Organizational management research suggests that some of the most successful business leaders are also adept storytellers. Effective leadership requires skillful communication, and one of the most powerful ways to communicate is through the use of storytelling.
Storytelling creates authentic connections between speakers and their audience. It can help motivate customers, investors, and prospective employees to engage with your brand and company mission. This is referred to as leadership storytelling, and if you want your business to grow, you need to make sure all your key managers do it well.
The seven steps below can help you train your management team to employ storytelling to engage employees and other stakeholders, and grow your bottom line.
Step 1: Create Enthusiasm for Storytelling
Getting your high-potential employees to understand the power and potential of storytelling is the first step in helping them master this valuable workplace skill.
Underscore the ability of leadership storytelling to:
- Motivate others
- Build trust
- Build your brand
- Transmit values
- Build stronger, more cohesive teams
- Share knowledge
It can also be used as a powerful recruitment tool. Job seekers want to be a part of something exciting and consequential and brand stories help to provide shared aspirations and values.
Step 2: Employ Effective Teaching Methods
As you coach your employees to become better communicators through the use of storytelling, keep in mind these key elements of effective teaching:
- Clear expectations
- Opportunities for practice
- Frequent check-ins
- Positive feedback
- Encouragement and recognition of effort
Step 3: Focus on the Value of Leadership Storytelling
Injecting stories into presentations can help contextualize data and make your messaging more memorable. Stories can serve a number of functions within a business context:
- As an opening strategy to gain your audience’s attention.
- To establish credibility, authority, and relatability.
- To illustrate complicated concepts.
- To help audiences remember key point you are attempting to convey.
- To end with a flourish that will help drive home the message you want potential customers or investors to think about after your engagement with them ends.
Step 4: Define the Elements of a Good Story
Narratives differ from other forms of information due to their structure, which consists of a beginning, middle, and end. In addition, most stories also contain all or most of the following elements:
A protagonist. The listener needs someone to care about—a main character or hero. The story must be about a person (or sometimes a group of people) whose struggles we can relate to.
An inciting incident. Sometimes called a catalyst, these events occur near the beginning of a story, compelling the protagonist to take action.
Challenges and obstacles. In the middle of the story, obstacles produce conflict, tension, and drama that force the protagonist to change in an essential way. These trials test, reveal, and shape the protagonist’s character.
Turning point and resolution. Near the end of the story, the hero enters a point of no return, inspiring them to come up with an innovative solution to their main problem.
Step 5: Focus on Structure and Sequencing
Encourage your managers to study exemplary leadership storytelling by watching Ted Talks, especially those presented by people in your field. As they watch these master storytellers, encourage them to ask questions about the presentations they are watching:
- How do effective speakers construct the stories they tell?
- In what order do they tell their stories?
- How do they build toward their conclusions?
- What emotions do their stories prompt in the audience?
Step 6: Encourage Revision and Practice
Once your employees have constructed a draft story that employs all or most of the elements in Step 4 and asked the questions in Step 5 to craft an optimal order, it’s time to finetune. As you work with your employees on revision, focus on the following leadership storytelling best practices:
- Concision and Clarity: Encourage your employees to pinpoint the most important take-aways from any given speech or presentation and help them trim extraneous information.
- Emotional Connection: The reason people remember stories long after they forget facts and data is because stories engage emotions. In particular, telling a personal narrative in a business setting can make you more relatable and your subject matter more accessible.
- Focus on Audience: Work with your employees on repurposing stories for a range of audiences. For example, you might have them structure their leadership story in a more casual, personal manner for a companywide event and in a more formal way for a presentation to potential customers or investors.
Keep in mind that most people have a great deal of anxiety about public speaking. The first few times a new manager attempts to use storytelling as part of a presentation, it’s likely that it won’t go perfectly. Remain encouraging and provide gentle, constructive advice on how to improve.
Step 7: Keep Sight of the Purpose of Leadership Storytelling
As you work to perfect your employees’ storytelling technique, don’t lose sight of why you’re investing so much time in developing this skill. Stories are useful because they are the best way to provide answers to questions that are key to all business transactions and relationships:
- Why is your business unique?
- Why is yours the product they want to buy, the idea they want to invest in, or the workplace they want to become a part of?
Storytelling is an excellent way to address these concerns in ways that build trust in your brand, spark interest and enthusiasm for your products and services, and inspire enthusiasm and loyalty among current and future hires.
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