Telling Stories that Stick: 6 Noteworthy Tips
“Never underestimate the power of a good story”
- John Kotter
Good stories are powerful because they are “sticky” – they are more memorable because they are told in a way that evokes an emotional response from the listener. More and more, great storytelling is being recognized as a leadership competency and, like any other skill, this is a competency that you can learn, practice, improve, and master.
As business people, we try our best to convey messages practically and on a rational level. We forget that everyone (yes, everyone), relates and responds to a story that touches them emotionally. Using emotive dialogue to invoke action or change can, more often than not, be more effective than using rational, fact based dialogue. Telling stories is the best way to connect with another human’s emotions. Harvard Business School professor, Dr. John Kotter and change management guru, also says that:
“Over the years, I have become convinced that we learn best – and change – from hearing stories that strike a chord within us…Those in leadership positions who fail to grasp or use the power of stories risk failure for their companies and for themselves.”
For me, the best way to build rapport, captivate and deliver key messages is through telling stories about my experiences. Often, the stories I tell involve a failure of some kind, part of the lesson includes how I arrived at the failure and, more importantly, what I learned.
My stories also can be self-deprecating and expose a weakness or insecurity. Being honest and self-aware in your story can expose a true sense of self (you are a human, after all) as well as convey the message that you are not afraid of taking risks and/or failing. It’s also important to be able to set aside ego and admit it when things don’t work out the way you had hoped.
On the other hand, sharing success stories that include unexpected challenges and difficulties along the way shows how you were able to troubleshoot, be analytical, change course and adapt to the circumstance. When I tell a story, I like to include a strong element of humour while describing the journey toward the key message and the lesson learned.
Here are six noteworthy tips for telling engaging stories:
Start with a message. Every storytelling exercise should begin by asking: Who is my audience and what is the message I want to share with them? Determine your ultimate message – from here you can sort out the best way to illustrate your point.
Mine your own experiences. The best storytellers look to their own memories and life experiences for ways to illustrate their message. What events in your life make you believe in the idea you are trying to share? At first, you may be uncomfortable about sharing personal details at work, but anecdotes that illustrate struggle, failure, and barriers overcome are what demonstrate that leaders are authentic and accessible.
Don’t make yourself the hero. Don’t make yourself the star of your own story. You can be a central figure, but the ultimate focus should be on people you know, lessons you’ve learned, or events you’ve witnessed. And whenever possible, you should endeavor to make your audience (e.g. employees or colleagues) the hero.
Highlight a struggle. A good story requires a challenge or conflict to make it interesting. A story without a challenge simply isn’t very interesting. Is there a challenge that needs to be overcome? A change-resistant stakeholder group that needs to be brought on side? A tight timeline that needs to be met? And don’t be afraid to suggest the road ahead will be difficult. Telling a story helps your audience become partners in overcoming challenges and encourages them to join you on the journey.
Keep it simple. Not every story you tell has to be a surprising, edge-of-your-seat epic. Some of the most successful and memorable stories are relatively simple and straightforward. Don’t let needless details detract from your core message. Work from the principle of “less is more.”
Practice, practice, practice. Storytelling requires repeated effort to master. Practice with friends, loved ones, and trusted colleagues to hone your message, and use tone, pace, and cadence to create a powerful, memorable story.
I am interested to hear from you about how you tell stories to convey key messages. What do you think is important about storytelling? Do you have a story about storytelling? Connect with my through email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through social media by clicking on the icons below.