Stories are a universal language that everyone—regardless of dialect, hometown or heritage—can understand, which makes them an incredibly valuable business tool. Why? Because stories help us solidify abstract concepts and simplify complex messages. They bring people together and create a sense of community. They stimulate our imagination, ignite our passion and stir our emotion. And perhaps most importantly, stories motivate us to take action.
But while storytelling is a skill anyone can learn, today’s true masters of the art—business leaders like Sheryl Sandberg and Richard Branson—share some common characteristics that they use either consciously or subconsciously when telling their stories.
Exceptional storytellers let themselves be seen.
Some of the most compelling stories are about personal struggle, challenge or failure because those are experiences every audience member can relate to.
Telling these types of stories, however, means allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It means having the courage to take risks. And sometimes, it means showing emotion. Exceptional storytellers openly embrace this level of sharing, allowing themselves to be seen by revealing their doubts, their confusion, their mistakes, their frustrations and their fears.
Exceptional storytellers bridge the gap.
Storytelling isn’t a one-sided lecture or information download. Rather, storytelling is a dialogue, an exchange. It’s a shared experience between two equally active participants—storyteller and audience—even if only one is doing most of the talking.
Exceptional storytellers know that the most meaningful, shared story experiences occur when a deep and genuine connection exists between themselves and their audience. And they move swiftly to build that connection, making sure their audience feels one with them.
Exceptional storytellers know storytelling is a gift.
Storytelling is a selfless art. It’s ego-less. It’s sharing something special with someone who will benefit from it in some way—encouragement, understanding, validation. Storytelling is not about receiving praise or kudos.
Exceptional storytellers care more about the impact their story will have than they do about receiving recognition for telling it. They know the most critical part of their story is the takeaway (or gift), so they take care to position the audience, never themselves, as hero.
Exceptional storytellers are strategic with their storytelling.
Many people can tell a great story; one that is clear and concise, has a point, and follows a narrative structure. Exceptional storytellers, however, are extremely deliberate about it.
They craft stories with intent and purpose, carefully choosing the right words to draw their listeners in and elicit the right response from them—thought, feeling, action. They’re thoughtful about selecting the right story with the right message for a particular audience and telling it at the right time.
Exceptional storytellers engage your eyes, too.
Since humans are visual creatures, the more we can picture the story we’re hearing, the more effective it will be in relaying it’s intended takeaway—motivation, inspiration, meaning.
Beyond a sole focus on descriptive language (like metaphors) when sharing their story, exceptional storytellers understand the importance of employing visual cues as well. This might mean using facial expressions, gestures, photos and/or physical props to match the mood of what they’re saying and complement their story.