Storytelling that changes the world: How to write and tell your stories
Each of us has a story. You have a story. The world needs to hear your story and see life from your perspective. Storytelling is an art that everyone can master – even you!
You may not realise that you already have a story. It’s the one you have been telling yourself (and maybe other people) about your life. It’s the story you tell yourself when things go bad, or when things go well. Our stories make up our whole world. Our stories determine our experience of life. It’s by taking control of our stories, and of the stories the world hears about us, that we can change the world.
1. Stories allow us to connect with others
Stories are powerful because they allow us to connect with others. Research has shown that stories change our brains and lead to greater production of oxytocin, which makes us feel more empathy for each other. They’re how we can challenge stereotypes and bias against women and marginalised groups, forge positive visibility, influence others’ beliefs and actions, and celebrate each others’ achievements.
Stories are amazing and powerful because they can resonate with people depending on their needs and experiences, and speak truths we need to hear in that moment in time.
-Sue Monk Kidd
2. Stories can be healing and self-affirming
Research from the University of Minnesota has pointed out the value of memoir writing as therapy for individuals. ‘Writing therapy’ is a process of capturing our memories through the written word, in order to release emotions that may be weighing us down.
Capturing our life, one story at a time, offers us a fresh perspective on things. Writing our memories strengthens our level of self-awareness and allows us to know ourselves better.
3. Stories are a powerful management tool
Storytelling is also a powerful management tool that leaders can use to connect with, engage, and inspire others. Storytelling in business can carry a message to help you share your company’s vision, enhance your personal brand, promote your products, sell your services and build stronger relationships with existing and potential clients, as wel as customers and employees. Storytelling has the ability to influence and inspire others to take action, illustrate your points and ideas, and motivate and influence your team.
It’s an important tool to help you show emotions and vulnerability, which helps develop personal credibility – an essential aspect of leadership. Consciously developing business stories will lead to the information you share being relevant, engaging, and purposeful.
Storytelling can be used to persuade, motivate, and inspire in ways that cold facts, bullet points, and directives can’t
-Annette Simmons, Author of The Story Factor
How to write and tell stories
Once you’ve decided to tell your story, where do you begin? Writing your life story or business story may seem daunting. But if you can capture small threads of your life – thoughts, key moments, memories and ideas – these ‘life-vignettes’ can be strung together to create your story. Start taking notice of the little things in life that feel important to you, and keep a record of them. Here are some exercises and prompts to get you started!
Storytelling in business
A good business story always serves a purpose. Perhaps you want to use it to demonstrate specific traits, your business vision, or inspire your team. Give each story a moral or assign a situation in which you can tell it, so you’ll always be prepared. Use a combination of metaphors, analogies and anecdotes to make your story more visual, and ensure the stories are authentic.
For example, people have asked me a million times why I started Leaders in Heels. I could tell you in one sentence that I wanted to inspire and empower women. But what if I tell you a story instead? One day, a female colleague came to me. She was disappointed that she didn’t get a role that was available in our department. When I asked her what our boss said when she asked him for the role, she said she’d never asked. She was a woman, a friend and a colleague who deserved the role more than anyone else, but she’d hoped her hard work would be recognised without her saying a word.
Does this story inspire you more? Is it easier to remember and easier to retell? Would it ‘sell’ better as the reason I started Leaders in Heels?
Exercises for storytelling in business:
- Saying you have attention to detail doesn’t have the same effect as telling a story that proves you’re a perfectionist. Select three to five key traits you would like to highlight during interviews, negotiations, or client/management meetings. For each of those traits, think about a time when you demonstrated that trait, and write a story for each one. These will be your go-to stories whenever you’re in a situation where you need to prove yourself.
- Think back to why you started your business, or chose this specific profession. What drew you to it, and where do you see yourself in the future? How does this story attract your target audience, or demonstrate to your bosses and colleagues where your ambitions lie?
Additional suggestion for storytelling:
Use your stories to practice public speaking. It might be something that’s out of your comfort zone, but don’t keep your stories locked on paper. Let them fly!
Storytelling using your personal life stories
The most powerful stories are the ones that can only come from you – from your experience and your perspective. That’s because no one has lived the same life as you or experienced things in the way you have. Your unique perspective is a gift you can share with the world. Start by finding themes for your stories. These are recurring patterns you notice throughout your life, which help you narrow down what motivates you and what you believe in.
An example of a life story can be found in my article about trailblazing, but I’ll copy it here for you:
My desire to nurture, inspire and empower women comes from my mum, who strongly shaped my views on the power of women. The story starts well before I was born. When Poland was still a communist nation in the seventies, every citizen had a job guarantee and everyone was paid the same no matter their experience or commitment. So when my mum decided to go to university instead of working to earn money, everyone laughed.
Fast forward to the nineties when I was 13, and my dad passed away. My mum suddenly became a single mum, a widow, and had to support me and my brother. Communism was a thing of the past and thanks to her foresight, my mum was well-educated and working in a senior position in a large company—most likely managing those who laughed at her before!
From her example, I learned that an education is the most valuable possession, as no one can ever take it away from you. I also learned how important it is to achieve independence, because no man or government is a reliable financial plan. Those beliefs strongly shaped the decisions I made later in life that led me to where I am today.
What’s your story?
Exercises for capturing personal stories:
- Brainstorm your memories through the decades and life areas of your life, and examine the list to see if you notice any recurring patterns or themes you can base your story around.
- Think about what it was like growing up in your household. How did cultural norms and traditions play into that? How did it shape your view of the world?
Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact.
Write your own story
If these exercises caught your imagination, Write Your Own Story Journal by Leaders in Heels was designed with even more prompts and exercises to help you write your stories.
This journal is designed for you to capture your own stories, from big life events to small everyday situations, so you can one day share them with those around you.
Think of this as your inner journal. It’s a repository of what you thought, the emotions you felt, what you learned, how the experiences changed you and helped you grow, and many other things besides. This chest of memories will become a beautiful keepsake, which could be the perfect gift to your children or grandchildren one day.
Your stories can change lives.
Your stories can change the world.
The universe is not made up of atoms. It’s made up of tiny stories.