Lessons From The Business Storytelling Trenches
Storytelling is hands down the most underrated skill in business today. When it comes to leading people, it is a 21st century core competency. But rather than write a dime-a-dozen post about the business ROIs of storytelling, I thought to take a personal turn first. Why? Because if you don't have motivation for the inner game of storytelling, you won't be as successful with it as you could be.
Storytelling is not just being entertaining and putting on a good show. It’s not simply telling a story to make a sale. It’s not posting a story or writing a blog post to get likes and shares. Effective storytelling that gets business results is an ongoing personal journey that brings amazing gifts.
Yes -- my reputation, brand, trust, and lots of business has increased because of storytelling. Story mastery will bring you these gifts as well. Here is what I’ve also received over the last two decades perfecting my story skills, while also training/coaching thousands of leaders in storytelling.
1. I found my voice and now my stories are like super glue
People remember me and my stories, not the facts and figures.
Storytelling has helped me set new standards for communicating. It’s embarrassing to admit, but I’ve bored more people to death with PowerPoint than I care to remember. Not any more.
My family members were not storytellers. I was not a natural storyteller. I had to be trained. I’ve learned that once people get a taste of how insightful, engaging, and impactful stories can be, they want more and don’t want to settle for less. People want meaningful stories, and they want authentic real leaders who have stories to tell. People are hungry for stories, especially the deep, rich, meaningful kind that helps them lead better, work better, and sparks them to be better human beings.
The first gift I’ve received through storytelling is memorability and impact, and a powerful way to express my voice.
2. Storytelling has connected me with others more than I ever thought possible
Stories are terrific catalysts for connection and building relationships. They show your human side and make you more approachable. Share your stories and people will spend time getting to know you. You become accessible and they lean in. You spark their curiosity. They listen to what you have to say. Isn’t that what we all want? What a great way to build relationships.
The second gift I’ve received through storytelling is deeper and lasting relationships.
3. Storytelling gives me an immediate powerful way to build relationships that brings in business
I can’t expect people to “get me” or my work just by saying I’m a business storyteller. Or an accountant. Or a software engineer. Or a marketer. Storytelling provides “the why” behind your work. Offering a short anecdote about a favorite client project, or how proud I am that a client is really going for it and seeing results with storytelling is much more fun and satisfying. I’ve met amazing and wonderful people this way that no “I’m a business storyteller” would get. But that’s just the beginning. This is what else I’ve directly experienced with effective business storytelling that connects:
- Increased engagement
- A sense of belonging
- Authentic leadership and customer care
- Human2Human marketing
- Inspiring and engaging presentations
- A lasting legacy
The third gift I’ve received through storytelling is being lots more effective in business.
4. Storytelling is one of the best ways I’ve learned to go from touching the one to touching the many
I’ve been so humbled over the years when people reach out to tell me the impact one of my stories had on their lives – and it’s far beyond the space and time when originally shared. Stories travel, and your stories can spread like ripples in a pond to others outside of your presence. That’s word-of-mouth leadership/marketing. It’s priceless.
Sharing my stories has opened more doors for me to people and opportunities than I could ever have imagined. It has taught me to always remember to tell a story. Otherwise I leave money and opportunity on the table.
The fourth gift I’ve received through storytelling is way more opportunity beyond what I could see.
5. By sharing my stories I’ve learned to listen more and tell less
I’ve become more curious, more patient, and more supportive of others. I guide more and direct less; I listen more and tell less. Both have made my life easier. We can never know the struggles someone is dealing with unless we take the time to listen to their story. The best gift you can give anyone is empathy and uninterrupted deep listening so they feel heard. It’s come back to me in spades. It will come back to you in spades.
The fifth gift I’ve received through storytelling is an enriched life through story listening.
6. With storytelling I get to discover more and make better decisions
Storytelling is one of the most efficient ways to gain deep understanding, rich context, emotional connection, and knowledge. Many stories contain business insights and wisdom just waiting to be discovered and put to good use. I love listening to stories from others, deliberately evoking them so I can unlock the gold buried there. Each time I hear a story and unlock its insights, I feel better equipped to handle work and life. Each time I share a story, I continue to experience others being able to do the same. This is how better decision-making happens, because we are all better informed.
The sixth gift I’ve received through storytelling is way better decision making.
7. Swapping failure stories has made me more real and grounded
Nobody on Earth gets a pass on challenges, struggles, and ordeals. That's just life. Yet learning to accept my stories of failure has helped bring me more clarity and strength to meet challenges head on. It’s given others permission to share their failure stories with me. Perfectionism and shame loses its grip. I’ve noticed that listening to the failure stories of others, and the wisdom gained from those experiences, make me better equipped to avoid mistakes, handle challenges when they arise, and succeed through them. I trust my failure stories offer the same in return.
People are famished for hope and inspiration. Your best stories – of failures and successes, visions and values, purpose and lessons learned -- can offer people insights to a current ordeal, heal some pain, offer valuable wisdom, or inspire action. When listening to a story, people have the opportunity to reevaluate their own issues and make a course correction. It’s how we learn and grow.
The seventh gift I’ve received through storytelling is greater wisdom and empathy.
8. Through storytelling I experience greater generosity, trust, and courage
Being able to share my stories of challenges, hardships, and triumph means I’m also incredibly exposed. But I’m not there to brag about me. I offer my stories as a gift, which has come back to me a thousand fold. Again and again the more generous, trusting, and courageous I can be, people offer their generosity, trust, and courage in return. It is an amazing way to lead, serve, and be served.
Telling your personal stories humbly yet authentically is a sign that you trust others and others can trust you with their stories. In a world filled with fakery, oppression, and emotional hijacks, a person you can trust and be yourself with is an uncommon and prized treasure.
The eighth gift I’ve received through storytelling is authenticity.
9. Stories are a constant source of inspiration for me
Hands down. I continually learn from and am transformed by my stories. I am continually inspired and moved by the stories you tell me. Now who wouldn’t want that? If I were given the chance to go back to the past and choose another career, I wouldn’t do it.
The ninth gift I’ve received through storytelling is ongoing personal insights and growth.
10. I don’t need to be trapped by my stories
I can always change the script. My favorite quote about storytelling is from the author Salman Rushdie:
“Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives -- the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change -- truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.”
Stories make up the tapestry of our identity. The stories we tell ourselves, that we tell others, define us, and bring us into our future. But I control the script. When the story traps me, is outmoded, or no longer fits who I am, I can either retire it, rethink it, deconstruct it, or change it. It’s another place where growth and development reside. It’s not easy, but it’s so freakin’ necessary.
The tenth gift I’ve received through storytelling is transformation.
11. My Stories Are My Legacy
We are all stories in the end. Just make it a good one. As performance storyteller Ruth Stotter says, "Some people say we are made of flesh and blood and bones. Scientists say we’re made of atoms, But I think we are made of stories. When we die, that’s what people remember, the stories of our lives and the stories that we told."
Being conscious of my stories allows me to consciously craft my legacy. Like ripples on a pond, my stories may live on, long after I'm gone. Nothing is assured, but the attempt is well worthwhile.
The eleventh gift I’ve received through storytelling is a type of immortality, however brief.
Storytelling is the way we honor ourselves, honor others, plus offer hope and inspiration to the world. Make the impact you want in yourself, the lives of others, and in the world.
Engage in mastering storytelling.
- Up Next: Business Storytelling's Dirty Little Secret: Why Storytelling Fails And What You Can Do About It
- Up After That: The 7 Mind Shifts Leaders Need To Make To Be Incredible Storytellers and Achieve The Results They Desire
Karen Dietz is a veteran in business storytelling, creating stories that inspire, influence and impact the bottom line. She coaches and trains leaders through her Transformational Storytelling System. Wiley published her Business Storytelling for Dummies and she opened the 2013 TEDx Conference San Diego. Clients include: Disney, Princess Cruises, Citrix, nonprofits, and entrepreneurs