The most basic function of a story is to keep someone's attention. A story is a parlor trick of sorts, a little razzle-dazzle and slight-of-hand to get your audience to forget about everything else happening in their world and fully focus on you for a short period of time.
In the corporate world, we've heard the buzzword "storytelling" thrown around for years but rarely do we think of it as meaning anything other than "don't be boring." And rarely do we think of it being applicable to anything other than data-dense decks that have to be formally presented to C-suite audiences, or sales pitches to dubious doctors.
Storytelling is actually one of the most effective tools a leader can wield. The tenets of storytelling are relevant from that most high-stakes presentation down to that casual, one-off email to a team member or quick explanation of a task when you pass them in the hallway.
In short, the best leaders tell the best stories.
Here's three aspects of storytelling will super-boost your leadership skills:
Everybody stop! I've lost my Context Lens!
Audiences become disengaged from a movie, TV show, or play if they don't understand what's happening or they have fundamental questions that are unaddressed. Essentially, they stop listening to the story and start listening for a lens of context to help them understand.
In the work world, employees become disengaged and low-performing when they don't understand what is happening or why they've been asked to do something (particularly something they feel is menial or below their skill set), or they have fundamental questions about the meaningfulness of their work. In other words, if they don't think their work matters, they're going to check out.
As a leader, consistently providing proper context to employees about their roles, the importance of their work, and how they fit into larger department or company goals is the best way to ensure your teams remained engaged, energized, and effective.
Have a series of small tasks you have to offload on someone? Make sure they understand the importance of these tasks and how they tie into the larger picture.
Is there a shift in management, vision, focus, or timeline? Communicate why the shift has taken place and reiterate what each employee's renewed functionality within that change looks like.
Context, context, context. You would never pick up a book and start in the middle, so don't expect your employees to move forward with a project or change if you haven't properly set the scene for them.
Do This: Ask yourself "What are the big questions folks will have?" Set the context to answer those first so everybody can relax and listen to the rest of your message.
I Get So Emotional Baby, Every Time I Think Of Work
Emotion in the office is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it can be harnessed for good.
When relaying new changes or outlining a new project, a teaspoon of emotion can go a long way to galvanize your crew. This doesn't mean become Meryl Streep and open-mouth sob as you explain the functions of the new cloud storage system. Instead, it means injecting a dash of excitement, intrigue, levity, concern, or thrill into whatever task, goal, change, etc. you're explaining to your employees.
Want them to be excited about a new workflow? Use exciting adjectives and an energized tone when stepping them through it.
Want them to be intrigued by a new work challenge? Create a fun air of suspense by choosing what information to share upfront.
Or, do you want your teams to understand the gravity of a setback? Explain the impact with more concerned tones, and be sure to end with a bit of uplift. We can get through this, we have the skills and resources, we're in this together.
Ultimately, humans tend to receive information in the tone it's delivered. The storyteller models the reaction you want your audience to have. If it's delivered to us like it's no big whoop, or like it's dull and boring, we will find it uninteresting and unimportant as well. Likewise, if it's delivered to us with energy and excitement, we will likely be energized and excited by it.
Do this: Ask yourself 'What emotion do I want my audience to feel?' Calibrate your delivery to get them there! Pro Tip: Being 'informed' isn't an emotion.
Leave The Kitchen Sink Behind
Brevity is your friend. The best stories are the best not just because of what details they include, but because of the details they leave out. Basically, not everything needs to be a data dump.
When we are insecure about our message, we tend to overstuff it with excess information out of fear of leaving out something important. However, when we are confident in our story, we know what to include and what to discard.
Humans are really only capable of remembering so much about what you tell them. When we recall our favorite films, we likely have a few scenes or lines of dialogue that stick out and the rest is more of a haze. Employees respond to decks, workbooks, emails, etc in the same way. The few headline points may stick with them, but the rest will get lost in the churn of their day. Knowing that, being concise and clear with your story goes a long way to ensure your employees understand, retain, and can effectively relay your message.
Do This: Ask yourself "What's the #hashtag for this message?" Deliver the message in a way that everybody who hears it can walk away with the same hashtag in mind.
For more indispensable storytelling techniques for leaders, sign up for our Hook, Line & Stinker webinar on July 13, 2022 at 1pm CT! We will share secrets for ensuring important information is also impactful to your audience. It's totally FREE!!
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