This week I had a chance to train the Wounded Warriors Project Speakers. What incredibly brave soldiers with amazing stories. I was reminded once again of the power a story has to emotionally impact those who hear it. Stories are a great way to make a connection. People love stories. People relate to stories. Stories are engaging, not only intellectually but also emotionally. When we hear a good story we automatically make a connection with the storyteller. As leaders we need to learn to tell a good story.
In my book, “The Power of Storytelling” I break down the science and the art of telling a great story. For this post, let me synthesize that down to a couple of key points:
One: Don’t talk too much.
I was recently interviewed by a business magazine about storytelling and leadership. One of the great questions they
asked is what is the number one mistake leaders make when telling a story. The answer to this is simple: we talk too much.
There’s a rule in storytelling that says if it’s not necessary to say it becomes necessary not to say. As leaders, we often tell two-minute stories in five or ten minutes. That completely loses the connection we want to make with our audience. Jerry Seinfeld has said he will spend hours trying to take a six-word joke and make it five words long. The reason he does that is because he knows in comedy the quicker you get from the setup to the punch line the bigger the laugh. In storytelling the quicker we get to the point the more compelling the message is to the listener.
Two: Remember this formula – Struggle-to-Solution.
The setting, details, facts, and circumstances will vary, but the recipe for an influential story is simple. You hook people with the struggle, you help them with the solution. There is something about trials, conflict, and adversity – the struggle – that engages us emotionally. It’s human. We connect to it. We relate to it. We identify with it. And yet, I often see leaders tell stories that are solution-to-solution. They want to come across as powerful and without mistakes or blemishes, so they tell stories that say, in essence, we’re great, we’ve always been great, and if you work with us it will be great. But there’s nothing engaging about that process. Struggle-to- solution stories are where leaders choose to be vulnerable and authentic. When you share examples of where you’ve been, what you’ve learned, and how you’ve changed and grown, those are the stories that truly make a connection. A thoughtful, personal story that puts the listener’s welfare first is one of the most effective ways for a leader to have a conversation that will prove both meaningful and powerfully connecting.