Originally posted on Forbes.com
by Todd Wilms
It is not ironic in that the two business leaders that I most admire and have had the pleasure of working for were great storytellers. It is also telling that both started out in the entertainment field – one in magic and then later representing “talent,” (he is awash of great dinner time stories about uncomfortable celebrity requests and of meeting some of the nicest people on the planet) and the other was trained in standup (more the how-to-tell-a-great-story type and not the one-liner type). As I was given a heads-up that Forbes was compiling their Celebrity 100 list again this year, I reviewed their ranked list and found that once I filtered sports stars, teen pop, Charlie Sheen, and supermodels, that most of the remaining influencers were storytellers. They fell nicely into several categories – Talk-Shows (Oprah, Ellen DeGeneres, Ryan Seacrest, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and new comer Chelsea Handler), Movies and TV (James Cameron, Sandra Bullock, Johnny Depp, Steven Spielberg, Tyler Perry, Michael Bay, George Lucas, etc), Music (Lady Gaga, Madonna, and Jay-Z,) and Comedy (Jerry Seinfeld, Tina Fey, George Lopez, and my favorite – Glenn Beck). What they all have in common is that they each – in their own way – tell a really great story. They engage us for that duration of time and transport us someplace else, but always where they want to take us. That is leadership. Storytelling has taken on greater prominence and is “the new black” for leadership and influence today.
Storytelling filters out the noise
We are deluged with our popular media. I am writing this on my Virgin Atlantic flight over the middle of the US, connected to in-flight WiFi, on my laptop, listening to my iPod, my blackberry and my Android phone tucked away in my backpack, next to my iPad awaiting to be opened for some Angry Birds or HBO GO streaming of True Blood. It is too much “on,” all the time. This is not the first you have heard this. Great storytelling – through music or comedy or really great acting – helps us cut through that clutter, helps us clarify, and then capture the content. Someone who can feed us that message and make it entertaining (or at least enjoyable) immediately gets to the top of my playlist.
Storytelling allows us to relate
Really great storytelling helps us connect to the others in the audience and share that experience. We are so often disconnected from the very channels that give us information. E-mail can be so impersonal. But hearing someone lead you through a message or vision in a meeting or conference call – and us that channel effectively – can allow you to relate to your peers and the audience. We have all sat through those calls with the monotone voice relating the news of the day or the new corporate objectives. Now, get someone on those calls that leads us through the vision and helps us see the bigger picture, we all end up chatting over a cup of coffee about how we are going to execute that vision.
Storytelling inspires us
Think about really great orators in history – Churchill always comes to mind. I recently downloaded an audio book of his speeches. If you are not inspired to be a better person from listening to a voice from several generations ago, you need to visit a cardiologist. Few are of his caliber, but a great storyteller gets us energized – tapping our toes to a great song, or laughing our heads off to a great comedic routine, or getting us to learn about another person and their personal story. We feel empowered by a great story and now feel like we have been tapped on the shoulder to be a part of that story – that vision.
Business leaders have typically been built from some discipline – strong operational backgrounds, strong fiscal management, strong selling disciplines, etc. These are all necessary skills and should not be overlooked in the cacophony of traits in our highest ranking leaders. But, we often forgo storytelling as a “cheap parlor trick of charisma” that is fundamentally essential to our future influencers. Storytelling should be a part of your repertoire. It can be as easy as 1-2-3:
1: Start with the end, work backwards. Where do you want to take people? Start at the end result, the journey starts to fill in itself.
2: Rinse and repeat. Tell the story in your head and – more importantly – outloud to get it right. Your dog can be your biggest fan for this exercise, but don’t skimp on saying it outloud.
3: Get personal. Don’t be afraid of letting a piece of “you” enter the story. Audiences need relatability. That little piece of why this story matters to you helps it matter to them.
I am interested in what you think, but try to tell it to me in an engaging way! (wink)
- Tell Me Your Story (kfdfiremedic70.wordpress.com)
- Storytelling for social change (jordantrumble.wordpress.com)
- Storytelling (kruger01.wordpress.com)
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