A good story can positively influence your audience – whether they are employees, stakeholders, customers or consumers. Stories have the power to impact people more than what charts, graphs or data can do. Stories can appeal to our heads, our hearts, and create connections and communicate origins, purpose and values.
My focus here is on how to use storytelling in business to influence, motivate and inspire your teams. In fact, this is often one of the biggest challenges facing senior leaders I coach.
Why Storytelling is Important
People are emotional creatures, and stories are a great way of connecting with people since good storytelling is so emotive. That’s what makes the great books and movies they tell such engaging and emotive stories. Have you ever had feedback that you need to be more motivating or inspiring? If so, storytelling could be the answer. Here are some positives to adding storytelling to your business technique repertoire:
- You appeal to the emotions of your employees, stakeholders or customers.
- You share part of yourself with others, to connect personally.
- You make your point in an entertaining or descriptive way.
- You can merge data, facts, fun, story and purpose together.
- You can simplify complex ideas and concepts, which is especially helpful for change and innovation.
- You show flexibility in communication style, thereby being more relatable to different types of people.
Storytelling in Business
The way to start storytelling is to have a small inventory of 3–5 in your mind to use when the situation warrants. For example, when a colleague says to you that they are struggling to give needed feedback to one of their team, tell them the story (which you’ve already prepared) of when you had a similar situation and what you learned (in addition to showing them the feedback chapter in this book). Or if one of your employees made a visible (but not a gross) mistake, share your story of when your mistake was a growth opportunity and how it improved your performance dramatically. Sharing your story is a way of motivating and inspiring people in difficult situations to excel.
Want to hear the secret of storytelling? It’s about thinking of your stories before you need to share them. That’s right; plan them in advance. The process is the same for your professional or personal stories, depending on your audience. It’s not as complicated as the following nine steps imply. I’ve just broken it down in detail to walk you through the process step-by-step.
- Peak moments – Think about your professional journey, what have been the highlights, low points, key lessons learned and crossroads along the way. Think about what matters to you as a leader and where that purpose or motivation came from. If you’re struggling, think of some things you’d like a graduate to know about leadership and remember where you learned that lesson in your own career.
- Your situation – From the specific events and moments identified above, think about your situation – your thoughts, feelings, motivations and relationships with those involved in each of those peak moments.
- Lessons – Identify the lessons you learned from each of those peak moments. In other words, what is the moral of each of your peak moments? This will become the ‘so what’ of your story and be useful in identifying which story to share and when to share it.
- Choose – Which topics, values or morals are the most applicable to your current leadership situation? Which might be helpful to the challenges your team members are facing now?
- Create – Take the topic or moral from above and create the story, including the situation, the learning moment, the feelings and the ‘so what’ or moral.
- Elaborate – Put in more emotion (you probably have skimped on feelings as so many people do), share the angst and the light bulb feeling, include specific details to add flavour and paint a picture, and lastly, reveal how that transformed you from that moment on.
- Refine – Delete some of the factual filler or extra words. The length of your story should be about 3 to 5 minutes. You could have a slightly longer version depending on the application.
- Practise – by yourself. First, read it over and feel the story. Then read it out loud to hear yourself say it (you don’t want the first time you hear it to be when another hears it). Read it in front of a mirror, occasionally looking at your face in the mirror. This increases your comfort level further. Hone the message and wording, if necessary.
- Deliver – This isn’t about memorizing a story, it’s about knowing the structure and flow of what you want to convey. Try it out with a low-risk person and use your newfound awareness sensing skills to judge the impact. Or you could ask for feedback! Also, watch how others tell stories – what works and what doesn’t for them.
The Power of Storytelling
Authentic, impactful storytelling comes from your heart. It’s your expression of your experiences. It shows your foibles, your passion and your self-reflection. Where people so often go wrong is that they try and make up an inspiring story; which can end up being more fabrication than authenticity. They also strip out the emotions and context to communicate the facts, transforming a story into a patronizing one-line instruction such as, “I once missed a crucial deadline too and learned from it so now I ensure key stakeholders are engaged well beforehand.” Or as another client’s profound experience of having a suicide in their team would have been, “I once almost experienced burnout and learned to pace myself and not neglect looking after myself.” They could have read that in a book for the amount of personal inspiration it conveys.
Feel it – tell the story, ensuring you remember and feel the emotions of the time you are talking about. Feel the tiredness and relentless pressure you felt when approaching burnout (if we’re referencing Anthony’s story) and then the relief and self-compassion of coming out the other side.
Pace – change the pace during your story, use pauses, make eye contact, breathe. These things create variety for the listener, allow the emotion to come through and keep you present in the story rather than ‘just recounting the story’ as if memorized.
Tone of voice – what’s your usual tone of voice? What adjectives would you use to describe how you communicate – Funny? Colloquial? Polite? Chatty? Authoritative? Energizing? Expert? Reflective? Factual? I describe my tone of voice as direct and succinct. And I change it up sometimes depending on the audience.
Elements of Storytelling that can be the Cherry on Top
Front-line staff, those people in touch with customers or consumers, have great stories just from doing their jobs. Leaders can tap into those stories to influence other senior leaders and stakeholders.
Have a strong end to our story. We’ve all experienced movies and books with lacklustre endings that just fizzle out. Underline the hope or improvement the listener will experience, what’s the deeper take away for them to embrace?
Storytelling is an art, it’s not a technique or process although I’ve tried to break it down somewhat for you. Who in your organization does it well with whom you can partner? What stories have you seen told by other leaders or presenters outside your organization? Have a look at what they do for ideas and inspiration. Marketing departments and advertising agencies can often be good options for learning.
Telling stories can happen in various forms – verbally, audio, written or digitally.
Imagine the next time you want to influence or inspire, step into your audience’s shoes and share some of yourself with a story that plants the seed for them to consider what you’re suggesting. Stories are powerful ways of motivating and influencing people, especially those in your team with whom you have a relationship already.
Where could you benefit from developing your storytelling ability to motivate and inspire?
Book a complimentary coaching session with me here to explore how you can better influence and motivate your team.