Working Out The Storytelling Muscle

I was sitting at the kitchen table having a cup of coffee with my mom on Sunday morning when she suddenly asked me “can you explain to me what a stock exchange actually is/does?”.

I could have easily gave the formal, templated response of “an exchange is where stock brokers and traders can buy and sell securities, such as shares of stock and bonds and other financial instruments.” My mom, although very smart/experienced in business and sales, doesn’t have as much knowledge in the space of investing/capital markets.

So, I went on to provide an answer in a more storytelling-format:

In many ways, a stock exchange is like a shopping mall. If I were to ask you the question: “why do you think malls exist, what purpose do they really serve?” The likely answer (in my opinion) is convenience. They bring together all of your favourite stores and allows you, the consumer, to exchange money for a product/service you desire.

An exchange provides investors (like consumers) the convenience of using a trusted and credible platform to purchase a stake (or stock) in public companies in exchange for money.

When I finished, my mom had a smirk on her face, and I can tell she finally understood the core of what an exchange is, because she connected with the story/analogy. The power of this connection, when someone universally relates with an idea, thought, product, or service is the ultimate measure of storytelling done right.

I learned an important lesson from this:

If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well.

I’ve also been realizing that storytelling is not something intuitive, and like any craft, it takes time to develop and really perfect. In countless situations, I’ve been approached by people asking how to get creative with content to tell cool stories and leverage social channels like LinkedIn as a medium to accomplish this. After some reflection, here are some tips:

Storytelling is a muscle YOU have to grow: I view storytelling as a mental muscle that you have to constantly nurture and develop – it takes time to get to the point where you start seeing situations, experiences, ideas, or thoughts as stories.

Tip: the first, most easiest place to start, is to reflect deeply on what you’re currently doing (work, side-hustles, hobbies, etc.) and think of a way to explain it in a storytelling format as I have done above and try it out on some friends.

The delivery of your story is just as important as the content within it: as with any story (or presentation), how you say your story is equally as important as what you say. Here, I’m referring to your non-verbal cues (pay attention to your tone, eye contact, level of engagement, posture, hand gestures, etc.).

Tip: the more you practice and use your story, the better it will flow and the smoother it will sound. So get going and start practicing! Also observe how people react at certain moments or points within your story (in some parts, they might smile, or nod their head in acknowledgment..these are the cues you want to make note of to build more emphasis in future situations where/when they will come up) – always be open to constructive feedback, improve, and pivot where necessary.

Study the greats and learn from their technique: Tony Robbins said “success leaves clues. People who succeed consistently are not lucky; they’re doing something different than anyone else. They have a strategy that works, and if you follow their strategy and you sow the same seeds, then you’ll reap the same rewards.”

Tip: whether it’s Steve Jobs, Gary Vee, Obama or Oprah…whoever you regard as a great orator/storyteller/presenter, study them – notice how they talk, observe their mannerisms, focus on their words and use of tone…you’ll likely realize that there are patterns among the greats and there are tools within their methods which you can apply.

Pick your channel, find your frequency, and stick to it: I get the feeling that many people who understand the importance of storytelling in today’s noisy world, are often intimidated by getting started for all kinds of reasons like; I’m too young or old for this, I don’t understand social, what do I have to say that people will care about, I don’t like being on video, I don’t want to put myself out there…the list is never ending. There’s no one-way road to success doing this, and that’s the beauty of storytelling. In fact, the most effective storytellers are the ones who find their voice – do it in a way that’s genuine, that’s true to their character, and in a way that brings positive value to others.

Tip: you won’t know unless you try! Stop being afraid of failure and just start gradually – that’s 90% of the game. For example; try fully leveraging what LinkedIn has to offer and really give it a shot (write your first short post, share that article that you found interesting, write an article on an idea you think is provoking, film a video sharing lessons learned…whatever you find is right for you, just pick it up and start). Just because someone you’re connected to posts 100x a day, doesn’t mean you have to. Figure out what the right balance/frequency is for you and stick to it. One of the most important factors when storytelling, especially on a social channel like LinkedIn, is being consistent (no one likes people who post and ghost). Lastly, engage with your audience/community – when you post your story, take the time to say thank you to those who liked/commented/or shared your content…write them a personalized note to continue the discussion…take them for a coffee to connect in person. Don’t forget that the whole point is to build meaningful relationships, not superficial ones.

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