Storytelling:  The Power to Shift the Conversation

​When was the last time you heard or read a really good story that moved you to shift your thinking and/or behavior?

What was it about the story that deeply resonated with you?

Who was the storyteller? Did he/she make a difference for you?

Think for a moment of the impact on your life that some of the stories you have heard over the years have had:

• Given hope, inspired you to achieve greater heights
• Ignited your passions, captured your imagination, curiosity and creativity
• Drove you past obstacles and challenges
• Got you reconnected to your purpose or mission in life
• Deepened relationships, helped to build trust in others
• Made you laugh, forget about your troubles for a moment or two
• Put life into perspective (personally and professionally)

As a leader at work, home, and/or in your community, one of the greatest gifts you can leverage to influence others are the stories you share. Here are 3 types of stories that I find to be the most common and impactful:

1. “I understand and can relate.” (Empathy and Connection)

Sharing an experience in your life that connects to what a person is going through can be a sincere form of empathy that deepens trust in the relationship. The key here is to convey your story when the timing is right as you don’t want to overshadow the person’s experience nor take away from being a generous listener in the moment. The power of the “I understand and can relate” story is that it lets the other person know that this too shall pass and that you are there with them, not only physically and mentally, but emotionally and spiritually.

2. “You/we can do this!” (Inspiration and Focus)

These stories tend to be the ones leaders in all walks of life use to rally the “troops” when momentum is flagging, obstacles have popped up, or the energy of the person/team is low. Additionally, they can be told at the beginning of an ambitious mission or project to focus the person/team on the bigger game – on what’s possible in the future. Tips to consider when sharing “You/we can do this!” stories:

• Tell them with passion, sincerity, strength and high energy. These stories start and end with the heart – period!
• Feel free to use the stories of others (friends, colleagues, athletes, business leaders, politicians, etc.). Select the story that best fits the situation and will have the biggest impact on the person/team.
• Use video clips which bring in images and sound that engages more of the senses.

3. “Boy, did I ever learn a valuable lesson.” (Teaching and Choices)

Leaders are responsible for educating their organization – to deepen and leverage the “collective genius” that comes from living life and all of our experiences along the way. Wisdom is applied knowledge and is meant to be shared. The important things to keep in mind when telling these stories are that they come from your life, are real, factual (no need to embellish for effect), that reveal a vulnerability or a chink in your “armor”, and finish powerfully with the lesson that you learned which has led you to making better choices in life.

Here are 4 keys to powerful storytelling:

Authentic – Be genuine and speak from the heart. Give all of yourself. Others can tell when we are being sincere or faking it.

Focused Out – Stories are meant to serve others and to create a shift in order to move us forward with purpose toward a desired outcome – personally and professionally.

Appropriate – Always ask yourself, will this story offend or alienate anyone? Is it well suited for the situation or environment?

Experiential – Tell the story with the intent to create an experience for the listener that stirs him/her to change the conversation he/she is having about an important situation at work or at home. Know not only the facts of the story, but bring it alive with metaphors, sounds, inflection of your voice, facial expressions and gestures. Practice, practice, practice so that you won’t come across as scripted and you can focus on your listener.

In closing, I leave you with a quotation that nicely sums up this article nicely:

Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story.” — Janet Litherland