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The Importance Of A Story

These days, a lot of us find we have to write more than we used to and, more than having to have perfect grammar and be a walking thesaurus, we are instead required to be engaging through the written, and increasingly, the spoken word.

In times pre-internet, unless we were in writing professions, we didn't have to think about writing.

Unless you were in marketing or advertising or, perhaps, professions like law, an average person didn't think about writing.

But now, in the age of social media and virtual worlds, connected by captions and hashtags and Linkedin CVs, we all have to become great writers.

And, when I was thinking about this, it got me to thinking that, at the heart of this skill is the art of telling a story. Not just any story, but the story you want to tell to get your point across.

We don't need to be the next Stephen King. But we do need to learn how to tell a story and to be able to put that across in a way that is concise yet compelling, in a way that connects with others, and yet sets one apart.

And while this is obviously important for people with businesses, it is equally as important for people in other lines of work or even for people that want to increase their influence for other reasons.

Think about the popular guy or girl in your friendship group or the hilarious guy everyone loves at the pub. I bet you £100 that he is an excellent storyteller.

In fact, humour, in and of itself, is often linked to storytelling. A well-told joke or anecdote has a beginning, middle and end. And the arc of a great joke, delivered well, has enough mystery and intrigue to keep you guessing until the punchline.

Even the most basic 'knock-knock' jokes for children have a little story - because we are wondering.... who is at the door?

Whether we are talking about a simple children's joke or a classic novel, with a much more complex narrative structure, the art of storytelling has connected great communicators, from the bar to the boardroom, for as long as humans have existed.

The best comedians are great storytellers. But so are the best songwriters. A great song gives you a sense of time, place and environment.

Like any good story, in a great piece of songwriting, there is always a hero, that is struggling on his or her hero's journey, who faces obstacles and antagonists, and then prevails or perishes.

And although I am talking about the written and spoken word, stories don't even need words at all.

We can tell stories through pictures, movement, images and even through touch.

Think of a silent movie. If you have ever watched a great one, you will see that words are not necessary to tell a story.

Some of you may know I am a fashion designer, and, for me, telling a story through fabric, visuals, moods and prints is what every collection is about - telling a story is at the heart of all my art forms, whether I use words or not.

I don't tell stories consciously anymore. I always wrote little stories and poems when I was younger and loved reading too. So I guess, for me, it's a natural urge and I don't need to force it to happen.

But now, storytelling has become a true and recognised art form in the corporate and business world. And if it doesn't come naturally, it must be learned.

It is not just for artists, songwriters, comedians and advertisers anymore. It is a widely demanded and important skill. It has become elevated to a skill that big corporations recognise is vital for engaging with an audience and with each other.

And it's not hard to see why.

Stories bond people. They create a culture. Isn't that what we used to do around fires? Tell stories and bond.

Stories also pass on knowledge and wisdom. That's what we used to do in tribes. And that is definitely what the little fables and parables used to do for me when I was a child - impart wisdom and morality.

More pragmatically, storytelling is part of branding. That is clear in the traditional sense of branding via advertising and marketing. But have you considered that telling a story, and how good you are at doing that, also impacts greatly on your personal brand?

Through my coaching work, I talk a lot about personal brand. It is often neglected by small business owners and entrepreneurs because they just don't know how to tell a compelling story.

You can usually tell this is the case because their website and, in particular, their About Page (the most important page of any business owner's website) is lacking in a story that links their experience and authentic self with the project or audience to which they want to connect.

A lot of people have a problem with this.

You may think you don't know how to do it, or can't, but I promise you, you can find this story within yourself.

And you don't need to be a great orator or writer to tell that story in an authentic way.

All you need to do is think of the emotion, the genuine emotion that is at the heart of the story, and communicate that to your audience.

We used to think we had to come to things fully formed and it was unprofessional to show what was 'backstage'. But the world we are living in is all about backstage - they want to go there, so invite them in!

And sometimes, (and this is the worst excuse), we think no one will care, that there is no immediate return on investment, that it is a waste of time. I couldn't disagree more.

There is nothing more important than sharing who you are with the world and, who you are, is a collection, a series (if you will) of stories.

And when you put them all together, you show people how you became the person you are today, standing in front of them or amongst them in this workplace, this group, this business, this world.

As humans we need context. We need to understand. We need to empathise. Your story helps people do that.

I will leave you with this: the heart of a great story, as well as having a structure that invites further engagement, is a character we are rooting for and want to succeed.

You are that character.

And you want people to want you to succeed. You want buy-in. We must have a character we believe in and connect with and who we care about!

We need to be able to imagine their world, empathise with their problems and understand their dreams and mission.

Even if the character is a villain, we will not be able to keep reading, watching or listening, unless we can find some way, even within our own shadows, where we can connect and feel a fascination for their dark acts.

We don't like to admit this to ourselves, but it is true.

Even divisive people and figures have fans for this reason - because people are on the edge of their seats watching the story unfold and waiting for the next instalment.

What will this crazy/shocking/evil character do next? What drama will they create? What crazy (exciting!) thing will they attempt next?

This world is getting more and more competitive and I want you to be able to stand out, not by being a villain, but by knowing how to find those stories, and learn how to start to communicate those stories, in a way that connects with others.

And like all things, practice makes perfect.

Next time you give someone an update, make it a fun story, next time you speak to your wife or girlfriend on the phone and she asks how your day was, tell her an anecdote.

The additional benefit is that, when you get good at this, you will enjoy talking to people more, you will find yourself having more confidence and you will enjoy more intimacy because we as humans, at heart, are all storytellers, and we all love a great story.

So what do you think? Do you consider yourself a skilled storyteller? Do you have any fears about this? Let me know!

And if you need help with this part of personal and professional branding and communication, you may be interested in learning more about my coaching services at the link below.

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