Great storytellers are each as unique as the stories they tell. And while the strengths of one will most certainly be different than the strengths of another, great storytellers—especially great leaders who use storytelling—do share some common characteristics that they either consciously or subconsciously use when communicating and/or making presentations.
Great storyteller leaders listen, engage and interact with their audience – They bridge the gap between “you” and “me” to make their audience feel one with them. They understand that storytelling is really a conversation; a dialogue between people; an exchange of meaning. It is not a lecture or a seemingly endless download of information. Rather, it is a shared experience among equals in which the audience is just as active a participant as the storyteller, even if the storyteller is doing most of the talking. For a great example of this in action, watch Steve Jobs make a prank phone call with 4,000 people.
Great storyteller leaders empower others – When done well, storytelling enables people to hear what you have to tell them, but then draw their own conclusions from what they have heard. Those conclusions are remarkably similar to what you want them to be; but they are nonetheless their conclusions, not yours. You can guide them down the path, you can get that finish line in sight, but they have to walk over that line on their own to truly make your story, their story. When you entrust them to take those last few steps by themselves, they will respect you for it and become that much more committed to bringing your story to life.
Great storyteller leaders are generous in spirit – They understand that storytelling is a selfless gift. It is ego-less. It is not about personal acknowledgement or grandeur. Rather, it’s about giving something special to someone else. In fact with great storytelling, the storyteller is not the hero; the audience is. You care more about the story getting passed along than you do about recognition or praise for telling it. For as Harry Truman once said, “There is no limit to what you can accomplish as long as you don’t care who gets the credit for it.”
Great storyteller leaders are human, vulnerable, truthful and trustworthy – They are authentic and genuine, not being afraid to admit doubts, confusion or mistakes. They also invite people in and reveal parts of themselves in telling of their stories, and the audience feels closer to them as a result because they relate to the storyteller not just on a professional level, but also on a human one.
Great storyteller leaders make sure there is a point to the story they’re telling – They are strategic in their storytelling. Rather than telling any story at any time, they tell the right story at the right time, doing so with intent and purpose and desire to specifically shape the way their audience thinks, feels and, ultimately, acts. (For more insight on how to strategically engineer the stories you tell, click here.)
A great example of many of the traits I mention above, especially the last two, is this clip of Zappos CEO Tony Hshie sharing a story of their company’s amazing service ethic coming to life.
As you start to use storytelling more and more in your communications—and use it strategically—keep these five characteristics in mind. Infusing your leadership communications with storytelling may feel a bit strange at first, but the fact is you already know how to do this because you’ve been telling stories since you first started communicating. Perhaps you just haven’t taken that proclivity and applied it to the workplace…at least not yet. Good luck!
[Note - if you to read this blog post from Bill's 1st Quarter Newsletter, here is the link to the storytelling video... Great Storytellers Do Not Hide Behind PowerPoint]