Every story needs an identifiable beginning, middle and end—and the best stories bring it all home by tying the end back to the beginning in some form of resolution or connection. Open the story with a bit of context so people understand why it’s being told.
- Make sure the subject of the story is identifiable to the audience—and it shouldn’t always be about you. If you do talk about yourself, a bit of self-effacing humor can help curb what might otherwise been seen as egotistical or self-promoting.
- Stories about failures overcome are highly relatable. We’ve all felt the crush of defeat or embarrassment and it’s commonly accepted that people learn more from mistakes than successes.
- Appeal to emotion when appropriate. Not only does this connect the storyteller to the audience, people tend to remember how someone or something made them feel.
- When done telling a story, allow a moment for it to sink in. (Just like brief silence in a negotiation is a powerful tool, so is a moment of reflection after a story.)
At Milestone Leadership, we know people never outgrow a great story, whether it be around a campfire or on a long road trip—a sermon or a podcast—or simply in the breakroom over coffee. We hope you’ll tell yours.
“A well-told Story is a gift to the reader/listener/viewer because it teaches them how to confront their own discomforts.” - Shawn Coyne, The Story Grid