Want to advance your career or grow your business? Become a better storyteller. Stories that are well told stick in people’s minds, they connect us and they are often much easier to relate to than any other form of communication. To get started on the storytelling journey you need to know where to look for great stories, how to tell a great story and recognize where storytelling can go wrong.
The search for stories: After working as a news reporter for more than 20 years, my brain naturally goes in search of stories and story lines. So, how do you develop the story-searching mindset? A good way to understand it is to think, “How would what I’m seeing here be best understood by someone who is NOT here right now?” When you see or hear about something that excites you – a great customer story, a situation where a product exceeds expectations or a mistake that is well-handled – immediately think, “How do we tell this story?” If you find people on your team talking about something, maybe that’s a story that needs to go out to the rest of the world.
One of the best ways to get the ball rolling is to encourage story collection. Start meetings with the question, “Who heard a good story in the last week?” Let everyone on the team know they can be the source of a great story. Also, not every story needs to be directly about you or your products. If you can relate a great story to something meaningful to your audience, mission accomplished! Lastly, realize the story may be aspirational. Some of the most effective stories I have created for clients started with the word, “Imagine.” If you can paint a picture of what could be in the audience’s mind the story has done its job.
How to tell a story: Too often we put an unfair amount of weight on the storytelling process, fearing what we come up with is not perfect. Great storytelling is often a journey – try it one way, check the reaction, then try it another way and see what happens. Great stories often follow an arc, with an element of surprise along the way. They are also relatable. The best stories hold touchpoints the audience can readily understand and connect with. Perhaps you’ll find someone on your team who has storytelling skill. Great! Make sure others on the team hear them relate their stories so they can learn.
Storytelling gone wrong: One key rule? Less is more. If you find the story going for more than 90 seconds you have gone too long! Also, listen for stories that carry a negative message to a particular audience. Stay away!
Stories that are too “inside baseball” also can be a turn-off. A personalized message is great, but one that is too specific will miss the mark. Truth is also a valuable commodity. You and your team need to tell the same story and anything that veers from truth can blow your credibility in a split second.
A few years back I helped create a story for a builder who had a chance to construct an iconic university structure. We put together a story imagining a young girl seeing this building years from now and being inspired to pursue a career she never would have considered. Stories can take you to a place that doesn’t even exist yet. Make the New Year your year of being a better storyteller.