Storytelling - The Power to Influence
A few months ago, I attended Mogul X, a conference put on by Mogul filled with motivational sessions and networking opportunities for anyone wanting to reach their utmost potential. The sessions were spearheaded by industry leaders and game-changing entrepreneurs altering the world of business. While sitting in on the sessions and admiring all of the speakers, I noticed how eloquently all of the presenters spoke about their work, how they exuded emotions through their speech, how they incorporated facial expressions and welcoming body language into their talks, and ultimately how engaging they were. I felt strong connections with all of the speakers and could feel their passion oozing from their veins. After all the sessions were over, I thought how fabulously they all went, and realized there was a similarity between all of the speakers; they could story-tell. Not only were these people impressive in their work, but they could captivate their audiences through their narratives.
Parents constantly hear how important storytelling is for children and how before going to sleep, children should be told stories. Why? Think about your favorite children’s story (mine was the Ugly Duckling). What made you pay attention to the book? For me, it was the vivid visuals and emotions I drew from my mom reading the book to me. Didn’t you learn something every time you read these books? For me, for sure. There usually a focus on one lesson learned like in the Ugly Duckling, you shouldn’t judge others by their external appearances. Storytelling educates children by teaching them specific life lessons in engaging ways. Stories make children think. They stimulate children’s imagination and spark creativity.
I got some insight from NYC-based, children’s illustrator and author, Paulette Bogan, on some things she incorporates into her stories and presentations to engage children. Throughout her stories, Paulette “avoids being didactic.” Who really wants to hear a lecture about what they should and/or shouldn’t do? Children (and in my opinion, adults) certainly do not. With that in mind, she’s conscious of the language she uses. For example, in the book, Bossy Flossy, Flossy, the main character, is bossy to others around her. She constantly tells people what she wants when she wants it without considering the feelings of others. Throughout the story, Paulette uses clear examples to illustrate how bossy Flossy is and addresses the consequences of her actions like getting a time out. The language allows readers to infer how others felt by Flossy’s bossiness. Flossy learned she needed to change the way she communicated with others upon meeting someone just as bossy as she was. She didn’t like how it felt to be bossed around until someone was bossy to her. When storytelling, Paulette uses picturesque facial expressions and adjusts her attitude based on what the characters are experiencing in her books. She believes “facial expression, attitude, and posture can often tell more about what a character is feeling than words.” Her books capture children’s interest and keep them engaged because the concepts are put in relatable ways. Children can understand the books’ themes without feeling patronized. Through her storytelling abilities, Paulette is able to convey life lessons to children without telling them what to and not to do. Ultimately she’s developed this incredible means to positively influence children.
Think about how much storytelling impacts children. Don’t you think storytelling could similarly impact teenagers and adults just as much as children? I do. Go back to what I mentioned earlier about speakers at the Mogul X conference. Their passion, their energy, and their positive sentiments behind their work captivated me and kept me engaged. I felt connected to the speakers. I walked out of the sessions feeling confident and empowered me to conquer the world. They took their personal and professional experiences and created narratives from them to provide listeners with insight and life lessons. Pretty similar to the children’s stories, huh? Storytelling has the power to impact and influence listeners to feel and think a certain way.
Many successful people are good storytellers - think Steve Jobs, Walt Disney, Ellen DeGeneres, Oprah Winfrey, and J.K. Rowling. Some of these people produced books, some of these people television shows, and all of them created narratives based on either their experiences whether it be personal experiences or their imagination. Just like all good storytellers do, these people created communities by forming connections with their listeners, keeping them engaged, and provoking thought.
You might be asking the question - Why do I need to become a good storyteller? I don’t want to be a writer, a talk show host, or the founder of a massive, multinational technology company. Easily understood. In any position throughout your personal or professional career, you want to be able to influence others. Why? Say you’re working on a big project and need the approval of others, or say you want to propose a new company-wide policy but need your bosses’ buy-in, or better yet you’re trying to sell yourself in an interview - you have to be able to create a case for yourself that sways your listeners to believe in what you’re proposing. You don’t want others to be disengaged from you, so you need to form a compelling narrative that draws your listeners in and captures their attention.
Now, you’re probably asking how the heck do you become a better storyteller? Becoming a better storyteller is something I’m constantly working on. I want to be able to take my experiences, share them with others, and spark thought especially in my readers.
So, what can you do to become a better storyteller?
First things first, think of storytelling more like a conversation with your peers. What experience do they want to have in speaking with you? You don’t want to ramble. You don’t want to sound dull and disengaged. Rather, you might want to consider the five techniques below to craft your story -
Grab your readers’ attention - Wouldn’t it stink for you to have to tell a story that doesn’t interest you? What about your listeners having to listen to you speak in a dull voice? If you’re telling a story, you want to sound excited and interested. The vibe you let off will directly impact your listeners.
Have a point - We all know the worst stories are the ones that don’t make sense because there isn’t a point. I’m guilty of telling those stories. Your story, no matter how simple it is, should have a clear, lucid point that’s easy to understand. Remember the children’s stories? There were lessons learned in them. Always, keep in mind the point you’re trying to make in your stories.
Use Vivid Details - Don’t tell the scene, show the scene. Nobody wants to hear you spew facts. Rather, use descriptive words to show the scene or incorporates details as to why this story matters to you. You want to pack your story with details that matter to your audience. You want to think about why you want your audience to care about this story.
Emotions Matter - Emotion is one of the most essential elements of storytelling because of the impact it can have on your audience. Emotion enables your listeners to feel a certain way towards you or the characters you’ve created - just as Paulette said. These emotions help understand how people or characters are feeling even more so than the words. In business, one of the most important emotions applied to storytelling is empathy, an understanding for people’s pain points whether that be customers or colleagues. In being empathetic, you develop deep connections with your audience by understanding and relating to how they feel. Let’s use me as an example. I can certainly empathize with recent graduates and young professionals, for when I went out into the real world, I didn’t know what the heck to make of it. With that in mind, I hope to take what I’ve learned along the way to help others be better prepared for the road ahead of them.
Practice Makes Perfect - Like playing basketball, competitively dancing, or playing an instrument, your storytelling won’t improve unless you practice. Before telling a story, rehearse what you’re going to say, think about questions people might ask you, and perfect it by making tweaks along the way.
If I can leave you with two takeaways after reading this post, I’d say 1) recognize the power of storytelling and 2) think about how being a better storyteller can positively impact your personal and professional development. Through storytelling, you have the power to influence regardless of what your job is.