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Leaders as Storytellers – The Five Elements of a Memorable Story


How often do you use stories when you communicate?  

A mentor early in my career was a gifted storyteller. His stories were captivating. He would set the scene, paint the picture, and deliver the lesson. Through these stories, I learned about courageous leadership, how to always treat people with dignity and respect, how to own and learn from failure, and many more insights. As I faced these challenges during my career, sometimes years later, I drew strength and courage from these memorable stories. They profoundly shaped me and my leadership. 

I couldn’t wait to have my own stories.   

Storytelling as a way of communicating captivates us today for the same reasons it has throughout history: it speaks to our innate human desire for connection, meaning, and understanding. Stories speak to the heart. They cut through the noise, simplify complex ideas, and engage our imagination. They help us believe. 

Appealing to Heart and Mind

Stories evoke emotions; that’s why they stick.  

If we think of communicating only as an intellectual pursuit, we limit its power. When communicating, we need to engage both the heart and mind. Both are critical and involve different elements. We engage the mind through facts, logic, and evidence, which we need. We engage the heart through emotion, passion, and our shared humanity. Think of speeches that inspire you or stories that move you. Communicating with heart impacts how we feel and humanizes the topic and the speaker.  

Even the chunkiest technical presentation (which has moved me to tears for all the wrong reasons) can infuse heart, meaning, and connection if we bring ourselves and our stories into it.

As the late, great Maya Angelou said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” 

The Five Elements of a Story

David Hutchins, the Storytelling Leader and author of the book Story Dash, helps leaders worldwide find and tell their stories. He says that neuroscience shows that including these five elements in your story creates the strongest empathic and emotional connection with your audience:  

  1. Situation…”So there I was…” (Time and place) 
  1. Problem…“I wanted to…but…” (Find the conflict!) 
  1.  Action…”And so…and then…and then!” (What did you do and what happened?) 
  1. Result…”Until finally…” (What was different, what changed, how?)  
  1. Connection…”And that’s why…” (There’s a reason you told this story. What do you want this person to know and remember?)  

What stories can you tell using this model?

With the passage of time, experience, and hindsight, we accumulate our stories: hard-fought challenges, poignant and painful lessons, finding opportunities in uncertainty, and taking risks that paid off.  There’s deep learning in the road stories: forks in the road, the road not taken, the life of a road warrior.     

Infusing our relevant stories of insight, optimism, and humility into our communication (presentations, meetings, 1-to-1s) humanizes us as leaders and can inspire, engage, and help others grow.    

Whose stories inspired you in your early career?  

What are the stories you can share?

How would your stories impact your team?  

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