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The Power of Storytelling

One of my friends was talking me through a presentation that he is putting together for PowerBI. He shared a story of how he is using data to influence decisions. It was stunning. In contrast, how many times have we sat in a presentation where it feels like Death By Powerpoint? This is the power of storytelling.

Storytelling is so much better. Unfortunately, it is not a skill that you learn in school.

I create stories through my writing. I usually start with a random story of a friend or colleague and then go on to the feelings it invoked in me and then I often talk about what I learned from that experience. Writing a story is a much more comfortable skill than actually verbalizing a story. But it’s still the same concept: you have to create a structure with a climax, the up and down, and of course, a conclusion that ties the points into a more significant “Ah-Ha” moment.

So let’s talk about how we can become better at telling stories:

  • Keep it simple. With more complexity, people start getting lost – don’t lose your audience. Stick with one theme and repeat that theme throughout the story to help the audience understand your point.
  • Remember pacing. Tell your story and don’t drag it out. The speed at which you talk and the emphasis you place on the different places in your story make a big difference to your listener. So don’t be afraid to gloss over certain parts of your story to keep things on track.
  • Stories are not about you. I know someone who loves to tell stories, and it all comes back to her experience. It got so bad to the point where the team was making those “Chuck Norris” jokes about it but would replace Chuck Norris’s names with her name. By the same token, don’t tell stories that put other people down – that’s not storytelling, that’s gossiping.
  • Adapt the story to your audience. I am sure the story you want to tell is the funniest moment that has ever occurred but take a look at your audience and see if they will understand the story. You should adapt the story based on your audience and how it is relevant to the current situation.
  • Use pictures. Like my friend who was using charts and graphs to explain PowerBI, use visuals to articulate your point. As they say, a picture can tell a thousand words.
  • Choose your words. Yesterday I heard someone use the word “grandiloquent” – it was quite possibly the most refreshing word I have heard in recent memory and of course, have been using the word non-stop since. When you hear, read and use different works, your thought processes change and using the right words will help you adapt your stories easier.
  • Write something – anything. When I sit with the intention to write, I usually can’t. I have terrible writer’s block, and when you read it, you can tell it was forced. So what I typically do is whenever I get inspired by an idea, I jot it down on my app “google keep.” Sometimes it’s a full sentence, sometimes it’s random words and sometimes, when I have time, it’s an article. My advice on writing is just to jot it down – who cares if it sounds bad or if no one likes what you are writing. It’s a matter of getting it out of your head and onto paper. The more you practice writing, the more you will get better at verbalizing your stories.
  • Edit your pictures. When I’m waiting for an appointment or trying to kill time, I tend to edit videos or photos and put them together in a seamless story. What I learned is that this practice helps you pick out key moments from a particular day or event and tell the story that you want to say.

The art of storytelling is an essential skill in work and life. If you can weave a story that is compelling, people will start listening to you, and you can sell your ideas faster and easier. If my friend can create a story about PowerBI of all things, it’s possible for all of us.

Storytelling could be what defines your brand and your next leadership journey. It can help you motivate stakeholders or gain leadership support for your agenda. So think about what kind of legacy and story you want to leave a company with and how you can shape that legacy or story.

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Avatar photo Blake Martin

Loved this piece- wish more people would leverage tips like these to prevent the inevitable “Death by Powerpoint” so many of us have suffered through.