Four Steps To Telling Great Stories

Today is Thursday, so this post is on dynamic communication.

Dynamic communicators are good story tellers.  Everyone likes a story.  Stories are hard wired into our brains.  They come from the oral traditions of most cultures.  They were the way people learned prior to the written word.  Stories are powerful because they help us grasp important concepts.

In 1982 two very different books were published that changed the face of business books forever.  Both were built on stories.  “The One Minute Manager” by Ken Blanchard and Spenser Johnson was a little book that was story about a mythical manager – a fable, in essence.  Drs. Blanchard and Johnson told his story to illustrate the three points they think make for good leadership – One Minute Goal Setting; One Minute Praisings and One Minute Reprimands.  “The One Minute Manager” was a big hit, and a whole genre of literature – Business Fiction — was born.  Patrick Lencioni has become a master of this genre.

The other book was a great big book called “In Search of Excellence” by Tom Peters and Bob Waterman.  “In Search of Excellence” was a study of 43 high performing companies.  From this study the authors found eight common themes which they argued were responsible for the success of the chosen corporations. The book devotes one chapter to each theme.

1. A bias for action, active decision making.
2. Close to the customer – learning from the people served by the business.
3. Autonomy and entrepreneurship – fostering innovation and nurturing champions.
4. Productivity through people- treating rank and file employees as a source of quality.
5. Hands-on, value-driven management philosophy that guides everyday practice.
6. Stick to the knitting – stay with the business that you know.
7. Simple form, lean staff – some of the best companies have minimal HQ staff.
8. Simultaneous loose-tight properties.

The power of the book came in the stories that leaders in these companies told.  The stories not only illustrated the eight themes, they made them come alive for readers.  This book also changed the way business books are written.  It is difficult to pick up a business book these days that does not have stories to illustrate the points the author is making.

I used stories to illustrate the points in my new book, “Straight Talk for Success.”  Not surprisingly, my readers have told me that the stories make the book.  They say that the stories take my ideas out of the conceptual, and into the practical.

All of this is a long lead up to the point with which I began this post; dynamic communicators are good story tellers.  In “It Sure Beats Working”, Michael Katz explains why stories are a great communication device.  “1. Stories add warm flesh to the dry bones that are features.  2. Stories are hard to steal.”

I agree.  Stories make your points come alive.  They make you and the information you are providing more human.  In “Welcome the Rain” Michelle Sedas tells her story of overcoming depression.  It puts a human face on the points she is making in her great little book. 

Second, stories are hard to steal.  They belong to you, because you’ve lived them.  Other people can’t steal them because they don’t have the depth of experience you do.  They may retell your stories, but they will be providing second hand information.

Anyone can be a good storyteller.  I have developed a four step process for telling good stories.

  1. Identify one, two or three things you “know to be true” about the topic of your story.  If you can’t do this, you probably don’t know enough about the topic to be speaking about it in the first place.
  2. Think of the life experiences that have led you to this knowledge.
  3. Use these life experiences to create stories that make your point.
  4. Create a generalizable point that people can take away from your story and apply in their lives.

The fourth point is critical.  Your story needs to provide advice on how to handle a variety of similar situations – not just the situation that provides the basis of the story.  Tracy Kidder, a Pulitzer Prize winning author, and a great story teller, says it very well.  “All stories are local.  All good stories are universal.”  By creating a generalizable point, you are taking the knowledge you gained in a specific local incident and showing how it applies to other situations.

Next week, I will do a post that illustrates how simple it is to use stories to become a dynamic communicator.

The common sense point here is simple.  All dynamic communicators are good story tellers.  Good stories put a human face on your points and they are uniquely yours.  There are four keys to creating good stories: 1) Identify one, two or three things you “know to be true” about the topic of your story.  2) Think of the life experiences that have led you to this knowledge.  3) Use these life experiences to create stories that make your point.  4) Create a generalizable point that people can take away from your story and apply in their lives.

That’s it for today.  Thanks for reading.  Log on to my website www.BudBilanich.com for more common sense and to subscribe to my weekly newsletter “Common Sense.” 

I’ll see you around the web and at Alex’s Lemonade Stand.

Bud   

PS: Speaking of Alex’s Lemonade Stand, my fundraising page is still open.  Please go to www.FirstGiving.com/TheCommonSenseGuy to read Alex’s inspiring story and to donate if you can.

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