In working with leadership teams, I find they’re usually quite ready to embrace the need to tell THE story of the thing they’re doing--the strategy, the proposal, the services they offer. But they’re less comfortable about the idea of telling THEIR stories at work--events from their personal experiences.
I think there are several reasons for this. First, the idea might not have occurred to them. They want to communicate something about the strategic plan. Why would an anecdote about their kids be relevant? Second, it takes more time to prepare because they have to think of a relevant story and work it into the message. And third, revealing something personal to the people who work for/with them makes them feel a bit exposed.
But telling a short, personal story that’s relevant to your message is one of the most powerful ways you can communicate. Here are five reasons to get over yourself and give it a try:
1) Make messages stick
Now that science is using MRIs to watch how we think, a number of studies (like one published in Nature recently) have shown that what happens in our brains when we listen to a story is a lot like what would happen if we were experiencing those events ourselves. The story activates many more parts of the brain than abstract information, including emotional, sensory and memory networks. The result is that stories stick with us in the same way that experiences stick with us, so a relevant story makes your message memorable and gives it more impact.
2) Create rapid rapport
Listening to stories causes our brain to release dopamine and oxytocin into our bloodstreams, which makes us feel more relaxed and makes us feel empathy towards the person in the story. So telling a personal story makes you more relatable and likeable to your audience, which means they’re much more likely to listen to all the other very sensible things you have to say.
3) Be more human (and inspiring) as a leader
People want to follow leaders who are real people, not jargon machines. The more you you bring to your work, the more people want to work with you.
4) Give something of yourself to others
Sharing experiences that have meant something to you is an act of generosity. It lets other people learn some things you’ve learned, and it lets them know they’re not alone in what they’re experiencing. Sometimes it makes them smile or laugh, and that’s a gift too.
5) Make meaning from your experiences
This one is my favourite reason for storytelling, and it’s something you only discover the value of after you’ve done a bit of it. In an age where we constantly move from one distraction or one urgent task to the next, taking the time to reflect on and share your own experiences is one of the best ways of bringing meaning into your life.