“Great stories happen to people that can tell them.” – Ira Glass
Don’t underestimate the impact of a good story. Being able to paint a picture with words helps others to see things the way that you do — and that’s a big deal. Being a good storyteller can also help you to be seen as a leader, and as someone who’s interesting, intelligent and wise, and just generally worth listening to. Strong storytelling skills allow you to get and hold another person’s attention. And, knowing how to tell your own story can help you get hired.
Let’s take a closer look at how and why storytelling skills can help you get ahead at work. Then, we’ll examine a few simple ways that you can improve your own storytelling abilities for professional success.
“Wherever a story comes from, whether it is a familiar myth or a private memory, the retelling exemplifies the making of a connection from one pattern to another: a potential translation in which narrative becomes parable and the once upon a time comes to stand for some renascent truth. This approach applies to all the incidents of everyday life: the phrase in the newspaper, the endearing or infuriating game of a toddler, the misunderstanding at the office. Our species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories.” – Mary Catherine Bateson, Peripheral Vision: Learning Along the Way
People don’t think about experiences as isolated incidents or as a series of unrelated occurrences. Humans like to find meaning in their day-to-day, so they construct narratives. What kind of stories do you have about your past? How do you explain how you’ve gotten where you are today professionally? Chances are, you think of it as a story.
But, it’s essential to always remember that the way we tell these stories really matters, even if we’re only telling them to ourselves. The voice inside your head is powerful. You can use it to build yourself up. Or, you can reflect on your story in a way that’s self-destructive and works against you.
The way you think about your own personal narrative, and the way you tell your story to others, says a lot about you. The stories you tell at work, and about work, really matter. They affect the way others see you, the way you see yourself, and so much more.
Here are a few ways that storytelling skills could benefit you professionally:
You’ll be a better leader – Storytelling is a leadership tool. Being a good storyteller can help you to become a stronger leader within your organization, no matter what role you play there. When you tell a story, you encourage people to see situations the way you do. Storytelling can help you explain problems as well as lay out solutions. And, it encourages others to get on board with your plan. When something goes wrong at work, or when something goes right, you’ll be able to tell a story about it that helps move things along to the next step. Influencing the narrative in this way — and thus influencing the trajectory of the organization — is what leadership is all about.
It can help you get the job – Being able to tell your own story in an honest, positive and powerful way could help you land your next job. But, being able to explain your personal history, discuss your skills and abilities and share your plans for the future in a concise and moving way isn’t easy. Good stories are captivating, relatable and memorable. If you can manage to discuss your professional history and future vision in a way that hits all those points, it could definitely help you ace your next job interview.
You’ll be better able to motivate and persuade – Storytelling is one of the most effective ways to get a point across. Our brains process this type of information differently. Stories motivate and persuade people in a unique way. They’re also memorable; the things people learn through stories tend to stick. So, if you’re able to harness you storytelling abilities in the workplace, you’ll be better able to motivate others. You’ll find it’s easier to persuade them to get on board with your plans and ideas.
Your relationships will improve – There’s something captivating about a good story — and a good storyteller can be pretty magnetic, too. When your storytelling abilities improve, you might notice that your relationships at work grow as well. People are more likely to listen to a team member who can spin a story in an entertaining way. Becoming a better storyteller could do wonders for your professional relationships.
You’ll be the one in charge of your narrative – There is a lot of power in being a good storyteller. One of the most spectacular benefits is that it gives you more authority over your own past and your personal narrative. You get to decide the causes and effects that landed you where you are today. You can frame your story in a way that’s empowering, rather than constructing a tale that drags you down. You’ll be better able to focus on the good and growth rather than the disappointments and setbacks. When you’re a good storyteller, you’re in charge of your narrative.
“Whenever you find yourself laughing at a situation or shaking your head or saying to someone, ‘Listen to this,’ you’ve probably got a story.” – Ken Fuson, reporter for The Des Moines Register.
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Tips For Improving Your Storytelling Skills
1. Tune in to stories
One of the best ways to become a better storyteller is to begin to pay a little more attention to the stories you hear, read or otherwise encounter during your daily life. When someone tells you a story that you enjoy, for example, take a few minutes to reflect on what you liked about it. Did the person use a certain style that you liked, or maybe certain words? How did they structure the story? Did they recount some dialogue or share some particularly compelling descriptions? Picking up on these elements rather than just letting them wash over you is a big deal. Learning to tune into stories in a more critical and observant way can help you improve your own storytelling abilities.
2. Loosen up
Storytelling at work might sound unprofessional at first. But, it really isn’t. Understanding this can help make you a better storyteller.
“People are always telling stories; why don’t they do it at work,” Susan Fisher, a communication expert, told Fast Company. “It’s because they have been taught that at work you use logic and sides and statistics; this seems more professional. Telling stories seems too emotional and possibly manipulative. So people stick to facts and numbers. But the truth is that real emotions always work better, because that is the way to reach hearts and minds, and also people get to see the real you. It’s authentic.”
When you tell stories at work you let others in and authenticity is good for your career in all kinds of ways. It helps you to develop stronger relationships, it’s good for your energy level and your attitude, and it aids with problem-solving and leadership skills. So, loosen up and let go of the spreadsheet once in awhile. Telling a great story is a wonderful way to get your point across.
3. Start with the takeaway
A special kind of planning and preparation is required when you’re trying to use your storytelling abilities to be persuasive in the workplace. A tip that might come in handy: don’t start at the beginning. Instead, begin at the end.
Let’s say you need to give a speech at an important meeting, for example. First, decide what you want the audience’s takeaway to be. Maybe you want them to agree to a new partnership, or you want to sell them on a particular way of doing business. Perhaps you just want to motivate them to give this new project their all. Knowing where you want to start is key. Then, you just need to work backward in order to construct the story that will help them to get to that finish line.
Spend some time thinking about how you arrived at this takeaway or conclusion yourself. What series of events happened that brought you to feeling the way you do? How can you tell your story in a way that helps others to make the same progress?
4. Make it shorter
It can be hard to know where to stop and start when telling a story. But remember, you want to say everything that should be said about this matter not everything that could be said. As a general rule, shorter is better as it’s more powerful.
The French mathematician Blaise Pascal wrote, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time,” for good reason. Paring down your thoughts and shortening a story takes effort — but it’s well worth it. If you can tell the same story without one of the anecdotes or part of the backstory, leave it out. Your story will pack more of a punch if it’s thick with valuable and compelling content.
5. Understand the power
Storytelling is a powerful tool because our brains are wired for it. So, when you tell a story, know that your listeners are more likely to remember and retain what you said. This is because, as humans, we think in narratives. When we imagine going to the store, we don’t just see a shopping list, for example. We think about when we’re going to go and what we’ll do before and after.
When you tell a story at work, you tap into something very special. Just remember that the words, reasoning and even the emotions that you employ in your storytelling could very well get passed on to your listener. This is great news, as long as you remain aware of the message you’re conveying. Stories can be very persuasive.
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