Is Storytelling Fluffy? Maybe… But It’s Fundamental To Your Success!

audience listening to stories

Years ago I read a really good book called Tell To Win by Peter Guber who is a very successful businessman. In this book he looks back over his long career and thinks about where he failed and where he succeeded. After really thinking about it, his final conclusion was somewhat shocking to me. He said that in the places he had succeeded it was fundamentally because he had been able to tell a good story about the business. And, in the places he failed, he failed because he was not able to tell a good story about the business.

What do you mean, I thought? What about the business plan, the partnerships, the investors, the employees and all the other things I imagined would actually be the root cause of success and failure in business? Nope. As Peter Gruber sees it, the fundamental determinant of his success was his ability to tell a good story about the business. That’s why the name of the book is “Tell To Win.” And, in it, he shares story after story in which he attributes great success in business to the ability to tell a great story. People like Gene Simmons of Kiss, Paul Mitchell of the personal grooming dynasty of the same name, and many others, including himself, whose fundamental success came down being able to tell a great story.

“Well, that’s too bad,” a lot of the people I’ve worked with say, “because I don’t have any great stories. So, by that measure, I’ll never be successful.”

And I reply with a smile and say, “I most respectfully, and completely, and totally, disagree.”

You see, you DO have stories. In fact, you have more great stories than you could even manage to tell in an entire lifetime. Because you are human and because you’ve made it this far in your life, you definitely have great stories to tell. The secret is to first accept that fact and then to go looking for them. They can be your own experiences, which are often the most powerful stories you can tell. But, they can also be stories you have heard and that mean enough to you that you remembered them, they can be stories of your clients’ (you can change the names, of course), but no matter where they come from, if they’re in your head and matter to you, you can use them!

I have many of my clients create a document in whatever cloud-based storage system they use, Google Docs, DropBox, Notes on your iPhone… It doesn’t matter. Just create a document called “Storycatcher” and then start looking back over your life.

First off, there are those stories you hear yourself telling more than once. Often you tell them a lot more than once. OK, open up your Storycatcher and start jotting down a few lines that will help you remember each story. As you do that, also include a list of points that each story could make. Remember the immortal words of Les Brown: Never tell  a story without a point, and never make a point without a story! And, yes, any particular story can make more than one point! It might be best suited to one point or another, but be willing to look for multiple points that any of your particular stories could make.

Then, start noticing things you say on a regular basis; the points that you make over and over again at work, let’s say. Now, start to think about a story that you could tell to illustrate that point. It could be a story you lived, or even a story you heard, anything that resides in your memory banks is fair game. It might already be in your storycatcher, but if it’s not, add it!

It doesn’t matter if your stories are particularly dramatic. It’s always extra interesting if you almost died, but as long as your stories are authentic for you; as long as they helped you learn the lesson you’re trying to impart, it doesn’t matter if they’re super dramatic, at all. They just need to be real and heartfelt.

And then, start telling them over and over! There’s a saying in the speaker world that is useful to remember in your business life: It’s a lot easier to find a new audience than to create a new speech! Of course, you don’t want to tell the same story over and over again to the same audience, but it’s totally fair, and actually smart and useful, for you to tell the same story over and over to different audiences, even if a few of your colleagues have to hear it over and over, as long as the main audience is new, tell that same, great, well told story again and again.

I think of these stories as Lego Blocks. I polish them, I hone them and then I can use them in any configuration that might work for any specific event. Because I’ve practiced and polished each of these Lego pieces so often, and have them so thoroughly well-crafted, they come off as if they’re just part of the conversation, yet they’re far more powerful, useful and influential, than they would be, otherwise.

As you start to populate your storycatcher, one of the most powerful things I think you could do is to find a few examples of what I call your “Super Hero Origin Stories.” You have many, and this video will help you think about and capture them. Next time we’ll talk about why I think these are your most valuable, influential and important stories when it comes to success, influence and leadership.

Find and tell your own Super Hero Origin Stories for far greater success in life: Bit.ly/ESSsuperhero

1 Comment

  1. Jeanna Doyle on October 30, 2018 at 10:00

    As always, great information from the master Jonh Bates.

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