By Scott Weighart, Director of Learning and Development
A few weeks ago my wife went to a parents’ breakfast organized through my son’s school. She came home with some pleasantly surprising news. A woman I hadn’t seen for several months had apparently been raving about what I good storyteller I was.
To be honest, this puzzled me. I had talked to this woman any number of times over the years honestly couldn’t remember any time that I had told her a story.
Turns out that she read a blog that I had written for the Bates Blog here a few months ago. It was about the amazing job that my son’s summer camp had done of teaching him how to water ski last summer—and what that had taught me about what great organizations do to thrill their customers.
The woman seemed to remember everything about the story. She said that she had been moved to tears, hearing about how my son had failed to get up on skis 14 times at another camp before the folks at Camp Cody took it as a personal challenge to help him succeed.
Hearing all of this reminded me of a few important points that we also made a couple of weeks ago at our most recent Speak Like a CEO Boot Camp, where one of the most satisfying undertakings is teaching executives how to tell a great story with a valuable point—in just three minutes.
1. The best stories always have significance beyond the event.
Many leaders we coach are initially convinced that they have no stories to tell. But I would argue that something happens at least once a week that you can turn into a story. The key is focusing on what lesson you learned from the story. How does it connect to some challenge you’re facing as a leader? What significance does it have beyond the event itself? When you’re sharing a personal story, it takes some practice to see how to connect it to something that matters at work. But it’s absolutely a muscle you can build.
2. When you tell a story, people remember the point… and they remember you.
In that blog, I made some points about consultative selling. But it was the story that made the points so much more memorable. When you share a personal story, you trigger the part of the brain that controls emotions. And as you know, emotional experiences are memorable ones. As a leader, storytelling is a way for people to remember you… and a way to ensure that people share your story—and your point—across the organization.
3. Stories are a great way to connect with people.
As a leader, you need to move hearts and minds, inspiring people to take action. If that’s not hard enough, these days you also have to inspire people from afar. When you’re leading people in a global organization, you often need to drive results from geographically scattered teams—including folks that you don’t see for months at a time. If you share stories—whether through a regular newsletter, blog, or even on a conference call—you can increase your odds of making a real impact.
When communicating from afar, a story can be like a message in a bottle. You may not know when your story will connect with someone, and it may take weeks or months before you know what impact it had. Sometimes you have to write a story with great care and send it out in the world to see what happens. You eventually might be surprised to find out how a little story can mean a lot.