Is powerful storytelling the answer in these uncertain times?

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Meltwater stress the importance of building out a good storytelling narrative, especially at a time like now.

What’s in a story? Just a string of related events? A way to pass the time? A mechanism for collecting memories and fashioning them into something entertaining? Or is the simple idea of a narrative the very foundation for civilisation as we know it? If we stop for a moment, and look at any truth we could disagree on, the power of stories in our everyday lives becomes clear.

In fact, stories lie at the heart of every societal meeting place, whether they’re the building blocks of religion, the driving force behind learning or the very mechanism that puts some of the world’s most well-known leaders into power. From the dawn of mankind, they’ve been used to document historic events, to delight and entertain, to create fear and to manipulate perception. So isn’t it terrifying and wonderful that each of us has the ability to harness this power for ourselves?

If you’re a pessimist, you might view the humble story as a potentially destructive tool. It’s just another thing that can be used as a means to an end, a lie, a manipulation . But, if you’re an optimist, you’ll see the potential for good between the lines. The chance to start a new chapter and to connect on an emotional level, and the chance to learn and grow in a world that so deeply needs evolution in all its forms.

How does this translate to the workplace?

As we know, some of the world’s greatest leaders are exceptional storytellers. They are able to hook their listeners in and get their attention and to impart wisdom through well thought-out anecdotes. In doing so, they can serve a higher purpose than simply cashing in a big pay cheque and taking credit - they can truly lead, serve, mentor and inspire.

Leadership through storytelling has already been well documented and yet doesn’t hold as significant a place as it should in modern business. Everybody from Forbes to ResearchGate and the government have touched on this relationship. We know that some large corporations like Microsoft, Proctor & Gamble and Motorola are prime examples of how and why it works - but most businesses don’t seem to treat it as a leadership priority. As a leader you can use storytelling to get buy-in for important ideas and projects, which is a crucial part of collaborating.

Pro tips for storytelling effectively

  • Orientate the listener: Some people have a tendency to jump into a story as a means of getting their listeners’ attention. But if you don’t offer context you might leave them more confused than you found them. Orientate your listener and intro with the relevance of what you’re about to say.
  • Use visuals: Visuals, in this context, relate to metaphors, analogies and descriptions, which conjure up pictures in a listener’s mind. By relating your story to points of reference they will understand, they’ll become more immersed in what you’re saying and see it in their mind’s eye.
  • Connect through feeling: Emotive storytelling has long been pegged as the best way to get a message across. And, while this often takes on the form of a sad or heartfelt story, you can also inject humour, nostalgia or relatability into the mix. Feelings span a broad spectrum and each one is powerful in getting a message across or serving a purpose.
  • Get specific and create stand-out moments: In the business environment, it’s important not to waffle. Aside from the fact that time is money, the nature of the environment means you need to offer specifics, tangible examples and clear points.
  • Throw in a plot twist: Who doesn’t love a good plot twist? But more importantly, who doesn’t benefit from one - especially when the objective is to keep listeners engaged and walking away with a clear lesson. Try to work in the unexpected.
  • Lead them to their own conclusion: Sometimes it’s more powerful for someone to fill in the blanks than it is to directly state a fact. Start the thought and end with a question or create room for the listener to finish a thought themselves.

When disaster strikes, story-telling leaders can build resilience in their teams. They can boost morale and they can help to create an environment where people overcome rather than come undone. Therefore, if you plan on being a truly effective leader, it needs to be part of your repertoire.

Meltwater will be hosting an online masterclass in storytelling with Social Chain's director of strategy, Mike Blake-Crawford. The session is aimed at leaders who want to advance in their storytelling abilities. Expect to unpack the details, learn new skills and to understand how the narratives you share can build hope and resilience in your team. Save your spot by registering here.

Wesley Mathew, head of marketing UKI & Indiaat Meltwater.

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