The Power of Storytelling

By now it’s common knowledge that storytelling is a great way for leaders to convey a message, share their experiences, or inspire an audience.  Listen to just about any speech, and if your attention starts to drift, see if you don’t come right back to the speaker if they start telling a story.  That’s how powerful stories are – we’re programmed from a young age to perk up and listen, waiting to see how the story will end. In fact, stories will be what your audience or team remembers about the speech or presentation, long after the powerpoint slides have faded or your statistics have grown outdated.  Stories simply stick with people, and provide an easy way for them to cascade a message to their teams.

Good storytelling isn’t hard, and anyone can master the technique of weaving stories into your act if you’re doing public speaking or presenting.  That said, when incorporating storytelling into your repertoire, remember to:

  • Connect the story to your key messages (metaphorically, it should illustrate your points)
  • Build a beginning, middle and end of the story
  • Ensure that it’s culturally and politically correct
  • Make it brief – the best stories take only a minute or two to deliver
  • Keep it in your audience’s frame of reference

What type of stories work best? Examples from your own experience always get high marks, especially if they’re representing you in a humble or “I learned from my mistakes” perspective. Lessons from great leaders throughout history work well, too – to illustrate what other leaders struggled with or achieved. Clearly, lessons learned within your own company are a big hit, because they’re so relevant.

There are a lot of websites and books that can provide more context if you want to go deeper on this subject.  One that I like is Business Fables, Fairy Tales & Management Lessons, which includes over 100 common fables and stories that have surprising relevance to what’s going on in the world today.

The next time you have a speech or a presentation to give, find room for a few stories, and watch your audience respond when you say those magical words: “let me tell you a story…”