The power of storytelling in pursuit of your cause

During two conferences held this week I had the opportunity to share some thoughts about the power of story-telling.  All of us tell stories about ourselves. We tell stories to our friends and colleagues all the time.   Stories define us. When we want someone to know us, we share stories from our childhood, our school years, our first work experiences and so on. Telling a compelling story to colleagues, bosses, friends, or family— or an audience in a conference room—inspires belief in our motives, character, and capabilities.

Everyone has a story.  Telling an authentic story connects you with others and invites others to become part of your journey.  You can use your story during interviews, presentations, proposals, pitches or panel discussions.  The better your story, the more likely people will remember it and subsequently tell it to others.  Good stories do not happen by accident, they are shaped as good stories by their owner.  So the question is, how do you craft a good story?

There are many different kinds of stories, but one of the most powerful for conveying experience is the Who-I-Am story.  The most important story you will ever tell is ‘Who are you?’  Your attempts to influence others are filtered through people’s judgements about who you are: your trustworthiness, your values, ambitions and integrity.  People are not really interested in information about your technical expertise.  What they want instead is faith in you, your experiences and your good intentions.  We crave personal experiences.  We want to hear true stories that feel like personal experiences.

So how can you craft a Who-I-am story that satisfies that craving?  You need to tell of an event that reveals your personal qualities.  People need to know who you are before they can trust you.  What kind of story will you share that can illuminate a personal quality you wish to convey?

“Tell me about yourself” – This simple request comes up frequently in business environments.  Offering a compelling answer will set the right tone with your audience, establish trust and credibility, increasing your persuasiveness.

When setting on the task of discovering ideas for your story, the first step is to excavate.  Reflect on the wealth of your own life experiences.  As you excavate, you may discover that something unexpected replaces what you had originally starting digging for, something better than the main story line you thought you would feature. At this stage, keep an open mind about selecting the best story to present and what its content and themes may be. The essential component in the discovery for your story is its rationale. What is the message behind you story?  What insights do you wish to impart on your audience?

The next step is crafting your story, organizing the elements of your story to shape it in an effective way. Because one of the best narratives that you can share involves overcoming adversity or solving a problem, we will use this story type as an example.  To make your story compelling, it is important to demonstrate overcoming hurdles on the road to success.  A story with no obstacle is not much of a story.  Once you have selected a story that involves significant obstacles you had to clear, think about the best way to construct the story to resonate most with your audience.  Think in three acts:

  1. The Hook – setting the stage

This is the opening that pulls your audience into the story and introduces the context and yourself as the protagonist. Your take-off must be compelling and intriguing.  Seek to capture and engage your audience members’ interest right away. If you seize their attention immediately, you’ll have the best opportunity to hold their interest throughout your presentation.

         Introduce the protagonist (yourself) – Who were you and what did you want?

         Paint the scene – Make use of vivid and sensory language – What did you hear, see, taste, smell, touch?”

  1. The Challenge – no story works unless the protagonist encounters a problem. The problem posits the story question. Will the character get out of the problem? And this is what make stories so compelling to the human brain as the audience needs to stick around to get an answer.    Remember that without a problem you will lose your audience.

You as the protagonist face a hurdle that you needed to address – this will involve an emotional turning point.  At this moment, you as the protagonist transform.

  • What is the need, problem, or challenge you had to tackle?
  • Who/what was your guide? What action did you take?
  • What could have been lost if you had failed? (highlight possible failures)
  1. The Ending – Often, the story creation process will determine the ending. It will evolve as you create your narrative. This is your turning point/ youra-ha” moment/ big idea.
  • How did you get to your “a-ha” moment?
  • What was the ending that you experienced?

Ensure that your narrative theme weaves through your acts.  Without a theme your story will have no backbone.  Once you discover the theme, weed out information that does not relate to it.  It is important to think about how your story benefits your audience.  Ask yourself this question: what message do I want my audience to walk away with?

A really good story is one in which success is only achieved after failed attempts, by facing unforeseen challenges.  A good story is real and authentic.  A story is one of the most powerful tools you can use to connect with others.  Next time someone takes an interest in you and asks you the question ‘Tell Me about Yourself’, you now have the basic tools you need to create an enticing and connecting story.

We are all on a journey of course. The interesting part is that as we relate back our stories and experiences we realise how much we have changed along the years and how much we have learnt along the way. The backbone of every story is transformative change.  Transformation happens not only in the story but perspectives and insights are generated as well in the minds of your listeners.  The process of creating your story will enable you to reflect on where you came from, where you are now, and where you hope to go in the future.


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