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How to Become a Highly Effective Storyteller

Lead with a StoryIn his new book, LEAD WITH A STORY (AMACOM; August 2012), communication expert, leadership trainer, and Procter & Gamble executive Paul Smith offers tips to help aspiring storytellers overcome the three biggest barriers to getting started.

Barrier #1: I don’t know where to find good stories.

Smith Suggests: 

  • Probe your past. What’s the toughest problem you ever solved? What’s the most creative thing you’ve ever done? What’s the best working relationship you’ve ever had? For great story content, recall your greatest successes, challenges, and failures.
  • Focus on what’s happening around you. “Great stories happen all around you every day.” Smith assures. So, how do you spot real-life, real-time stories worth telling? Smith employs a simple test: “Did someone learn an unexpected lesson, or learn it in an unexpected way? If so, that’s my first clue that a good story might be in the making.”
  • Collect stories from people you know. Listen to the stories people tell and take mental notes. Then, get proactive! As you walk around the office, ask: “Got any good stories?” Hold a contest for the best stories about whatever topic serves your needs best at the time. Hold storytelling sessions. Conduct formal interviews. Ask inspiring questions.
  • Collect stories from strangers. Search the Internet. Use books, magazines, movies, and TV shows. “No matter what kind of story you’re looking for, chances are it’s already been written. Find it,” Smith urges. “Just be sure to credit the source where you found it.”

Barrier #2: I have trouble remembering stories when I need them.

Smith Suggests: 

  • Database your stories. Write down your stories and save them on a word processing document or digital file. Index them so they can be easily searched by topic or character.
  • Create a company storybook. Print your stories in book form. “Many companies—Armstrong International, P&G, General Electric, and Medtronic among them—do this and then distribute them to their employees,” Smith notes.

Barrier #3: I’m not sure where and when to tell my stories.

Smith Suggests:

  • Tell stories where and when leadership normally happens. That can be anywhere from formal meetings and speeches to one-on-one conversations, in emails, in memos, or in the lunch room. “Wherever and whenever you would normally tell someone what to do, give advice, or teach a lesson, a story can be inserted without worry,” Smith asserts.
  • Tell stories where and when stories are already told at your company. Companies typically use storytelling in training sessions, on the company website, in corporate newsletters, in the annual report, and at client meetings, team meetings, and social events.
  • Create your own storytelling venues. Post stories on bulletin boards around the office. Stuff stories in paychecks. Record stories on CDs. Introduce storytelling events to encourage employees to share stories live. Start an in-house storytelling club. As Smith sums it up: “It’s hard to think of a place where you shouldn’t be telling stories.”

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Adapted from LEAD WITH A STORY: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire by Paul Smith (AMACOM; August 30, 2012; $24.95 Hardcover; ISBN: 978-0-8144-2030-0).

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  • Ben
    April 26, 2015 at 12:27 am

    Thanks for these tips on story telling. I have a heck of a time remembering stories sometimes. I am going to take your advice to document them. I might record them on my phone when I hear them.

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