In an effort to be a good leader, we sometimes try to mold our new associates into what we perceive to be the perfect networker. Little do we realize that by persuading and telling others how to behave, we might actually alienate them. Instead of telling people what to do, why not show them by using a story?

One of the best ways to influence others is through the subtle art of storytelling. Centuries ago, people passed information from one person to another via storytelling. In fact, civilizations did so long before they could read or write. As a result, today our brains are hardwired to listen and respond to stories.

You may feel you don’t have any good stories to tell, but everyone has hundreds of stories stored inside, and observing what happens around you will bring you hundreds more that you can use to communicate more effectively. Here are six easy steps to use storytelling as a significant leadership skill.

1. What’s Your Point?

When you’re ready to create a great story, figure out the topic, value or idea you want to promote. What is your reason for telling your story? What purpose do you want the story to serve? Every story should make a point. It may be hysterical when you tell it at a cocktail party, but if it doesn’t drive home a point, save it for your social life.

2. Who Are You Talking To?

Next, decide who the audience is for your story and how you’ll include them. The topic has to be relevant to that particular group of listeners, or you may entertain but will accomplish very little.

3. Who Are You Talking About?

Coming up with the idea for a story can be the hardest part. Powerful original stories reveal a lot about you as a leader and a person without being about you but rather about people you know, events you’ve witnessed or things you’ve observed.

It’s usually best not to make yourself the hero of your own stories, unless you are relating to your audience something you felt, understood or learned. You can also make yourself the central figure if you use self-deprecating humor to make a point. Many leaders use humor effectively to become “one of the gang” or part of the crowd. Humor breaks the ice and sets up learning.

4. Where Do You Get a Story From?

Storytelling begins with awareness. Start paying attention to what’s going on around you, and every day you will pick up new stories to add to your repertoire. Other prompts for great stories include:

5. How Do You Use a Story?

When you know what story you want to tell, write it down. You really must put it on paper to tell it right and ensure that you are actually making the point you intend to make. Feel free to embellish a little to make the story work most effectively. You can use the same story to make a lot of different points, or with a wide variety of audiences.

Your stories should always include a few colorful descriptive words to make them real and paint a picture for your listeners. But don’t use so many details that you slow the story down. As you write your story imagine how you might “draw a picture” with your hands, or show a feeling with facial expression, instead of saying that you were upset, angry or thrilled. Make a note in the margin of the text to remind you where to pause and appear perplexed or irritated or happy. Showing works better than telling.

6. Structure Your Story for Maximum Effect

All good stories have a beginning, middle and end. And whether the story is meant to be funny, sad, serious or touching, some conflict or tension must be resolved by the story’s end.

As you work on your story, read it out loud, evaluate what works, and then rewrite and edit it. Read it again, and work on it until it’s right. Learn it by heart, but don’t memorize it word for word. Just visualize and internalize, so that when you tell the story, you recall the major events and picture the people. Then you will be able to relate the essence of what happened while remaining conversational.

Not all of your stories need to relate astonishing, riveting, hang-on-for-your life experiences. Some will be simple slice-of-life anecdotes, funny or serious, that are quick and simple to tell. As you develop a story, don’t be afraid to dramatize a bit. A few gestures, facial expression or different character voices will bring it alive.

Telling stories can become one of your most valuable communication tools. Try out a tale or two and see where they take you!

SUZANNE BATES is an executive coach and communications
consultant and is author of
Speak Like a CEO: Secrets to
Commanding Attention and Getting Results.