In a moment I have a connection challenge for you.
Workshops on storytelling and writing narratives are very popular for leaders right now. Why? Because good stories create human connection. Better connections with team members help us inspire and retain them. Creating a connection with a candidate can make all the difference in recruitment.
Our Love of Stories. Our company is in its 37th year and most of our senior team has been together for between 20 and 25 years. I believe one of our cultural threads is that we are open, we like each other, and we can laugh at each other. How? We tell stories.
One example is that when we each hit our 20th anniversary we have a kind of celebration/roast for the person in front of our whole management team. When it was my turn a few years ago they staged a Jeopardy game with my colleague Ryan playing Alex Trebek and another colleague, David, playing me. (And he was very funny, I just watched the video again.) All the answers and questions in the game were related to something unique about me – it was fun.
My favorite answer-question was the following:
Answer –Steve says this before he tells a story.
Question – What is “Stop me if I’ve told you this story before.”
As I go around and visit all our managers and teams almost everyone has heard me say, “Stop me if I’ve told you this story before.” They rarely stop me and I’m grateful for their indulgence and hopefully the stories have some redeeming value.
I know I tell stories because it is my way of building a connection with a person or group. And, because I am a lifelong teacher, I understand that when I can use a story to connect the learner to a concept overall learning improves.
And, as Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist at Princeton, says, “When you tell me a story, our brains get coupled in a very real way.”
The Challenge. If you are in a leadership role or aspire to be, here is my connection challenge for you – write and orally deliver a talk titled – This is My Story That Inspires Me to Work Here.
“I’m Just Not a Good Storyteller.” I know I am only an average storyteller and some of my stories are delivered better than others. But I know the more I do it the better I get. I have heard some of you say, “I’m just not a good storyteller.” And I say, “Now is your time. If you want to be a successful leader in the future this is a skill you need to master.”
Before I go through a few steps for preparing your story, let me also refer you to my article called Five Tips for Writing Short Stories, which I wrote last year.
Step 1 – Discover Moth Radio. If you ever want to passively learn about storytelling, I strongly recommend you listen to The Moth Radio Hour. The Moth is where people tell brief stories about whatever theme has been selected for the night. Dan Kennedy, the host, has many tips for storytellers. I also recommend Moth champion, Margot Leitman’s article Six Rules for Great Storytelling on the Fast Company site.
Step 2 – Understand the Purpose of Your Story. Before you craft your story, it is important you know the story’s goal or purpose. Is it simply to make a personal connection? Is it to teach a point or concept? Is it to inspire someone? Is it simply to entertain?
The reason you want to think about the purpose is that it helps you construct the story. Sometimes you have the basics of a story already in mind, but you might wonder what to do with it. Thinking about your purpose lets you begin to think of how the story is relevant, how you might connect it to your objective, and, finally, how you will arrange the pieces of your story.
Step 3 – Remember the Story is about the Listener. I found Jasmine Bina’s advice in her article How To Tell A Story People Will Never Forget very enlightening. She reminds us, “The stories people remember — whether they are brand stories, personal tales or cultural narratives — are the ones that reveal something about the listener, and you can’t do that if you‘re stuck in the perspective of the teller.”
Her advice is connected to my Step 2 in that when we think about our story’s purpose we must think about what’s in it for the listener.
Step 4 – Never Forget Your Characters. In case you hadn’t noticed, all good stories have human characters in them. Even my family and friends who like dog, cat, and bird stories will notice that the good stories have people characters in them. This is how we truly connect with the listeners. So, invest in understanding your main character and his or her trials, tribulations, and emotions because he or she is your foundation.
A few weeks ago when I wrote about using Improv to improve your coaching I referred to Alan Alda’s book If I Understood You, Would I Have this Look on My Face?. In the book Alda told us about the scientist David Muller of Cornell University, who recently invented the thinnest layer of glass – only one molecule thick. This invention, which will likely impact the future of chip technology greatly, got almost no attention.
But as Muller learned in one of Alda’s story-telling classes, talking about atomic structure and molecules just didn’t work as a story. But when Muller talked about how he and his assistant, Pinshane Huang, invented the glass by mistake, suddenly he had a story that resonated with an audience and got international attention.
Step 5 – Follow a Simple Process to Construct Your Story. In the same book, Alda wrote about how Christine O’Connell, who teaches story-telling at the Center for Communicating Science, reminds us that every good story follows this basic flow.
- We introduce a situation and character or ask a question.
- We build suspense and present obstacles.
- We create a turning point for the character.
- We resolve the situation and conclude.
Step 6 – Practice Telling the Story. Begin this final step by telling yourself the story, out loud. Work on your timing and language and how you pivot from building suspense to and through the turning point. Then carefully construct your ending for optimum impact. This closing or “resolution” should link back to your purpose. It is the lesson you want the listener to think about, again and again.
Finally, tell the story to a family member or friend or co-worker. Pay attention to their reaction so you can tweak the story in places where it is needed.
A Few Examples. Although he did not know it when this was recorded, I think this two-minute video by Ryan Mountain on our website very closely achieves my challenge – This is My Story That Inspires Me to Work Here. See if you can see how Ryan goes through the story construction flow suggested by Christine O’Connell.
In my article a few weeks ago when I wrote about trust and Joe Leddy I tried to challenge myself to create a story that satisfies this topical challenge – This is My Story That Inspires Me to Work Here. That story is at the end of that article.
In my article Leaders Beware, Google Done Taught Me Everything I Know I tried to follow O’Connell’s flow when I wrote about my college court case. That story, too, is at the end of the article.
So, let the challenge begin. I will look forward to hearing how you are building connections through your storytelling!