By Raf Stevens
Storytelling is a powerful weapon. In my book, “Leadership, Storytelling and the Power of Connection,” I offer guidelines for telling a good story that creates an emotional connection with employees, customers or other stakeholders. Executives who deploy storytelling efficiently are better able to convince their target audiences and achieve their business objectives. It’s still not easy to convince executives of the power of storytelling since most of them have become accustomed to the classic patterns of the business world.
Although storytelling is often called a buzzword, many leaders think of it as “soft stuff.” They still associate it with bedtime stories rather than with a powerful tool to achieve business targets. This week, I talked to a CEO of a major insurance company who believes in the power of storytelling, but he repeatedly apologized, telling me he had spent considerable time in the hospital visiting his employee who had suffered a trauma. He found it to be too weak a story to tell.
And the leaders and entrepreneurs who are willing to use storytelling as a weapon generally think that it is difficult to find stories. “Raf, this is not good enough,” they say, when telling a story about what they experienced during their children’s sports competition, “Nobody will be interested.”
Nothing could be further from the truth. An everyday story that means a lot to you can create solidarity and will also strongly appeal to others. Therefore, I devoted an entire chapter in my book to listening to other stories in order to create your own. Because every story can serve as the basis for a different, more powerful story. And I want to illustrate this with an example of something that blew my socks off last week.
It concerns an everyday story — about a trainee who falls in love with her boss — but it’s a story that shocked the world and now serves as the foundation for a bigger story.
Now that the American presidential elections of 2016 come closer and it appears that Hillary Clinton has a good chance of becoming Obama’s successor, I have no doubt that a certain name will once again resurface in the media — a name that is inseparable from the name Clinton: Monica Lewinsky. Her story — in which a powerful man, a blue dress, a cigar and an impeachment play an important role — is known throughout the world. Even 17 years later, everyone in the world still knows what happened to her. After the event, she had to rebuild her life, and until this day, she still fights against the consequences of what she refers to as “one of the mistakes every 22-year old could make.”
In a recent TED Talk she explains it beautifully: “Like me, at 22, a few of you may also have taken wrong turns by falling in love with the wrong person. Maybe even your boss. Unlike me, though, your boss probably wasn’t the president of the United States of America.” It is nonetheless very courageous how Lewinsky — who stated in several interviews that she still has almost no chance of finding a normal job — emerges from her isolation before the upcoming presidential elections. In the company of 30 top talents below the age of 30, she first gave a public speech during the famous meeting of business magazine Forbes and then the TED talk I linked to. It would actually be easy for her to earn a lot of money by sharing juicy details about what happened 17 years ago. But she doesn’t do that at all. On the contrary, she interlaces her story with the historical perspective on the development of the Internet and social media, and the major problem that goes hand-in-hand with this development: cyberbullying. In other words, she used her story to tell a much bigger story and to call on the world to put an end to a phenomenon that makes kids an even bigger victim than she was herself, because of the amplifying effect of the Internet and social media.
I think it’s a fantastic example that clearly demonstrates that every story — even one that’s already known throughout the world — can lay the foundation for an even bigger story, a story that inspires people and makes them think. In the pictures, I see a Monica Lewinsky who is fragile as ever, which makes her seem even more courageous. Something many entrepreneurs can learn from.
The story of Monica Lewinsky also proves that it’s not necessary to constantly create new stories. Her story of today is inspired by her story of yesterday. In his blog post about an everyday event in a shoe store, Jim Signorelli concludes: instead of constantly inventing new stories, we have to help organizations and brands to further build on their existing stories and bring them to life with little anecdotes. What is the bigger story the brand tells every day? What are the little everyday stories that support the bigger story?
Don’t we all have stories that define our perspective on good and evil? Stories also show how we think about success and failure, or about how our appearance will affect how people perceive us. All these stories are the engines that determine our choices and explain our feelings.
Of course, not all of us can fall back on a news-breaking story like that of Monica Lewinsky — even though in her case, it’s not really an advantage because she spent the past 15 years trying to forget her story — but we all have stories that show who we are and how we feel. These are the stories that can lay the foundation for future stories or that show how they’ve inspired us to change. These are the stories people remember and that create the connection we need.
About the Author
Raf Stevens recently published his second book, “Leadership, Storytelling and the Power of Connection.” He has over 20 years’ experience in communications. Ten years ago he decided to follow his passion: storytelling. Since then Raf has helped dozens of organizations and their leaders in the search for stories to create a stronger connection. He is a partner of Anecdote and a licensed Storytelling for Leaders® trainer.