The art of storytelling

storytelling wordle

“Could you please tell us more about yourself?”

Since roughly the dawn of time, leaders have recognized the power of stories to clarify, mollify, unite and inspire. In the past 20 years, as storytelling has been adopted as a “management thing,” we’ve been deluged with books, workshops, conferences, and TED talks on the subject.

As  Herminia Ibarra and Kent Lineback mentioned in their article “What’s your story” on Harvard Business Review magazine, by “story” we don’t mean “something made up to make a bad situation look good.” Rather, we’re talking about accounts that are deeply true and so engaging that listeners feel they have a stake in our success. Without a story, there was no context to render career facts meaningful, no promise of a third act in which achieving a goal (getting a job, for instance) would resolve the drama.

Being a good storyteller is important. In the research that Center for Creative Leadership conducted showed that successful senior leaders are very adept learners, doers, and teachers.  They possess learning agility in adapting to different ways of approaching problems; they are excellent at making things happen through vision and delegation, and they are good teachers of others.  Storytelling is more than just telling what happened. It is a reflection of agility, a window into how things get done, and always has a key learning piece for teaching.

Moreover, storytelling does not only serve personal purposes but it is usually used by companies to generate more business, explode on the scene with a new offering or launch new products. Paige Arnof-Fenn says in her article on Forbes that facts are boring but putting facts into a context with emotion makes them memorable.  The descriptions make the facts come to life and keep us engaged. Anybody can find the facts on Google but data starts to run together if there is no context around the information. Creating a story with those facts is what helps them stand out.  Lastly, creating and telling a story that resonates also helps us believe in ourselves. We need a good story to reassure us, to motivate and keep working hard to accomplish our goals.

For those reasons it is important every individual to be a good storyteller and extends the idea of his vision.  Especially, when it comes to persuading others, rhetoric has its limits — it can sound didactic and boring. Stories are a much more effective way to convince others of your point of view. Here are three tips for shaping and telling a story that influences:

  • Know your message. Underneath every good story, there must be a point. Remember your message and weave your narrative around it.
  • Use the right example. Your story should center around a character that your audience likes and relates to.
  • Support with facts. Your story is only effective if it is based on and supported by facts and figures. At the beginning or end, share relevant data to convince your audience that your point of view matters.

Tom Searcy mentions in his article on Inc. that in order to craft a great sales story, you need to:

  • Begin with the end in mind: What is it that you want the person to do at the end of the story?
  • Have great characters: These could include yourself, your clients, your prospects, or someone else–but your audience has to care about them.
  • Give your characters goals and a vision: Identify something they’re trying to accomplish.
  • Give your characters obstacles: These should reflect real life so the audience can engage. Never let your characters get it right the first time.

Here are some extra resources to master your skills on Storytelling: