By David Casullo, President

Back in December, I needed to come up with a few more good personal stories for a speech I was preparing related to Leading the High-Energy Culture, my book that was published a few months ago. Luckily for me, I work for Suzanne Bates, who is an absolute master when it comes to helping leaders developing stories for speeches.  We sat down and talked through three different powerful experiences that I went through as a leader.

The process was amazing. Suzanne peppered me with questions about each experience, drilling into the details of exactly what happened, who was involved, and what my thoughts and emotions were as I went through each step of the story.  To my amazement, I started remembering things that I hadn’t thought about for years.  By “writing out loud” with Suzanne, I was able relive the experiences and look at them with a completely different perspective based on the leader I’ve become today.

The process forced me to understand very deeply what I had really learned as a leader from those intense experiences as well as how I can connect those lessons to the challenges that my important audiences face today.  This is a must-have skill in leadership communication.

This “story development session” energized me greatly.  It made me realize that a leader’s mind is like a locked treasure chest: Most of us don’t realize that we possess real riches in the form of personal and professional stories.  With the help of a skilled facilitator, you can access that great raw material and learn how to polish it and place it in the right setting.

That’s exactly what Suzanne did with me.  With expert questioning, she brought me back into the moment of the story.  She led me to share much more information than the story would ever need… and then she proceeded to sift through it all, plucking out the most crucial nuggets to build three different structured, on-point, three-minute stories.

While those stories were a big hit when I gave that speech, the real payoff was more profound than that for me.  As a business leader, I’m sorting through complexity and making difficult decisions constantly—just as you are.  But since I worked on developing those stories, I’ve been excited to see the connections between those past experiences and my current challenges as a leader.  Suddenly, I’ll think “Hey, this is just like that!”  I’ve been able to apply those lessons to the new challenges that come up every day.

As a leader, you’ve lived a lifetime of powerful experiences that made you who you are today.   When it comes to leadership communication, those experiences can be turned into stories that will not only inspire your important audiences—they can be used to remind you of the values, behaviors, and decisions that you made in the past—and that just might prove applicable to the challenges you face in the present. 

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