How to Cultivate Executive Presence

Part 3 of 5

Storytelling for Professional Success

A key element in leadership communication skills and a vital part of building executive presence is the art of crafting and telling a good story. Cold, hard facts don’t inspire people to change. Straightforward analysis won’t excite anyone about a goal.

Effective leadership requires stories that fire others’ imaginations and stir their souls. Our brains are wired to pay attention to stories. We quickly process information when it’s delivered in the form of a story, and we personalize it when we relate it to our own similar experiences.

General Electric’s Jack Welch excelled at this skill, as do Apple’s Steve Jobs and many other successful leaders. They know how to motivate by engaging people’s emotions through storytelling.

A narrative magnetically and biochemically draws audiences into the process, compelling them to visualize the picture you’re painting with your words. Stories help your staff make the connections among theory, facts, real life and real people.

Consider the following story options:

  • A negative story, a failure, a lesson learned
  • A success story, especially in the face of difficulties
  • A case study
  • History and mythology
  • A deeply personal story (a tragedy or rags-to-riches example)

When crafting a story, include as many specific details as possible to make it real to your audience. Be brief, and get to the point. Understatement often carries a bigger impact. Transport the listener by describing events in emotional terms. Keep it simple. Learn to use metaphors and analogies to summarize. Personalize your story with names, even if they need to be altered.

The more authentic your examples are, the more your stories will resonate with people. In real life, nothing is black or white. Real life is full of paradoxes and uncertainties. Tell your stories to make a point and deliver a lesson that has true value.

Tomorrow in Part Four, I will discuss What Really Matters


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