Leadership Stories that Come Alive

In most leadership stories, there are five key elements that make a story effective, according to authors Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman in The Elements of Persuasion: Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business (HarperBusiness, 2007):

  1. Passion (the enthusiasm and energy with which you tell the story).
  2. A relatable hero who gives your story a point of view and allows your audience to enter into the story in their own minds.
  3. An obstacle or an antagonist who presents problems that must be faced. This struggle involves strong emotions that engage the audience.
  4. A moment of awareness when everything changes for the hero (the problem is solved, and there is an emotional release). The audience learns from the story as it plays out in their minds.
  5. A transformation that occurs within the hero, which improves his situation or allows him to make new discoveries.

However, there are some important caveats about these five elements of a good business story. There’s nothing worse than finishing your leadership story and looking at listeners with blank expressions.

First, your hero should be relatable—someone who’s similar to members of your audience. He cannot be Superman or a rock star, nor should you use yourself as the hero (unless you want to appear arrogant).

Second, emotions should be the highlight of your story. Facts without emotions are dry, lifeless and forgettable. Don’t be afraid to expose life’s inherently raw emotions. Why does the hero care? Why does this story matter?

Third, make your story realistic to achieve authenticity. While embellishment is sometimes necessary to a good story, provide a few realistic details to make it vivid.

Finally, stories don’t necessarily have happy endings. People often pay greater attention to bad news. Close with the lessons to be learned from your story. Minds may wander, or your listeners may reach an unexpected conclusion, so be sure to emphasize the points you want to make.

While this may seem like just good sense, you’d be surprised at how many stories get told without sufficient forethought or impact. I hear stories all the time in executive coaching sessions. Listeners won’t necessarily experience the same feelings or reach the same conclusions you did. You need to spell it out for them. And be prepared to address other points of view.

For some analytical managers, telling stories doesn’t come easy. You may be more comfortable with numbers. But with practice and some forethought, you can get good at it, improving your ability to hold people’s attention and influence them. Which is another good reason to work with an executive coach! Call me and let’s talk. I’ll tell you a story…

(Photo: freedigitalphotos.net)

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