What’s Your Story?

What’s Your Story?

Think a minute: What was your last family vacation like? Now think about the projected level of defaults in 2012? Which is easier to remember? Let’s make this exercise even simpler, quick, think of a good story you’ve heard in the last few months, or even years – any story (short story, childhood bedtime story, a narrative joke, story in a presentation, etc). Now think of a couple of good statistics you’ve heard in the last few weeks. Which one came easiest? Nine times out of 10, it’s the story. Stories stick in your head, sometimes for years.

Now you’re saying, “Get on with it, how does this relate to my business?” Well, there’s a lot of attention around corporate content now. Relevant content. Compelling content. Engaging content … and tons of posts on techniques – how to spin the content, how to write powerful headlines and so on. In an article called “Steve Jobs and the Power of Storytelling,” Mark Ivey provides some tips on how you can better tell your corporate story to attract new business.

He says, “Less attention is given to storytelling. That’s weird since social media is the perfect opportunity. Bloggers are our modern day storytellers. They’re not marketers, as many like to think, but humans with emotions, history, baggage – and specific views of the world. In other words, they are all walking stories, ready to be told.”

When you really think about it, stories are more powerful today than ever. Why?

  • We are drowning in information. Good stories can cut through the noises
  • Personal stories feel “real” vs. abstract concepts, statistics, or logical arguments
  • Stories capture people on an emotional level, creating a deeper, intimate bond.
  •  Stories are memorable. People forget facts but remember stories.

In the book, A Whole New Mind, author Daniel Pink (in a full chapter) captures the essence of stories: “Stories “are important cognitive events, for they encapsulate, into one compact package, information, knowledge, context and emotion.”

Some elements of a good story include:

  •  A clear beginning and end
  •  Clear message
  •  It’s authentic
  •  It’s relevant
  • Engaging (often with drama or tension)

Strong stories have a natural flow, and never leave the audience wondering where it’s going (“What’s the point to that”?) Ivey notes, “I can’t think of a better modern day example of this than Apple’s Steve Jobs, who was fired from Apple, then returned to save the company and transform it into a media powerhouse. His Stanford commencement speech is an example of a great story using the hero’s journey model.

“It has all of the right elements, starting with an engaging life story – how he was born to a young, unwed college graduate, adopted by working class parents, etc. Later, talks about bouncing around an expensive private college he can’t afford, sleeping on his friends’ dorm room floors, finally dropping out.

“The first story talks about how his one class in calligraphy wound up helping him create the first typefaces in the original MacIntosh. His next two stories were even more powerful, talking about love and loss, and facing death. One message was he’d have “never been successful if I hadn’t been fired by Apple” the first time around. He goes on to talk about his emotional battle and facing cancer and death, and how that transformed his thinking. Now every day counts. This speech is authentic, gritty, and relevant for a college audience about to set forth into the world. His message was simple and powerful:

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma — which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition…”

How can you learn from this? You don’t have to turn every corporate blog or speech into a personal, life changing endeavor on this level. What I’m suggesting is you at least start injecting more of a human voice, using your own
personal stories to provide context and perspective. With blogs, the approach could be a simple as:
A) I faced a big challenge/dilemma.
B) I overcame it through these x steps.
C) Resolution, results and ending (optional call to action).

So think through how you can collect and tell stories through your speeches, blogs and other social media efforts. Play journalist as you go through your normal daily activities and keep a notebook. Your message is that “it’s ok” to be a storyteller, since so much of our training in the corporate world is to focus on the facts and process. None of this is really new. Technologies and platforms will come and go, but human nature changes slowly if at all. So, tell your story.