What makes a CEO a great storyteller? Let’s say you’re at an event, and someone says to you, “Tell me the story of your business.” Take a moment and think about how you would respond.
If your initial response is along the lines of “Well, we started in 1989 and produce 60 tonnes of this and that” – let me stop you right there.
That’s not the story of your business. That’s a report. Reports communicate who, what, when, where.
What stories require is the why. More specifically, YOUR why.
As a CEO, you have a unique opportunity – a necessity, even – to be a great storyteller
People relate to stories. It’s stories that stick with us, change us, influence and inspire us. Stories don’t just tell us about a good leader, they make us feel what the leader felt along the way and what it’s like to be under his or her wing.
Take Richard Branson. It’s likely no other CEO uses the power of storytelling like he does. He openly tells his personal story – a young dyslexic dropout starts a magazine and, finally understanding how his mind works, harnesses the power of storytelling to relate to people – and in doing so shares both successes and failures, making his story relatable and memorable. He firmly believes great storytelling is vital to building brands and inspiring staff and clients. He even hosts storytelling around a campfire for his Virgin teams. “Today, if you want to succeed as an entrepreneur, you also have to be a storyteller,” he writes. It seems to have worked well for him.
To establish yourself as a leader who makes an impact you have to dig deep. It’s time to move past the facts of your life as presented on your CV and tell the story behind those facts, sharing your motivations and what it was that compelled you to take certain directions at various moments of your life – and how it all turned out.
How do you become a great storyteller?
Explore your personal brand
More than what style of clothes you wear or the detail of your company logo, we’re talking about YOUR brand. Your brand is what defines you. What makes you get out of bed in the morning, what makes you feel good about what you do every day? How does your work fulfill you? Why are you here? Your brand is the heart of your story.
Get beyond the facts
Your skills, achievements and experience matter, but don’t forget that your unique life experience and way of thinking shaped all of that. Your character provides the context for the facts of your story. Who you are, how you think and your approach to life has made your story. A different person in the exact same circumstances would have different reactions and feelings. We each have our own unique worldview, and the ability to perceive that of others’. Our stories are what make us able to relate to each other on a human level and learn from each other’s experiences.
Create a library of go-to chapters
Think of moments when you were influenced or inspired. How can you share these moments to influence, inspire and lead others?
If someone was to ask you about a meaningful moment in your career, what would you say? Would it be more effective to point out achievements you’ve made (facts anyone can Google) or to launch into a story of how you came to the realisation you were doing something that fulfilled you, or the effect you’ve had on others or the betterment of the world around you?
By taking the time to think about your stories and how to tell them effectively, you’ll have a captivating answer that shows who you are and cements your brand in people’s minds.
One trick to developing your story is to avoid the old habit of reporting. Most of us are trained to report, but what we respond to are stories. It’s easy to slip back into reporting as facts are close to the surface and don’t require much effort to convey, while stories require digging deeper with more effort.
To stay on track, keep the following in mind as you work on developing your stories.
- Reports inform. They deal with facts and knowledge.
Stories enlighten. They influence a shift in perspective and feelings and inspire people to action.
- Reports are about work: this was the cause and that was the result.
Stories are about humans and how they work: this is how that person felt, what that person thought, and how it culminated in a result.
- Reports present facts. They explain a situation, what action was taken, and what the outcome was.
Stories impress ideas upon us. They have a plot, they have tension, they allow us to put ourselves in the story so that we draw our own conclusions and create personal meaning. We take ownership of the story and make it our own. It becomes part of us.
So, the next time someone says, “Tell me the story of your business” – what will your response be?