If I were to ask you which leaders you find inspiring, who would you choose? Who are the leaders that you would do anything for? Who are the speakers you find most memorable and engaging? What is it about them?
I guarantee they speak to you on an emotional level. They inspire you to believe in the future in a way that lifts your spirits, they seem to understand your worries or fears, they make you laugh or perhaps they simply help you feel like everything will be okay as you navigate choppy waters.
That is the power of storytelling.
Storytelling in business has become an invaluable skill for anyone wanting to make the right impact as they pitch, present, network and influence. It’s not just a skill required for actors.
Perhaps on the surface, the world of acting and business leadership seems far removed. However, the most inspirational leaders need to know how to captivate an audience, reach people on an emotional level, and most importantly, motivate and inspire others to take action. All these things can be taught, and actors have just the right skill set to help.
More than 20 years ago, I was working as a professional actor in London. As a company of actors, we were asked to engage in (what was then) an experiment. We were invited into businesses to answer this question:
What could actors teach leaders about gravitas, charisma and confidence?
Both the company of actors and the leaders had a wonderful time! The leaders came away inspired, energised and with renewed confidence around their personal impact. I loved this work instantly and I found sharing what I knew as an actor about managing nerves, breathing, voice, body language and storytelling, with senior leaders absolutely fascinating. I have been doing this work ever since!
Actors are taught how to ‘own the room’, listen with complete presence, build rapport and perform at their best night after night. This is why I still use this skillset to help my clients transform presenting and pitching, from a chore to a pleasure.
Why is storytelling so important?
Good storytelling in business helps build trust. It builds authentic relationships and promotes connection. It allows leaders to share their vision and take people with them on a journey. It provides an opportunity for others to relate to one another on a deeper level. Being able to influence a room full of stakeholders requires more than sharing facts and figures. Engaging others emotionally and weaving that data around a compelling story can be a powerful tool for persuasion and the message will likely be much more memorable than death by PowerPoint.
All good stories have the same things in common – they make us think, they make us connect with our emotions (good and bad), and they stick with us and have a lasting impact.
So how can you use storytelling techniques to be an engaging leader and give your story impact? How can you make sure you’re stories not only inform but also inspire others to take action?
Consider these 7 storytelling in business tips to improve your storytelling skills as a leader:
1. Make storytelling personal
Building a connection with your audience will keep them engaged. One way to draw your audience in is by sharing a personal story. Personal stories are inspiring and motivating and can help you create your ‘call to action’. It doesn’t have to be your deepest darkest secrets, but sharing a true story about yourself, your experiences and showing vulnerability will build that all-important trust and belief, helping them get to know who YOU are. It’s not just about sharing the successes and what went well. Share challenges, setbacks and failures too – it’s these that tend to offer the most valuable learnings.
2. Show your vulnerability
Being vulnerable in front of an audience is not easy. It takes confidence and courage to express emotional vulnerability. But by doing so, it builds trust and credibility, which are key to being able to influence and persuade others to take action.
3. Dip into the detail
Dipping into the detail of your stories is where you can bring your presentation to life! Carefully chosen examples and anecdotes can make your audience identify and relate to you more. It can also be used as a tool to instigate engagement and interaction if you want your audience to feel comfortable sharing any stories with you too.
4. Use your body
Actions speak louder than words! Your non-verbal communication can make an instant impact on others. How you stand, sit and hold your hands, all influence how people see you. So knowing how to move your body when telling a story, can make the difference from appearing confident and assertive to nervous and intimidated. Whether it’s speaking to a theatre full of people or simply being able to voice your opinion in a meeting, paying attention to your body language will mean you’ll be remembered for all the right reasons. Want to know more? Let’s chat.
5. Add an element of surprise or tension
The most compelling stories usually hit us emotionally, but they also surprise us in one way or another. Ask yourself what would persuade or motivate your audience to take action? What do they want to see and hear? Telling your audience something unexpected can keep them engaged and excited. Think about what will create a ‘wow’ moment. Perhaps start with the end or moment of high challenge. You might use questioning to get the audience engaged or involved. Perhaps the use of metaphor with surprise to engage the imagination.
6. Craft a powerful ending
Which part of your presentation is your audience likely to remember? The first line and the last line.
Those last words hang in the air.
What is your call to action? What do you want them to do, feel or think at this point? Hold the final moment of silence with calm confidence.
7. Learn from others
The best way to improve your storytelling skills is to observe others. Think about whom you admire that has real presence and can captivate an audience. What do you notice about the way they listen and engage? What made their story so compelling and memorable? What EXACTLY are they doing to be so effective? What do they teach you?
There is a myth that some people have this ability and some don’t. The great news is that this is a teachable skill just like any other!
Being a great storyteller requires learning the tools, techniques and strategies. Find someone to help you build your ‘toolbox’ of skills then practice, practice, practice! By developing your storytelling skills, you will be able to lead, present, and influence with passion, inspiring and motivating all those around you.
Storytelling in business gets to the very heart of who you are as a leader and as a team. A quote from a recent senior leader who took part in Storytelling team development
“Thank you again Sarah!
A truly uplifting two days. I am normally shattered after training courses, but I left feeling truly energised and uplifted yesterday.
I expected to learn about presenting, but I didn’t expect to take away such deep insights away about myself or about ‘us’ as a Senior Team. Lots to put into practice straight away.”
If you’d like to work on your storytelling skills or find out more about my storytelling in business workshops for the senior leaders in your organisation, drop me an email or book a call with me here.