How Leaders Can Influence and Inspire Through Strategic Storytelling

Strategic storytelling is an important skill for any leader. Telling stories is a powerful way to influence, to inspire and to connect with others. A compelling narrative can influence someone to buy a product, inspire a worker to reach a difficult deadline, or create rapport with others. Stories engage our senses, memories, and emotions, making information easier to understand and remember. Leaders who harness storytelling’s power can improve employee engagement, persuade clients to believe in their products, and build a strong brand. It is also an effective tool for change management. Crestcom faculty member and author of The Story Formula Kelly Swanson explains that “if you can— give people a story of what their life is going to look like, walk them through the change, the story allows them to test-drive your message.” 

Leaders at all levels can benefit from sharpening their storytelling skills. A great place to start is crafting the story about why you do what you do. How can you explain your passion or mission beyond just making money?  Think about what life experiences led you to where you are today and what struggles you had to overcome and craft a meaningful origin story that can break the ice at meetings, persuade clients and inspire employees. 

What Makes a Good Story? 

  • Be authentic. People can tell when someone is acting out of character or putting on a show. The story should come from an authentic experience or observation. 
  • Provide context. A story is only effective if the audience knows why you are sharing it with them. Make sure that the context is clear early on in the story.
  • Connect to emotion. People often make decisions based on emotions, and a story that is inspiring or heartwarming will leave a lasting impression. 
  • Use metaphors and analogies to paint a picture. The vivid language will help your audience visualize the information you provide and make it more memorable. 
  • Don’t make it all about you.  Remember to focus on what is meaningful to your target audience. Telling your story is an opportunity to highlight what you have in common with your audience and build trust. 
  • Include a plot twist. If possible, include an element of surprise within the story. Perhaps it’s an unexpected finding or revealing the identity of a person in the story. Surprises keep people’s attention and make your story more interesting. 
  • Keep it simple. Don’t get caught up in flourishes or extra details. The audience doesn’t care if the story happened on a Wednesday or what color shoes you were wearing. Think about a few well-placed details, like how something made you feel or the expression on someone’s face will create a lasting impression. 
  • Practice. Practice telling stories to friends and colleagues. Get feedback about what works or doesn’t work to get better at tailoring your story to an audience.

Storytelling is an important part of being a compelling leader. When used effectively, it can build trust and influence teams, customers, and communities. Finding a captivating way to relay information is the difference between telling people what to do and making them want to do it.