Strategy

Storytelling (still) matters

There are over 30,000 results for book titles with the word “storytelling” at a well-known online bookseller in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn about storytelling with data, with photography, for branding, for social justice, and how storytelling makes us human (at least two titles in the first page of results). There is storytelling for designers, for lawyers, for CEOs, and for grant writers. Even investors are reminding start-up founders of the importance of storytelling.

My practice is based on my unshakeable faith in the power to influence through a person’s ability to capture the imagination via a compelling and inspiring story. Even my executive and leadership coaching practice is designed to help leaders discover their own narrative.

Narrative affects an audience’s perception of the person who is delivering the message.

Melanie Green, Professor of Communication, University at Buffalo College of Arts and Sciences

Virtually everyone agrees that storytelling is critical in leadership, particularly in the sciences. Why? According to researchers, narratives build trust, a critical tenet of leadership and the ability to influence others to cooperate.

So why are we not seeing more of it?

Because real storytelling can be personal. It may require you to give of yourself. It cracks open your sense of self for public examination and, possibly, critique. So we retreat back to safety, behind the data and the facts. In that case, any critique is about the evidence, not about us.

Let me clear: facts matter. Data are the backbone to any reasonable attempt to persuade. But few people are moved by an avalanche of statistics and numbers. It’s the story that anchors the data to a person’s understanding of the overriding message.

It’s precisely the ability to put yourself out there, to risk telling a story, that distinguishes the leader from the expert. In fact, it’s rarely the real expert that gains any traction. Instead, it’s the storyteller who can take the expertise, digest and package it into a compelling narrative, that wins the case.

Is it fair? Maybe not.

If your objective is to influence people — your employees, investors, the media, the public — then you need consider not only what is the information, but how you weave it into a story. Your story.

Human beings yearn for connection. Stories are the connective tissue that weave us together. A story helps us feel like we are a part of something. And that’s just the thing — expert are often not part of the group. They are special, separate, with unique knowledge or authority. Telling a story forces us to climb down, to shorten the stage, and to be at eye level (and perhaps striking distance).

The next time you’re preparing to communicate something such as a pitch or an announcement, ask yourself if you’re hiding behind data. What’s the story that the data want to tell? What holds you back from weaving your story into your work?

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