The power of storytelling in business – a personal tale

The secret sauce to any successful business is inspiring the people around you. Storytelling is crucial to this and should be on the tool belt of any great modern leader.

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Inspiring people to work with you, buy from you, partner with you or invest in you is a critical part of any business. Storytelling is key to this inspiration; stories have been engaging people, connecting them and giving them a sense of community and purpose since humans gained the ability to talk.

We are a storytelling species and, from the perspective of a business leader or entrepreneur, storytelling is one of the most effective ways to build buy-in to your vision and achieve your purpose.

Not everyone considers themselves a storyteller; some may even find themselves feeling nervous when sharing their stories. But they do say that successful business leaders are professional storytellers. If storytelling does not come naturally to you, how do you make this an effective part of your leadership?

As I grow my business into Asia, I have been thinking about this a lot. I’ve had the opportunity to tell my story on several occasions to different audiences in different settings.

But I haven’t been daunted by this. I’ve always loved telling stories, ever since I was a little girl. I remember at the early age of three, my Mum lost me at the growers’ markets and eventually found me in the back of a van, sitting among some garden gnomes, chatting to them about my day. Needless to say, my Mum was relieved to finally find me, and the story of me talking to the gnomes is still shared among family today.

I continue to love the art of storytelling. I practise it daily without even thinking about it, especially with my two daughters who are fascinated when I tell them stories about my day or various business trips. They love the way I connect with them through storytelling, and they too love to tell stories. My love of storytelling has extended to my business, and is an important part of my day-to-day work.

But the power of storytelling really hit home recently when I was asked to share my entrepreneurial journey at an International Women’s Day event in Singapore. I was astounded at how many came up to me afterwards to tell me how inspired they were by my story. As a result, I connected with every woman in the room – many I now meet with regularly.

In particular, one attendee mentioned that she had undergone corporate storytelling training and that my story ticked all the boxes. I was fascinated as I had never approached my storytelling in a manufactured way; it is authentic, natural and unscripted.

It dawned on me that, while I tell stories naturally and without thinking about it, there is something to the way I tell a story that makes it powerful. Leaders who are yet to experiment with honing their craft as a storyteller may be interested in my insights.

Five tips for great storytelling:

  1. Give a time perspective.

    The “whens” of your story matter – they are what bring it to life. Give events a time stamp so people can appreciate the development of your story. When people ask me how I came to find myself running a business in Asia, I tell them about how I first fell in love with the Japanese language as an eight-year-old living in Cairns. I talk about the year I moved to Singapore, and the number of years my business has stood proudly. These moments, these numbers, add weight and credibility to the accomplishments, helping people to see how one thing can lead to another.

  2. Develop the characters in your story.

    Paint a picture of the characters in your story. Create a life around them, acknowledge their impact and the role that they play. I speak about my daughters and mother all the time when I tell my entrepreneurial story, as they are key characters in my story. I started my business after giving birth to my first daughter Charlotte. I make them a part of my story and give them an identity, because it helps people see that so many lives can make up the nuances of one person. Sometimes I come across a business story that makes me want to work with the person telling the story, because I can relate to them. This happens because an incident being narrated shines a light on the storyteller’s character.

  3. Build suspense.

    Everyone has had a cliffhanger moment in their business or personal lives: a key unexpected event, something that left you on the edge of your seat. It takes people by surprise when I reveal the complications I faced around setting up my business in a foreign country as a single mother. This suddenly paints my story in a whole new light. People hear my accomplishments and think they are amazing, but they have a new-found appreciation when they hear of the unexpected bumps in the road, twists and turns, and how I have overcome the various challenges along the way.

  4. Show vulnerability.

    It is important to show that you are human. Life isn’t perfect for any person and no person is perfect. While admitting vulnerability can be difficult, it is also a brave act: we have all been vulnerable at some point, and people will relate and connect to you when you are prepared to share these moments.

  5. Finally, be authentic.

    Be yourself when you are telling a story. Having your message resonate with people requires authenticity, and nothing is more authentic to a leader than the journey that got them there. Be honest, truthful and don’t be afraid to open up a little. You will be amazed at how many more people will feel connected to you as a leader or to your purpose when you do this.

Giving your story the justice it deserves, along with the power to captivate and motivate, are skills that for some require conscious crafting, but it is achievable. All leaders should practise their storytelling to better develop this powerful tool.

Next time you need to deliver a message, think about the story you are going to tell. Have you got the right elements that will inspire others?