Lots of corporations use stories to connect with their customers – think Kashi cereal commercials featuring their employees traveling to remote places around the world telling stories about what it takes to produce their products, or Tom’s canvas shoe story about why their founder donates a pair of canvas shoes for every pair bought. Similarly, fundraisers have known forever that donors are more likely to make charitable contributions when the appeal features specific stories about the people their donations are helping instead of facts and figures about a problem or need.
Stories are a powerful and authentic way to communicate – and I’d add, the ability to tell stories is a basic leadership technique that needs to be learned and honed. In Paul Smith’s book Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire, he notes that “if you’re trying to decide on a five-year strategic plan, you don’t need a good story. But when you have a new strategic plan and you need the staff to understand the vision, buy in and work towards it, then you need a good story.”
So how do you go about building stories and using more of them in meetings, presentations, and even networking (what story do you tell about yourself)? The first and most basic step is to create a story file and start populating it with stories as they come to you. I’ve been doing this for years and I’ve got stories for lots of different things. Start thinking back on your stories – what stories do you tell frequently; perhaps you can ask someone close to you to ‘remind’ you.
We’re not all natural storytellers – some people are just good at it, but more frequently we need to work at it. Some best practices for telling stories are:
- keep them short: good stories should be no more than four minutes and lots can work in under 2 minutes
- keep them simple: it’s a lot harder to tell a simple story than a complex one; you need to keep peeling the story back until you’ve cut alway all the jargon and gotten it down to its most basic form
- keep them emotional: without emotions stories run the real risk of being boring; include details about overcoming challenges and celebrating things – make people care
- keep practicing until you have it just right