Communicate to Win: 023 – Tell Me a Story

Previously, I looked the five stages an audience goes through – from unawareness to action. In order to engage an audience, you need to make an emotional connection between them and your presentation. You can accomplish this through storytelling.

Storytelling has a long history of entertaining listeners and moving them to action. We can trace it back thousands of years to the days of the shaman around the tribal fire. He recorded the oral history of the tribe, encoding its beliefs and values via tales of great heroes, triumphs and tragedies. He wove the life-or-death lessons necessary to perpetuate the community’s survival into these stories: We don’t go hunting in the Great Wood—not since that terrible day when three of our bravest were killed there by unknown beasts. Here’s how it happened…

Storytelling plays a similar role today. Stories have the power to captivate and educate. We think in narratives. Audiences remember stories because they create lasting images. Our lives revolve around stories. We learn many of our values and create and share bonds via stories. People often “get it” through stories.

Joanna Slant, author of Using Stories and Humor, claims the ability to tell stories separates mediocre presenters from the great ones. Time after time, she contends, speakers who are invited to reappear before the same audience are asked, “What story are you going to tell us?” In some cases, presenters are hired solely because a client wants the audience to hear a certain story the speaker loves to tell.

The spirit that motivates most great storytellers is “I want you to feel what I feel,” and the effective narrative is designed to make this happen. That’s how the information is bound to the experience and rendered unforgettable. But, sharing emotion isn’t easy. As Teri Schwartz, the Dean of Loyola Marymount University’s Film and Television School, points out, “It demands generosity on the part of the storyteller.”

Why is this the case? Storytelling often requires you to be vulnerable! This is a challenge for many leaders, managers, salespeople and entrepreneurs. By willingly exposing anxieties, fears and shortcomings, the storyteller allows the audience to identify with him or her and brings them to understanding. They have a catharsis, which ultimately spurs them to action. This is the challenge for the business storyteller. He or she must enter listeners’ hearts, where their emotions live.

Our minds are relatively open, but we guard our hearts with zeal, knowing their power to move us. Although the mind may be part of your target, the heart is the bull’s eye. To reach it, you must become a visionary and craft a story to display your own open heart.

Storytelling is one of the world’s most powerful tools for achieving astonishing results. For a true leader, storytelling is action-oriented. It is a force for turning dreams into goals and then into results. It is a way to demonstrate why the audience should believe YOU and therefore follow your recommendations.

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