A leader’s key responsibility is being able to communicate to the people he or she leads, to important clients, and to a multitude of stakeholders. All too often, however, CEOs, business owners, and managers use language that’s easily misinterpreted or they rely on a litany of facts and figures that are difficult to digest and act upon. As a result, they fail to get the message across, leaving their various audiences confused or unclear about the organization’s strategy and long-range goals.
Human beings are hard-wired to absorb stories, both for entertainment and as a way to process information. A leader who can tell a story – about themselves, about the business, about a great customer interaction – has the advantage over others who attempt to persuade and motivate via dry-as-dust PowerPoint presentations or clinical-sounding case studies.
If your job as a leader is persuading others, it’s time to develop or hone your storytelling skills in order to get your message across. Here are tips to becoming a great business storyteller:
Focus on the take-away message. Each story should have one message you want to leave with your audience. As you craft your narrative, decide on the one idea you want people to remember. Frame it in your mind like a headline and go from there.
Share the WIIFM. Your employees, customers, shareholders and others will be interested in the story you tell, particularly to the extent that they see its relevance to them. Above all, remember, you’re not telling a story about you – except insofar as it can spotlight a key message people can understand and relate to. Everyone wants to know, “What’s in it for me?”
Think beginning, middle and end. Every story has a starting point, a middle and an ending. The trick is determining the most intriguing way to begin your story, what details and events to include as part of the story’s arc, and how to wrap things up. Once you start thinking this way, you’ll see new dimensions to every message you seek to communicate – in meetings, presentations, even one-on-one encounters.
Look for conflict or challenge. In every compelling story, there’s conflict of some kind – between individuals, ideas, or forces. What obstacles have you surmounted to be an effective leader? How has your business dealt with conflict in the marketplace? As in a great movie, the struggle to overcome a challenge will resonate with your audience.
Edit yourself. Think about all the boring stories you’ve heard at a dinner party or other social setting. Maybe the core of the story held some interest, but the person telling it got bogged down in pointless digressions. While crafting your story, be ruthless about eliminating all the boring stuff. You have only a matter of minutes in which to engage an audience and make the impression you’re looking for. Get rid of extraneous details that lead nowhere and carry no emotional impact.
Incorporate other peoples’ stories. If your message involves a community of some sort – business, social, etc. – make use of what other people have told you. Incorporate their feelings, memories and personal accounts in your story. This adds textures and layers to the account, making it richer and more appealing.
Practice telling your story. As with a speech or elevator pitch, practice makes perfect. Rehearse and refine your story, then try it out on a friendly audience (like a spouse or good friend). Telling your story out loud will give you a better sense of its pace and tempo – where it gets exciting, where it tends to bog down – and constructive feedback will also help you get it in shape.
Lots of people think they can tell a good story. But when it has the potential to boost morale, increase productivity and persuade customers, you want to be sure you can do it yourself.