A Great Storyteller

I don’t know how to tell a story.

In fact, I bet we’re all pretty shitty at it.

Going around and reading about how to be a better social media marketer, how to blog, what great brands are… I’ve only come across very few stories during that time. Though I’ve even read books on story telling. I bet I could do it decently if I had to, but that’s not really what I’m hoping for. I want to do something to create a shift in the way we all communicate and present that revolves around story telling.

Think about the last few presentations you’ve sat through. How many of them involved someone:

  • Telling people about what they do
  • Giving examples of how they were successful in social media
  • Telling you about their perspective on things
  • Giving an informative but unmemorable talk
  • Or even turn a talk into a horrible pitch for their business
  • etc…

I couldn’t do much better, but if we turned into a community of story tellers these sorts of talks would disappear. We don’t only need more story tellers to stamp out bad presentations, we need more tellers to be more successful in our professional lives. Like Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner put it:

“Every great leader is a great storyteller”

What excites me is this idea that everyone can be a leader, from within your business, to within our own community, and we don’t need to have years of experience, an MBA degree, or large followings. Being a great story teller is something that we all can do, and gives us all the opportunity to be leaders.

But there’s a catch…

Story telling doesn’t mean talking about yourself.

It’s probably a lot harder to tell a good story, that isn’t actually a five minute monologue about yourself in disguise. Whenever I start trying to formulate a story though, that is the first thing that comes to mind. So it’s difficult

Let me take an example from a great book on story telling, The Elements of Persuasion, on just what is a story:

“A story is a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world.”

We need to pay attention to all the elements of this description. We need:

  • Facts that are useful and people can use
  • Emotion that is aligned with our passion
  • To be compelled to take action and not settle for the mediocre
  • To do something transformative that is disruptive and reinvents how we live

This brings me to my final, big prediction:

If we tell more good stories, the value will take care of itself.

So let’s worry less for a little while about delivering value, being “viral” (chuckle), or even trying to keep up with the latest and greatest news coming out of social media for a while. Let’s look at how we can communicate so that people are able to care.

Who are your favourite story tellers?
How have you seen story telling be used in business?


Join the Conversation

8 Comments

  1. Kickass, Malcolm. This has got me thinking in all kinds of different ways – and I love your description of what a storyteller does. In many ways, this is why I find a large portion of the TED talks interesting – the conference lends itself to storytellers, I think.

  2. Great article Malcolm.If you haven't already read it, checkout 'The Story Factor' by Annette Simmons. The book tries to cover a lot of the points you mentioned.Side note: small spelling error – Emotion that is aligned with *our* passion.

  3. I can see how personal anecdotes can help communicate any message, as it gives a personal and emotional qualifier that helps the audience believe you. If you can stop trying to “present” your ideas and just connect with your audience using this storytelling method then I think you'll develop those skills naturally as you go…all the while becoming more successful! The different types of talks you mention will always be there, just they can be made better if you include the elements of a story you described.The best psychology course I took in university was “Belief and Skepticism” which showed me why we believe what we do, and how we try to make sense of the world. Everyone has a belief engine that aggregates your past experiences (or your schema? not sure) with what you are seeing or hearing and then determines if it's true or false. There are ways to make a story more plausible too, for example if you tell a far-fetched story that you heard from “your friend”, people will seem to believe it more often.I think if you combine a structured presentation with anecdotes for specific key points then it will both help to communicate your message, and make it stick with your audience after they leave.

  4. Hey MalcolmAl Gore is a great example of a guy who could not get elected back in 2000. People knew he was smart yet he seemed wooden and distant. He of course lost. Then a great thing happened. He re-connected to his passion-the environment and began to tell a story, which came from his core. It was filled with facts and wrapped around those facts were deep and authentic emotions. He ended up informing millions of people about Global Warming and he won an Academy Award. See what can happen when you find your story.Thanks for recommending our book Elements of Persuasion!

  5. First Nations in Canada have passed their oral histories from generation to generation for thousands of years through stories. Why stories rather than facts and stats? Because it's a lot easier to remember stories. But listener beware. Just because someone can tell a good story, doesn't mean they're authentic (think used car salespeople who tells the story of the old lady who used to drive the car they're trying to sell you).For the most part though, it's a great skill to have and the greatest lecturers, professors, and business presenters are master storytellers, understanding that presentation should have a begining, middle, climax, and denoument.

  6. Great post Malcolm. The one important key to story telling is to tell a story without the intent of personal benefit in a direct form. Those who tell stories (lead) for their own benefit aren't true leaders. A GOOD/TRUE leader always aims to help themselves by helping someone else first. Once you help someone else, everything else just falls in place.Cheers!

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