Have you ever listened to someone sharing their story and been bored to tears? I have too – and it’s so frustrating because people are inherently interesting. But storytelling doesn’t come easily for some – especially when you feel the pressure of an audience – even if it’s an audience of one. If you don’t know the basics of storytelling, it can be like serving flat soda – you take the fizz out of what is supposed to be effervescent. If you want to increase your impact, learning to tell your story clearly and succinctly is vital.
Everyone from marketers to managers to ministers are talking about the power of story and with good reason. It’s not a new trend, but with the nozzle of news and information running full-force 24/7 through every manner of device that technology invents, the need for emotional connection is paramount. People respond to the personal touch – it serves as a powerful filter in the midst of the constant barrage of data.
The power of story is well-documented. Neuro-economist Paul Zak, author of The Moral Molecule, conducted research that proves that hearing a story narrative causes our brains to release cortisol and oxytocin. Cortisol activates anti-stress and anti-inflammatory pathways in the body. Oxytocin is a hormone proven to play an important role in connecting with others, empathizing, and creating meaning in relationships. The importance of story is literally part of our DNA.
We can be deeply energized by connection and purpose and storytelling creates that. You are the hero in your own epic tale. Joseph Campbell, writer and lecturer, defines a hero as someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself. That defines all of the people I hang out with. Each of us is committed to serving, loving, helping, teaching or creating beauty in some way in the world around us.
The process of learning to articulate your story in a meaningful way might be painful. It was for me. The first formal speaking engagements I engaged were booked by an organization that reviewed my recorded message for length and content before I was approved as a speaker. I remember how frustrating it was when the critiques required repeated revisions and re-submissions. Discouragement and a little bit of hurt disguised as resentment made me want to quit before I began. But guess what? My message was far better because of that process.
If you haven’t taken the time to write out your story, you’re missing out on one of the most powerful communication tools available to you. Most of my readers are business people, so think in terms of the part of your story that applies to your career and why you are passionate about what you do.
Most compelling stories contain some common elements – the hero sets out and receives some sort of call to adventure or challenge. There’s always conflict that develops and creates tension – it might be an accident or some sort of trouble. This forces the hero to make a decision that results in change.
This diagram, photo credit to Wikimedia, shows the traditional Hero’s Journey you can find in stories ranging from myths to mysteries to company reports.
You may not have ever thought of yourself as a hero, but you’re it. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to learn to articulate your story in a way that brings meaning to others. If you are selling a widget that makes life easier, you’ll have a lot more success telling a story that conveys the benefits rather than itemizing the features. If you’ve been through something devastating and come out the other side and want to help others conquer similar hurdles, people will be captivated by your story. If you are leading a team through tumultuous change, they want to hear how you navigated another seemingly impossible situation and survived it. Your story matters – even the failures and disappointments. Yes, people want to hear about those too. It’s called authenticity, but it conveys, “you are not alone in this journey”.
If people want information, they Google it. It’s the personal connection you make through your story that gives you influence and impact. Your unique legacy is your story. It’s time to articulate your experiences and what you’ve learned. You have the power to help others and it’s nothing short of selfish to suppress that.
It’s time to make that connection with another human being – to reach across the differences, the busyness, the activities that separate us from one another.
It’s time to communicate, “I feel that way too.”
It’s time to mute the incessant whisper that that says, “you have nothing to offer “, “it will never work”, or “who do you think you are?”
It’s time to speak up. Time to speak out. Time to be heard.
Your story matters.
Note: If you are a coach, speaker writer or service professional and know it’s time to create your own material, check out the Bold Messenger Summit. I am teaming with Becky Harmon in offering a Bold Immersion Weekend in Atlanta, October 9-11th.