Storytelling can elevate your communication! Learn 4 ways stories are impactful, the important elements of stories, and where to find great stories. Whether you’re giving a speech or presentation, leading a meeting, or teaching, storytelling will connect you with your audience.
Printable shownotes: https://talkabouttalk.com/podcasts/#shownotes
- Summary – Your Storytelling Tip Sheet
YOUR STORYTELLING TIP SHEET
4 Ways Stories are IMPACTFUL
- Stories evoke EMOTIONS – they engage us with feelings of angst, pleasure, surprise, inspiration,…
- Stories are MEMORABLE – we forget the facts & figures, but we’ll remember how you made us feel!
- Stories CONNECT us – through shared experience
- Stories can illustrate our PERSONAL BRAND – and boost our career trajectory!
Essential ELEMENTS of Great Stories
- TENSION – conflict or something to overcome
- A character the audience CARES about – whether it’s us or someone else, the audience needs to care
- A TWIST – something unexpected
- Important DETAILS –to make it real. But not too much… Let the audience to fill in the gaps!
- RELEVANCE – to our context or our message
Where to FIND Stories
- Your 1st FAILED attempt – Go ahead, be vulnerable. Share your epic fail.
- Stories of TRANSFORMATION – It could be your failure or “the hero’s journey”
- Use METAPHOR and analogies – Stories don’t need to be monumental. Metaphors can create vivid vignettes.
- Stories of OTHER’s experiences – including well-known celebrities
Talk About Talk Podcast Episodes Mentioned
- Telling your Story with Norman Bacal –
- Storytelling with Harvard Professor & author Jerry Zaltman –
- Coaching with Elite Camps founder Stephanie Rudnick –
- Communicating your Personal Brand Online –
- Communicating with Confidence
- TEDTalk – Sir Ken Robinson on “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” –
- storytelling, emotions, memory: https://www.emerald.com/insight/content/doi/10.1108/EJM-12-2016-0881/full/html
- storytelling, personal narratives & career trajectories: https://www.hbs.edu/ris/Publication%20Files/18-014_3a2938ae-5a6f-4173-b23a-26ed76e6c1e7.pdf
Dr. Andrea Wojnicki & Talk About Talk
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Yesterday when I was working on the outline for this episode, I took a break for a Zoom meeting I had scheduled with some collaborators. So I took a break from writing and I logged onto zoom. One of my colleagues, a super-smart professor in Germany, started telling us how she’s heard so many funny and insightful STORIES (yes stories) about using Zoom. And how much we’ve learned about working online. And how we’ll all have the story, a personal narrative, that we tell ourselves and we share with others, about how we managed our lives – professionally and personally through the pandemic. She said, and I quote: “stories are everything.”
Greetings and welcome to Talk About Talk episode #79, focused on storytelling. I’m your communication coach, Dr. Andrea Wojnicki (please call me Andrea!).
Whether you’re an ambitious executive, looking to catapult your career by improving your communication skills, or maybe you have a strong growth mindset – you’re always looking to learn and improve your communication skills, or perhaps both? Well, you’re in the right place.
At Talk About Talk, we focus on communication-skills-topics like personal branding, confidence, listening, and YES – storytelling. This is the critically important stuff they don’t teach you in school. It’s what takes you from a B+ to an A+ in the work world – and in life! And if you check out the TalkAboutTalk.com website, you’ll find online corporate training, 1-on-1 coaching with me, online courses, the free weekly communication-skills newsletter, and, of course, the archive of this bi-weekly podcast. You can choose whatever works for you! And I really hope you’ll go to the website and sign up for the free weekly communication skills training newsletter.
Today, as I said, we’re focusing on STORYTELLING. I’m so excited to dig-in to this topic. If you’re a regular listener, you might know the topics or skills I’ve identified as the three communication superpowers: confidence, listening and yes storytelling.
The thing about storytelling is that it can be like the icing on the cake. This is the skill that can elevate you and your message above and beyond.
You can be a good communicator if you’re confident and if you listen.
You can be an extraordinary communicator if you also incorporate storytelling into your communication.
I’m guessing you agree with all this, otherwise you wouldn’t be here! My goal here is to help you do just that – elevate your communication effectiveness by being a more effective and prolific storyteller.
Specifically, we’re going to focus on three things related to storytelling. First, we’re going to focus on why storytelling is so impactful. I’m going to share with you some of the research and specific reasons why storytelling can elevate your communication.
The second thing we’re going to go through is what types of stories, or what elements to look for and focus on in your storytelling. Think of it as dissecting the story
And then last, and this is perhaps the most important question, or at least the most common storytelling Q I get from people – it’s where do these stories come from? I get asked this question all the time., And in fact, I often ask myself this question. What story should I tell? Where can I find a great stories? I’ve got a list to share with you of where you can look for these stories. I hope you’ll keep this list for the next time you’re looking for a story.
There’s lots of content to track here. But don’t worry, I’ve got your back. As always, I will provide you with a succinct summary at the very end of this podcast and you can always reference the printable shownotes on the talkabouttalk.com website. If you just go to talkabouttalk.com and click on podcasts and then show notes, everything is for you there. On page 2 there’s a beautiful printable summary followed by the transcript.
I keep hearing from people how much they appreciate the summary and the shownotes and I’m delighted they’re useful. So just keep doing whatever you’re doing as you’re listening. Whether you’re going for a walk or maybe you’re doing housework or making dinner, or you’re in the car driving somewhere, just keep doing whatever you’re doing. You don’t have to take notes, because I do that for you. Honestly, it’s my pleasure.
OK – let’s get going. Let me start with this – with the beginning of time. Since the beginning of time, we humans have been telling stories. And of course we still are. Authors are writing stories, The movie and tv studios are producing stories, Brands are creating stories, and people are telling stories – both in personal and professional contexts.
Whether you’re presenting, leading a meeting, negotiating, or yes, podcasting, there are so many contexts where STORYTELLING can be an effective tool to elevate your communication to the next level.
We’re using stories whenever we need to engage people’s attention (say, you’re giving a presentation, leading a meeting, etc.) Personally, I try to tell a story at the beginning of workshops and presentations to get my audience’s attention right out of the gates!)
I also encourage my clients to use story telling when they’re communicating their personal brand. For example, if they want to highlight their path to leadership, I encourage people to not only use the term when they’re introducing themselves, or on their resume, but also to tell stories and create a personal narrative that reinforces their path to leadership.
We can also use storytelling to help us in situations where we’re seeking influence or when we’re negotiating. Let me tell you a quick story (yes, of course there will be a few stories in this episode!). Recently I was on an important phone call with someone where I was actually advocating for someone else in this negotiation. I prepared several points I wanted to make in advance, but I could tell that these rational points were simply were not being heard. This isn’t uncommon, right? At the end of the conversation when I could tell things weren’t going to go our way, I said, “before we go, can I just share one story with you?” That’s when I told a true story that illustrated the impact of my request. Bingo! The whole tone of the conversation shifted. You can guess what happened. I got an email a few hours later thanking me for sharing the impact of my request and YES, granting my request. In retrospect, I have no idea if the other person realized that it was the story that changed their mind, but I can tell you, I am 100% sure. The story was the clincher.
So we’ve got authors telling stories both fiction and nonfiction, we’ve got movie and TV production studios telling stories we’ve got brands telling stories, and personally and professionally we’re telling stories to elevate our communication, be it when we’re presenting, leading a meeting, illustrating our personal brand, or negotiating.
But beyond that, we’re using stories all the time in the form of metaphors and analogies. In fact, we use analogies and metaphors in our language and communication all the time, and this is implicit storytelling. We’ve got all these contexts that are ripe for storytelling.
STORYTELLING IS POWERFUL
When I’m leading workshops on confidence I often start with a story and the story goes something like this:
I remember early in my career when I was working as a brand manager I was asked to give a speech at a national sales conference. Needless to say I was excited but I was also horrified. So I did what any of us would do I practiced and practiced and practiced but guess what? that didn’t help. on the day when I got up onstage I was sweating I was shaking I was hot I trembled over to stand behind the podium and I gripped onto that podium for dear life I read my script word for word without looking up once at the audience and then I scuffled off the stage when I got off stage my boss grabbed me and she said are you OK Andrea? Your face is as red as your hair! Horrifying I promised myself, I will never ever let that happen again. I then go on in the workshop to explain how I my lack of self confidence. And I referenced back to this story several times in the workshop.
Then at the end of that confidence workshop, I open it up for the Q&A. An invariably. Almost 100% of the time! the first Q I often get isn’t a Q, but rather a comment “I loved your story andrea, about being onstage at the sales conference.”
And by the way the testimonials that I get from workshop participants when I include stories like this absolutely reflect that storytelling is key to learning storytelling definitely elevates my my ability to affectively coach and teach.
So that’s just one of my personal experiences with storytelling that illustrate how storytelling promotes communication effectiveness but there’s plenty of other evidence out there. Take for example the number one ranked Ted talk. You may be amongst the 20MM people who have viewed it on YouTube. Yes, 20MM. I’ll leave a link to it in the shownotes. This TEDTalk, presented by Sir Ken Robinson is called “Do Schools Kill Creativity?” Hmm. Did you know his name before? Me neither. IS that a super-compelling topic? Yes, it’s important, but it’s not exactly clickbait, is it? So many experts have dissected this TEDTalk to better understand what makes it so compelling. It turns out, of course, that there are many things. This use of humour, his lack of slides, his cadence,. And of course THE STORIES. This 18 minute Ted Talk is full of compelling stories, from beginning to end.
It’s the storytelling that elevates this TedTalk. And it’s storytelling that can elevate all of our communication.
WHY STORYTELLING IS SO POWERFUL
1.Stories are engaging & they evoke EMOTIONS
- They can evoke emotions, such as delight, fear, anger, relief…
- And of course stories are so much more engaging than listing facts and figures, right?
- There’s this amazing quote from Maya Angelou. She says, “People may forget what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.” It’s true. And stories make you feel.
- And speaking of remembering, this brings me to the next reason why stories are so powerful.
2.Stories are MEMORABLE
- Researchshows that people recall stories more readily than they recall facts and figures. Want to be memorable? Again, people won’t remember what you said, they’ll remember how you made them feel. So tell a story!
3. Stories CONNECT us
- They connect us through common life experiences
- According to Andrew Musselman of Fluency: “Any presentation that incorporates storytelling is going to connectwith the listeners on a much more personal level. One of the best quotes I’ve ever heard about storytelling… Storytelling is like a Trojan horse for your point of view.”
- *** Storytelling can illustrate your PERSONAL BRANDand ultimately fuel your SUCCESS***
This one sounds a little different right? We’ve covered that stories are powerful because they evoke emotions, they’re memorable, and because they connect us. But now we’re saying stories are powerful because they help us illustrate your personal brand. Well according to the research this is absolutely true! It’s also an insight that can absolutely catapult your career. There’s so much evidence of this.
- According to Mala Gaonkar(portfolio manager at Lone Pine Capital), “Narratives rule the world.” I agree. Whether the narrative is about a firm, an investment, or a person.
- Legal veteran Norm Bacalwhom I’ve interviewed for two different talk about talk podcast episodes highlights that the best lawyers in the courtroom are proficient storytellers. He says, “The people who are the greatest successes are the best storytellers.”
- According to academic research, successful women typically leverage storytelling to create a leader-bound narrative. They focus their personal narrativeon a message of hard work and the pursuit of leadership.
So that’s four ways or reasons why storytelling is so powerful. One stories are engaging and they evoke emotions. Two stories are memorable. Three stories connect us and four storytelling can illustrate our personal brand and ultimately fuel our success. So the question is now, what makes for a great story? What elements should we include when we’re telling a story?
Good news for you here. I have a list of 5 elements to make sure you include in your stories. If you’re considering using a story in your communication, dissect it and look for these 5 elements: Number one tension. #2 we care. A main character or something that we care about. #3 A twist #4 important details. And #5 relevance.
WHAT MAKES FOR A GREAT STORY – ELEMENTS TO INCLUDE
So first, Tension. In other words, a conflict. This is HUGE.
Think of the hero’s journey. Consider the story of Harry Potter, as he leaves his tiny bedroom under the stairs to attend Hogwarts school of witchcraft. There’s tension.
Or consider the character REY in Star’s Wars The Force Awakens. Rey started as a scavenger who joins the Resistance to fight the powerful First Order. Lots of tension.
The tension could be conflict. The conflict could be against an enemy. A bad guy. Or it could be internal. Your conscience or self-talk. Or the tension could even be the decision about defining what is good and bad.
Think of it was something to overcome.
A word of warning: This tension or conflict in storytelling is where some people get into trouble, especially if they don’t want to appear vulnerable. Remember I said that storytelling can be powerful in terms of communicating your personal brand. But, If your personal brand is focused on success, you might be hesitant to share a story of failure. The truth is, it’s that story of failure that people want to hear.
Yes, I was a hot sweaty mess onstage at that national sales meeting when I gave formal presentations at the beginning of my career. And you know what people say when they hear me tell that story? They say “Wow! I could imagine myself up there with you, Andrea. I’ve feel like that. You’re giving me hope. “ So don’t hesitate to share a story of failure.
I interviewed my friend Stephanie Rudnick for a podcast episode on communicating as a coach. Stephanie was a varsity basketball player and now runs Elite Camps, one of Canada’s biggest basketball academies. She’s also an author and speaker. I’ll leave a link to that episode in the shownotes, Anyway, in that interview, Stephanie shared how her stories of her epic fails are the only ones her 3 boys to listen to! They know her as a competitive athlete turned successful entrepreneur. So they love hearing the stories about her epic fails on court, when she lost in overtime, and especially about the time her coach threw a chair at her. E-pic!!!
Your kids – and frankly your coworkers, your clients – anyone! They don’t want to hear about the good decisions you made that catapulted you ahead. They want to hear about when the you-know-what hit the fan. And then maybe the decisions you made to dig yourself out of that hole.
So that’s the first element to include in your stories. Tension or conflict. The 2nd element to include is
- A hero or main character that we care about. Maybe it’s you. Otherwise it better be someone with some endearing qualities that makes us care. They could be young, helpless, naïve, but we need to care. If you’re evaluating whether a story is worth telling, ask yourself whether the audience will CARE.
- A twist – something unexpected. That should go without saying, but it’s a good reminder to keep in this storytelling checklist. If we all know what’s going to happen in the story, it’s less engaging. We need a twist.
- Great stories include Important details to make it real. When I share the story of me lacking confidence onstage, I share my age and career stage, who was in the audience, the feeling of the heat of the spotlight on me, the podium in front of me, and especially of how I felt – hot and sweaty palms and my firey red face – as red as my hair. But I don’t include what city I was in. Nor what month or season it was. Or a whole host of other details. It doesn’t matter, right?
This is a balance between including necessary details and leaving out t he unnecessary ones. Don’t include so much detail that you lose us. If you’re wondering whether some details enhance or detract from the story, they probably detract. Keep it succinct.
According to Jerry Zaltman, one of my favourite professors on the planet, the best storytellers (be they writers or musicians or advertisers) they involve their audience. They allow a co-participating, a co-authorship or a co-creation with the reader or the audience. They purposefully let the audience fill in the gaps. This is how storytelling becomes personally meaningful. So yes, include important details, but let your audience fill in the rest. Got it? OK. Last….
5.Relevance – the story has to be relevant to the context.
Obviously. Let me illustrate this with a quick story. A true story. At the beginning of the pandemic I did a 30-minute webinar on how to engage people in online meetings. The host was a very friendly guy. He started by introducing himself and then telling us about his hectic commute to get into the studio, or wherever he was sitting to physically host this webinar. I remember thinking, “why is he telling us this? Is he trying to make us like him?“ honestly, I almost left the webinar. Here I was looking for some quick tips and he’s telling us about his drive to the studio, and how stressful it was. There was a construction detour or – whatever. Anyway, then about 15 minutes later, when he was sharing his list of dos and donts for engaging your audience in online meetings, he of course highlighted storytelling as a great tool. And he reminded us of his story that he told at the beginning about his commute and stress to get to the webinar, as a great example of storytelling. I thought WHAT? Honestly, I was wondering why he told us that story at all.
So YES, include stories, but they have to be RELEVANT!
If it’s relevant, you can reference the story a few times in your presentation.
Stand-up comedians do this when they’re on stage and I always think it makes them sound so clever. It’s called a Callback. They reference back to the funny story they told at the very beginning. IRL, when we reference a story a few times in our presentation – perhaps once at the very beginning, once or more in the middle and then at the very end, it also integrates the story into our main message. Brilliant. OK
The last thing I want to share with you to help elevate your storytelling prowess is where you can find these stories. This is the number one question that I get from my clients and workshop participants. OK. Andrea, we’re convinced storytelling can elevate our communication. But where do we find these great stories? Good news, I have a list of four specific places where you can look to find stories.
WHERE TO FIND STORIES
- I call the first one – your first failed attempt. If youre teaching a skill, tell the story about your first failed attemptat that skill. The keyword here is failure. Maybe it’s admitting something youre not proud of. This is the stuff that the rest of us want to hear, right? At the beginning of the “Communicating with Confidence” workshope, I tell the story of the first time I gave a short speech at a national sales meeting. My friend Stephanie Rudnick, owner of Elite basketball camps tell stories of her epic failures when she’s teaching her kids or her staff. If you’re giving a speech to your sales people, start by telling them a story about what you did wrong in your first sales pitch. So that’s the first place to find stories. Your first failed attempt.
- Look for stories of transformation. This could be a story that starts with failure, but not necessarily. It could be “the hero’s journey,” someone who overcame obstacles, persevered, and finally succeeded. There’s a reason the hero’s journey is so prototypical. There’s a reason why Disney movies may seem formulaic. It’s because they are. The hero’s journey resonates. So if you’re trying to illustrate a moral or a point with a story, think about a related transformation. Say you’re meeting with a new consulting client and describing the critical path you’ll be following for the next few months as you work with them. You might illuminate the process with a story of transformation – it could be work you did with another client, or it could something more metaphorical. That leads us to the 3rd place to find stories.
- Use metaphors and analogies. And turn them into stories – or at least vivid vignette. The stories you tell don’t need to be monumental. They could be short snippets that help illustrate your point. You could say something like. “that’s when the you-know-what hit the fan. It was really messy.” Or you could say, “I really had to dig myself out of a hole. Can you picture me with my big shovel, digging, sweating, digging, So that’s exactly what I did…UGH….” Do you see what I mean? Metaphors are powerful. And you use metaphors as stories that you weave into your communication.
- Of course you can use stories about other people. Something that someone else experienced. You should either maintain their privacy by hiding their identity, or you could ask their permission to use the story, depending on the context and depending on your relationship with the person.
One thing that works really well is telling stories about the experiences of well-known celebrities. The story doesn’t have to be well-known, but it helps if the celebrity is.
When I teach personal branding, I tell the story of how Hillary Clinton failed in her quest to be President. We all know that story, right? I add that perhaps her failure was due in large part due to her (& her teams) not telling a compelling story of her activism and standing up for the under- privileged. She failed in sharing a compelling personal narrative
Compare that to Michelle Obama, whose story of hard work and advocacy made her one of the most admired woman in America.
Sharing the stories of these two well-known women is much more powerful than lecturing with facts and figures.
Those are the 4 places to find stories:
- Your 1st failed attempt
- Stories of transformation or the hero’s journey
- Using metaphors and analogies
- Sharing stories of other’s experiences, including well-known celebrities.
And that’s it. Did you get all that? Let me quickly review.
Storytelling is impactful for 4 reasons: One stories are engaging and they evoke emotions. Two stories are memorable. Three stories connect us, and four storytelling can illustrate our personal brand and ultimately fuel our success.
Next – what makes for a great story? This is your checklist of 6 essential elements to look for: number one a great story includes some sort of tension. #2 a character that we care about. #3 A twist, something unexpected, #4 important details (but not too much, we want the audience to fill in the gaps, remember?). And #5 the story needs to be relevant to our context or our message. Yes, of course. No random stories about your commute to the office, thank you very much.
And last but definitely not least: Where we can find these stories? I identified 4 places to find stories: Your 1st failed attempt, Stories of transformation or the hero’s journey, Using metaphors and analogies, Sharing stories of other’s experiences, including well-known celebrities.
Again, you can find a printable version of this summary, the transcript, plus a list of storytelling resources all in the shownotes. Just go to the talkabouttalk.com website, click on PODCAST and SHOWNOTES.
While you’re there, I really hope you’ll sign up for the Talk About Talk newsletter, if you’re not already! This is your chance to get free communication skills coaching from me every week in a simple to digest email. I promise no spam and no more than one per week. Just go to talk abouttalk.com to sign up or email me directly and I’ll add you to the list. You can email me anytime at Andrea@TalkAboutTalk.com.
I love hearing from you. Good luck with the storytelling. Thanks for listening. And talk soon!
THANKS for READING – and Talk soon!
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