One of the most undervalued types of communication is a person’s storytelling skills. I remember one year when I put storytelling skills in the areas for improvement section of my annual review. It was largely brushed off and likely taken in the context that I was not focusing on the right areas. The truth of the matter is that we all need to be better storytellers. When I travel around the country and teach leaders or consult with organizations, I often tell the same stories over and over again if it’s on the same subject matter. If you are in sales you do the same thing daily with potential clients. If you are a parent, you use stories to teach your children. We also use stories to build and grow relationships both personally and professionally.
There are three types of stories that everyone should have in their toolbox.
Underdog story This is your outsider to insider story and your goal is to connect on an emotional level. Think David and Goliath or Rocky. Both are great stories of overcoming the odds to win. For me, it’s starting out at an organization as a seasonal hire, after not even getting an interview the first time, to becoming a leader in that company and being responsible for over 500 people. It doesn’t have to be extreme. Your story may be getting laid off from a job and how you bounced back, not getting into the school you wanted, not getting the dream job you applied for, etc. Basically, what obstacle and personal setback have you overcome to get a win. A few months ago, I told a story of how the GA marathon destroyed me, but I was able to bounce back and do really well at the Boston Marathon weekend a month later. Large or small, have a few of these types of stories in your pocket.
Authority story This story shows your expertise in your specific field, also known as your street cred story. What gives you your credibility? Again this can be both large and small scale, depending on your experience. I have a few including turning around retention rates, stories of other leaders that have thrived under the right kind of leadership, and financial gains by focusing on the right training delivery method. Yours may be your academic success, work success, or success as a parent. Another way to think about it is from the perspective of your friends/family/co-workers. They would say you are awesome at _________ because _________ . There’s one of your stories right there.
Fixer story This is your story of what you do. What problem-solve for other people? “I help people __________”, “I help my organization _________”. Share a problem that you currently working on for a customer, your boss, or your business. These are typically easier stories to identify and showcase your drive to improve others and work with a team. It helps people see how you can help them with their own problems and situations. People enjoy hearing how their pain points can be solved and they get that from hearing how you did it with others. Keep in mind to tailor your stories around what people need to hear. The stories I share when speaking to business students are going to be different from the ones I share with a CEO going through a culture change initiative. In her situation, she doesn’t care that I got passed over for a seasonal job, but a college student will project themselves into the story and see how they can build future career growth.
Tips to start writing your story
- Free write: Spend time weekly writing out your thoughts or experience that happened to you in the last week. We all forget our interactions and they can often be a great start to an engaging story.
- Voice to text apps or voice recorders: Hate writing? Use voice recording apps, your phone, or a recorder to record your thoughts.
- Be authentic: People see through fake stories or ones that are overexaggerated and insincere. People want to hear about the real you.
- Try it on friends and colleagues: Use those close to you to give you honest feedback on how your story is. They can help you edit and polish your story to make it more impactful.
- Don’t improv your story: I know that you’ve heard yourself tell the story a hundred times, but it’s likely a first for your audience. There is a reason why people enjoy a greatest hits album and far fewer buy the remix album. People want to hear your best!
- Have an impact that they remember: If people can’t summarize and tell your story to others then it probably needs to be reworked.
- Develop a skill people don’t have and then give it to them: Give them something that they can’t readily get elsewhere. That may be a service, a unique combination of skill set or a life experience.
*Ryan Williams is an expert in storytelling and the writer of the Influencer Economy. He is the champion of the three types of stories everyone should have and can be found at The Influencer Economy
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