Storytelling is identified as one of Matter’s top skills linked to performance and career success. Matter helps professionals tease out blindspots and areas for growth in skills like storytelling through regular peer-to-peer feedback.

What Is Storytelling

Definition of Storytelling: Creates an engaging oral or written message that contains a lesson via a narrative.

There’s an old saying that those who tell the stories rule the world. Storytelling should be at the core of everything you do as a team, whether you’re making a pitch to an investor, leading a meeting, or presenting a new initiative. As a matter of fact, even a phone call with a prospective client involves storytelling. Harnessing the power of stories enables you to connect with customers, engage with peers, and even start a movement.

Amazing Storytellers You May Know

Steve Jobs: He was not your typical CEO. At Apple, Jobs was responsible for more than just operations or product development. He was Apple’s chief evangelist and storyteller. Jobs is known for his electrifying speeches during Apple’s product launches and shareholder meetings. In his 2007 keynote, Steve announced that Apple was about to launch a wide-screen iPod, a phone, and an internet communication device. Then he surprised everyone that this was an all-in-one device, the iPhone. “Today, Apple is going to reinvent the phone,” Jobs said with a wide smile during the unveiling of the first generation iPhone.

Anita Roddick: As the founder of The Body Shop, a cosmetics company based on ethical consumerism, Roddick was one of the first CEOs to prohibit testing on animals and promote fair trade. Roddick understands the power of storytelling when it comes to starting a movement. In an interview with the Daily Telegraph, she shared, “One of the most intriguing things in management and in business is the role of storytelling – people need the anecdotes to do the work they do.” Roddick’s storytelling has often been described as a Trojan Horse, the ability to share ideas so subtle that they slip under the radar and have a powerful impact from the inside out.

Walt Disney: A master storyteller, Disney was the creator of dreams and magical worlds. He not only wrote stories and drew cartoons, but he built entire worlds of imagination for people to live in, from Mickey Mouse as the Sorcerer’s Apprentice to Jiminy Cricket in Pinnochio. When Disneyland debuted, he said that it “will never be completed. It will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world.” By his death in 1966, more than 240 million people had seen his movies. Today, Disney still has a lasting impact on artists, creators, and innovators across the world.

Why Storytelling Is Important

  • Legacy: There’s a reason why there are so many founding stories about the early days of startups. Stories like Google’s founders starting the search engine giant inside a garage or Netflix’s founders starting the streaming platform to avoid late rental fees.
  • Inspiration: One thing that story can do that plain prose can’t is its ability to imbue an idea with meaning and emotions. People draw to stories because they can grasp onto something that’s tangible. Stories evoke emotions and inspire people to take action.
  • Growth Mindset: People often say that it hurts less to learn a lesson from observation than experience. When we tell and embrace stories of our setbacks, we help others get through their own difficulties.

What Storytelling Isn’t About

  • Status Quo: Stories have great power, but that doesn’t mean that those stories should be used to confine people into thinking that there’s one correct way to do everything.
  • Propaganda: Dictators have used stories in the past to sell ideologies of fear and deceit. Stories can influence and inspire, but we shouldn’t use them to manipulate.
  • Intimidating: There’s a difference between a leader who share stories to inspire and a boss who tells stories to intimidate and coerce. Stories can be used to get buy-in, but a good leader would never use it to indoctrinate.

Abilities That Lead To The Mastery of Storytelling

Ending with a positive takeaway: The most effective presentations not only have a conflict and a climax but end with a positive resolution. On the path to triumph, most characters in these stories experience an ”aha moment” which is a key piece of wisdom or realization that helped them overcome their obstacles and change for the better.

Getting personal: Past stories of struggles, failures and overcoming barriers the storyteller has experienced are excellent sources that help the teller connect with the audience as everyone has experienced these in life. This will compel the teller to appear more human, more like one of them.

Keeping it simple: Complicated stories aren’t necessarily better. “Less is more” is a basic rule of good storytelling. Avoid the complex, details as well as the use of adjectives and complicated nouns. Using plain language is the best way to ensure people hear your message. Remember that you are not trying to impress, but to share an experience.

Knowing your audience: The audience must be able to relate to the story. Talking about a yacht would not be a good way for the CEO of an organization to connect with their employees. This would likely have the opposite effect and distance his audience from him or her. Telling a heartfelt story about going fishing with your family would be much more effective.

Opening with a hook: A hook is the part of your speech that compels an audience to sit up and pay attention. It should come at the beginning of your talk, where it can have the biggest impact. Audiences have a lot on their minds. Let them know right away that you’re going to be interesting.

Practicing: How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice. Storytelling is a “real art form” that requires repeated effort to get right. Practice with friends, loved ones, and trusted colleagues to hone your message into an effective story.

Using conflict and tension: In every story, there’s some sort of conflict or tension that needs to be resolved before the curtain falls. That’s what keeps the audience listening.

Using silence for impact: Silence is a powerful and underutilized storytelling tool. Intentional silence draws emphasis to what was just said or what is about to come and allows others to process the conveyed information.

Explore Roles That Benefit From Storytelling

Who can benefit from practicing storytelling? Matter is helping professionals at all levels get actionable feedback to improve their storytelling.

  • CEOs who are looking to become better leaders and cultivate company culture
  • Designers who want to grow their professional and soft skills
  • Freelancers who work without a traditional team and want feedback
  • Project Managers looking to improve their cross-functional collaboration skills
  • Software Engineers who aspire to become a tech lead or manager

Explore Complementary Skills to Storytelling

Storytelling shouldn’t be practiced in a vacuum. Improve your storytelling by exploring and developing these complementary skills.

  • Body Language: Uses engaging and approachable gestures, facial expressions, and postures
  • Public Speaking: Speaks to a live audience in an informative, persuasive, and entertaining manner
  • Presentation Skills: Delivers effective, understandable, and engaging presentations to a variety of audiences
  • Verbal Communication: Speaks effectively using appropriate vocal tone, speed, volume, and vocabulary
  • Influence: Convinces others to listen and do things that positively impact the team or company

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