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Learning ‘The Power of Storytelling’ Could be Your Secret to Success

Here's another thing the best of the best are best at - they're great at knowing how tell a good story. Whether it's to rally the troops before heading off to battle or to unite a divided corporate board the true giants have a way with words.

In his new book,“The Power of Storytelling: Captivate, Convince or Convert Any Business Audience Using Stories from Top CEOs" Jim Holtje shares the stories of those corporate legends who inspired their employees with their deeds and with their tales.

A public relations and corporate communications veteran with twenty years of experience, Holtje put together a collection of the best stories of business leaders in hopes that anyone can learn how to communicate better.

Among those featured are Apple's Steve Jobs, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Meg Whitman formerly of eBay and more including:

  • Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon.com
  • Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google
  • Ted Turner, founder of CNN
  • Cathie Black, former President, Hearst Magazines
  • Sam Walton, former CEO of Wal-Mart
  • Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric
  • Donald Trump, CEO of the Trump Organization
  • Michael Eisner, former CEO of Disney
  • Bill Gates, co-founder of Microsoft

The book offers great advice and lessons learned from industry "A-listers." Holtje explains more in this guest author blog.

GUEST AUTHOR BLOG by Jim Holtje author of “The Power of Storytelling: Captivate, Convince or Convert Any Business Audience Using Stories from Top CEOs.”

The Power of Storytelling - by Jim Holtje
The Power of Storytelling - by Jim Holtje

We’ve all been there. You’re sitting in the audience watching your CEO drone on. He or she is going through a detailed PowerPoint presentation with no end in sight when suddenly you hear, “You know, that reminds me of a story…”

Boom! Like a shot of adrenaline, you and the rest of the audience are suddenly awake. No more shifting in your seats. No more checking your Blackberries or iPhones. No more scoping the exits. You’re suddenly focused on the speaker who now has your undivided attention. A connection’s been made.

Odds are that one day, one week—even one year—after that presentation, the one thing most people will remember from that speech will not be the Q4 R&D spend or the increase in revenues, it will be the story.

Why?

Because we’re hardwired for stories. We instinctively listen for narratives with a beginning, middle and end—especially those that set up a challenge then describe how it was overcome. Don Hewitt, the late creator and producer of one of the longest running shows on television, “60 Minutes,” said the secret of his extraordinarily successful program was based on a very simple premise: “Tell me a story.”

But business—long the realm of numbers, analysis and cold, hard facts—has long shied away from storytelling. There’s almost a bias against anything other than “Just the facts, ma’am…”

That’s a shame.

While facts are vitally important in business—you’re running a bottom-line oriented enterprise after all—they’re not always the most effective means for getting people to act on your words. What’s needed is actually a better balance between “left brain” facts which business has in abundance, and “right brain” stories which business is often afraid to tell.

Yet business has some great stories to tell. A great example of a businessperson who probably skewed more toward storytelling than most CEOs is the late Steve Jobs. His 2005 Stanford University commencement speech—which was widely circulated on the Internet following his passing—began with him saying, “Today, I want to tell you three stories from my life…” He then detailed his early years; how he bounced back from being fired at the company he founded; and how his cancer diagnosis affected his view of life. By any measure, this is one of the best commencement speeches of any CEO.

"While facts are vitally important in business—you’re running a bottom-line oriented enterprise after all—they’re not always the most effective means for getting people to act on your words."" -Author, "The Power of Storytelling", Jim Holtje

Other CEOs have been consummate storytellers as well. In his autobiography, Jack Welch tells the story about how he literally blew up a GE (*) lab early in his career. Larry Ellisontells of how he created a dummy website called “HeyIdiot.com” at the height of the Internet boom and actually heard from people interested in investing! T. Boone Pickens, well into his 60s and already hugely successful, tells of how he twice failed the exam to become a licensed commodities pool operator. The third time was the charm.

If you write your own presentations—or you write them for others—here are some tips for spicing up your next business presentation:

First, add your own stories. Sales were up on Q4? That’s great. Why not tell them about your last sales call that illustrates why sales are up? Odds are, your audience will remember that before they remember the numbers.

Second, if you don’t have any personal stories of your own, ask around. See if others within your organization have anecdotes they’d be willing to share. If they prefer not to be mentioned by name, that’s fine, too.

Third, if neither of these options work, consider borrowing. That was the premise behind my new book, The Power of Storytelling—referencing stories from well-known CEOs which could be used to illustrate a variety of business topics in a speech or presentation.

Finally, if you’re onstage and you notice the audience starting to doze off, there is a way to win them back, but it’s best to be prepared. Start with six simple words: “That reminds me of a story…”

Jim Holtje is the author of “The Power of Storytelling: Captivate, Convince or Convert Any Business Audience Using Stories from Top CEOs,”published by Penguin Group USA / Prentice Hall Press.

(*NOTE: GE and Comcast are the parent companies of CNBC and NBCUniversal.)

Email me at bullishonbooks@cnbc.comAnd follow me on Twitter @BullishonBooks

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