I used to take the bus to school when I grew up in rural Minnesota. In good weather (which isn’t exactly a hallmark of rural Minnesota) this trip took an hour there and an hour back. I got home one day and trudged up the driveway to our front door. I knew I would be the only home at this hour, and I looked forward to that bit of independence middle school students crave. At this age, having the house to yourself for even a little is a big deal.
There was only one problem: the door was locked. That was in the early 90s. There were no cell phones and my mother wouldn’t be home for a while. So I did what many fearful tweens would do in this situation: I tried to break the door open. I kicked. I hit my fists. I even used my shoulder as a battering ram, all to no avail. Eventually my mother came home with my younger siblings in tow. There I sat pouting on the doormat and was defeated after a lifelong fight against my front door.
“The door is locked!” I exclaimed.
My mother looked at me for a moment and then said, “Did you look under the doormat? The key is under there. ”
I share this embarrassing story for a number of reasons. First, it includes the details (the doorways, the setting in the middle of nowhere) and identifiable character (a fearful middle school student) that are critical to your own successful storytelling. More importantly, however, you may have experienced something similar in your life or career. You may have encountered a fair amount of closed minds or other obstacles that stand between you and your goals.
When it comes to opening and influencing a closed mind, we often do what I did in my battle on the front door. We use our logic, our statistics, our reasoning, and our beliefs, but no matter how hard we try, we cannot get that mind to open. Meanwhile, the key is right in front of us. That key is storytelling.
Storytelling helps you gain influence and ultimately achieve your success. I’ve spent more than a decade telling stories to some of the world’s leading companies. Through speeches, keynotes and my book Stories That Stick, I help people unleash the power of storytelling and use this power to achieve goals in their work and life. I want to do the same for you as SUCCESS’s Chief Storytelling Officer.
To this end, the SUCCESS team and I recently interviewed readers like you. We wanted to find out what you think is holding you back from being successful in work and life. Specifically, we wanted to know if you feel like you have influence and what other tools you will need to help you achieve your goals.
The poll results were fascinating. We have learned that most of our readers want influence, but they often feel that it is always just out of reach. You have ideas to share, but you may not feel confident enough to share them. You may even have issues with the cheating syndrome that I can definitely relate to. Many readers shared that they are struggling to get and hold an audience’s attention, which I think can be quite a challenge. After looking at these survey results, we decided to create a course for serious readers like you.
I’m here to help you discover the power of storytelling and gain the influence you are looking for. They kicked, pounded, and rammed that door long enough. Now it’s time to unlock it. As you will find, the key is not as elusive as you might think.
You can be an influencer.
To start, let’s dispel some common myths and misconceptions. First, influence isn’t about the number of followers or the number of square feet in your office. It’s definitely not about a trendy wardrobe or a blue check mark. You don’t need any of these to avoid the noise at work or online, and you don’t need any of these to be swaying. So what do you need Better still, what the hell is a real influence anyway?
Influence is about shaping other people’s actions and opinions. If you can share your ideas in a way that someone listens and then acts, you are an influencer. And believe me, if you show yourself as your true, authentic self and share your passions consistently and convincingly, your audience – whether online or in person – will respond. The best way to share these passions is with a tool that we discussed above: storytelling.
When you tell your stories, your audience participates by your side. That’s why it works. While reading my middle school story above, you probably imagined I was walking up a snow-covered driveway after a long bus ride. You could have imagined me kicking the door with all my might and then pouting when it didn’t move. You envisioned these details in your head which made you a crucial part of my telling the story. Your audience will do the same when you tell your story.
Imagine interviewing for the position or promotion you desire, or introducing your talents to a client as a solo preneur. Imagine this: this interviewer or prospect is hanging on every word. Your eyes light up and you know just know that whatever you say will resonate with your audience. That’s the impact you can have as a storyteller. But before I share some tactics to help you captivate your audience, let’s talk about what makes stories so powerful.
Storytelling is your key.
One day a young marine biologist named Christine Figgener was working with her team off the coast of Costa Rica. Figgener and her cohorts caught sea turtles to collect data for their thesis, and one of the team members noticed something special about a turtle on the boat. When they took a closer look, the marine biologists noticed that the turtle had something up its nose.
While someone was recording, Figgener’s team tried to twist and pull the foreign object out of the turtle’s nose. The Seadweller was clearly excited, and at some point the turtle began to bleed. Eventually the marine biologists pulled the object free, and Figgener was furious. It was a plastic straw, one of the millions of single-use plastic items that end up in the oceans every year. This wasn’t the first time something like this had happened.
Before Figgener met this frightened turtle, he had seen dozens of turtles accidentally eat plastic. She and her team even came across a turtle trapped in a plastic bag. But this turtle was different.
Figgener uploaded the video and it quickly went viral. The marine biologist suddenly found herself with a global platform on which she could educate others about the dangers of plastic pollution. Ultimately, their efforts created the global anti-straw movement that we are in today. In 2020, Starbucks completely stopped the use of straws. Disney and dozens of other internationally recognized hotels and restaurants have done the same. All over the world, people and companies have come together to reduce the use of plastic straws, and while this movement has been in the works for years, the obvious cannot be denied: a story about a turtle has influenced massive changes.
The researchers agree that stories have power. Numerous studies describe how people are moved and often forced to act by stories, be it a great movie, a video about a fighting turtle, or a story shared by someone they know.
As you lead someone through a narrative arc, invite them to join you on a journey. And when the story is well told, you will build the confidence that is essential to the success of your career and your life.
As I mentioned above, your story is an invitation. When your colleague, client, boss or interviewer listens to your words, they add their own pictures. It’s almost like they’re telling the story next to you, creating an experience that is full of imagination and emotion. That, in turn, makes you stand out above the crowd. When that person looks back on all of the candidates they’ve interviewed for the position you’re looking for, or decides who should award their company, they’ll look at their list of candidates. Your name will be at the top, and for that you need to say thank you storytelling.
Of course, you can’t expect a story to help you gain the influence you need. It takes a special kind of narrative to open closed heads and rise above the noise. To make up this story, you may have to silence even your toughest critic: you. But you can get there and I’m here to help.
Calm your nerves for greater effect
Public speaking is a key component of storytelling, and if that scares you, you are not alone. More than 75 percent of the population fear public speaking, including me! But sometimes it’s inevitable, and being able to present well makes a huge difference in virtually any job. Here are some things you can do to calm your nerves and stand out at work.
- Open presentations with a story. Your audience’s nods and laughter will calm you down.
- Keep telling stories during your presentation. This drives the emotions so that your audience can feel the effects of the action they are supposed to take.
- Raise your voice This is especially valuable at work meetings. A well-told story that requires attention can draw people in and open them to the ideas you are presenting.
3 keys to a great story
- Include assignable characters. Maybe you are that character. Anyone can resonate with the stress of starting a new job or taking on a huge project. If your audience can relate to you, they’ll be amazed.
- Sprinkle in important details. Specify the color of the car or the weather that day. As long as you keep these details brief, they’ll add an interesting flavor to your narrative.
- Avoid throwing it in the kitchen sink. Your story doesn’t have to be sequential and doesn’t have to contain every feeling or nuance of that particular day. If you feel like you are sharing too much detail, you are probably right.
Read Next: How To Use Your Influence To Help Others
This article originally appeared in the March / April 2021 issue of SUCCESS magazine.
Photo by Santi Nuñez / Stocksy United
Kindra Hall is the chief storytelling office of SUCCESS, the best-selling author of Stories That Stick, and a sought-after speaker. She is the president of Steller Collective, a marketing agency that focuses on the power of storytelling to tackle communication problems.