Napoleon Bonaparte once said – what is history but a story most of us have agreed upon.
Our most precious memories and experiences have a story behind them. When meeting old friends or loved ones we sit down and talk about the good old times and soon enough many interesting stories pop up. Our favourite movies and advertisements tell stories that resonate with us.
Stories have existed since long before recorded history. From Aesop’s fables, Jataka’s, Panchatantra, Karadi tales to a modern-day Steve Jobs, each one of them told us some unforgettable stories. With the passage of time, the desire to hear stories hasn’t changed, nor has the longing to tell stories.
Today, kids can barely sit through a class, but spend hundreds of hours devouring Harry Potter books. Hardly 15 minutes into an office meeting and everybody is either yawning or spaced out or fiddling on their phones but the same office goers can sit glued to their screen for hours together binge watching the latest show on Netflix. Stories are the best way to connect with people. Stories inspire, teach, delight, empower and entertain. Stories are less likely to be resisted and more likely to be shared. In whatever form, they’re created and whoever its creators are, great stories always hit home.
Storytelling is critically important for leaders. Because, first and foremost, leaders are in the business of selling. They are selling a vision, a project, a dream, a place, a need. In short, they are selling a better and brighter future.
Infact, way back in 1970, Nike designated their executives “Corporate Storytellers” as part of their corporate culture. The stories the company leaders told ranged from recounting the company history to inspiring tales of people simply getting things accomplished. By helping their employees understand the company’s past and culture, these stories helped Nike shape its future. Imagine hearing the story of Nike founder Bill Bowerman labouring away in his workshop one afternoon when he gets an unusual idea of pouring molten shoe rubber into the family waffle iron and voila the famous Nike waffle sole is born! The telling of stories like this reflected “the spirit of innovation” at the shoe company.
A good story holds our attention. It makes us marvel with awe and wonder at things we imagine. It touches us and makes us captive. That’s why stories are such incredible communication tools for leaders.
So how can leaders become better at story telling?
Open your mind and ears – Whether they know it or not, every single person has a story to tell. Listening to people and observing them is the constant source of new stories. If one approaches people, places and conversations with an open mind one can find hidden nuggets of umpteen interesting stories. Everyone and everything has a story to tell so long as you are keeping an open mind.
Practice, practice, practice – Prepare beforehand. Run it in your head. Pause to explore its appeal, catch lines and visuals. Steve Jobs could turn his MacWorld keynote talks into an effortless art form only because of his intense preparation and gruelling rehearsals.
Don’t get too detailed – While it is important to provide some details to create an immersive experience for your audience; you must ensure those details don’t stand out so much that they detract from the story you’re trying to tell. Steer clear from graphs and charts and tables. No one remembers that stuff. There’s nothing more mind numbing than hearing a bunch of facts and figures, numbers, jargons and buzzwords bombarded at you. There is a reason why sports is far more popular than science. Sports is a story but science unfortunately is mostly information, data, proofs and equations. Therefore, when faced with a receptive audience resist the temptation to wear your “guru” hat.
Twist in the tale – Surprise your audiences, make them curious. Even better shock them. The twist in the tale need not always happen at the end. A paradoxical opening statement can instantly grab the audience’s attention. There is nothing more boring than a predictable story. Add an element of flair, drama, emotion and conflict to your stories otherwise people will view your stories as just an annoying interruption.
Authenticity is key – Your stories need to come from an authentic place. You must tell your stories with unflinching honesty. Half-baked transparency is boring. Flaws make stories interesting, and more relatable. Also , don’t censor out the naughty bits.
Today, there are more stories to tell than ever. But ironically, storytelling is slowly becoming a lost art in many businesses. Everyone has become so attuned to creating dreary, dull, yawn inducing slide show presentations. This is a habit leaders need to snap out of immediately. Stories can also be a life saver too as Scheherazade found out much to her relief in Arabian Nights.
A good and well-presented story is successful in reaching its objective and remembered long after over others. Reaching its listeners, holding the interest and crossing all age barriers is the impact of an effective storytelling.
Great stories happen to those who can tell them – Ira Glass