I’m sitting in the office of one of my clients, a CEO named Matt, for our first story coaching session. His office walls and tabletops are covered with photos, plaques and awards, painting a picture of a very accomplished, connected and respected leader.
He said to me, “I look forward to getting this story down so I can videotape it and never have to tell it again.”
“Oh boy,” I thought to myself. “Another leader who hasn’t a clue about what storytelling is really about.”
So our work began. It didn’t take Matt long to change his tune and experience how using storytelling works toward engaging employees, creating a strong culture, recruiting talent, implementing change, transferring knowledge and building sales.
What was Matt doing wrong? He was only thinking of story mechanics instead of story dynamics.
Story mechanics include the essential elements of a story — diagrams, checklists and crafting tips. All of this is good information and important to know. But knowing story mechanics doesn’t make you a good storyteller, nor does it help you realize how to make stories really work for you.
What it does help you do is understand the tools available. Just like a painter needs to know about brushes and canvases, storytellers need to know about characters, plot, motivation, problem, resolution, contrast, emotion and message. To really get business results from storytelling, you’ve got to move away from story mechanics to story dynamics.
First, let’s re-examine the appropriateness of the word storytelling, which is limited in today’s context. All the word does is remind us of a person on a stage telling a story. This is a one-way “push” mindset.
What great storytellers know is when telling a story, they immediately engage the imagination, hearts and minds of their listeners. Storytelling is a co-created experience that builds relationships, not a one-way messaging vehicle. In other words, today’s storytelling comes with more of a “pull” mindset.
That brings us to story dynamics. There are two secrets to story dynamics. The first is the value of communicating stories in person to maximize connections. While this form of authenticity isn’t always possible, it should be your first go-to strategy, not necessarily recording a video.
The second secret is story listening. Remember the last time you swapped stories with someone and couldn’t wait to share your story too? Telling a story sparks a story in return. Get your ears on, and get into the two-way street of story sharing.
Remove the word storytelling from your vocabulary and think only of story sharing. Spend time listening to stories wherever and whenever you can. Deliberately asking to listen to stories before you tell one is a give-and-take dynamic that will be more effective than simple story mechanics.
Results of this approach include amplified authenticity, presence, connection, relationship, trust, engagement and inspiration for both tellers and listeners.
Other return on investments with this approach includes improved communication and knowledge transfer, greater productivity and a tighter, more cohesive culture.
So instead of only focusing on storymechanics, focus more on story dynamics. Doing so will move people to action, inspire loyalty and increase engagement.
Remember, never leave home without a story, and never forget to listen to those told by others.