The last week of August in Buenos Aires, I was invited to speak at three diverse and remarkably interesting venues: the Polish Embassy, the innovation incubator Fly Garage, and IAE Business School. Though I prepared individual talks tailored to each of the audiences, there was a storytelling theme common to all of the presentations.
I enjoyed the differences between the three venues, each audience with its own unique collection of personalities, professional preoccupations, and personal profiles. And, each group was a true pleasure to spend time with. All of them were highly engaged, curious, interactive, and insightful with their remarks and questions.
The continuing emergence of storytelling: Even in Latin America, I notice more and more that storytelling—a subject few spoke of even five years ago—is quite the hot topic these days. In fact, when I was preparing my remarks for the entrepreneurship course at IAE, the program’s organizer asked me to focus on my views about leadership, since they had already had a lecture or two about how to tell a good story. As such, I decided to center our discussion around how people of influence build trust and credibility by speaking authentically, from the heart, about matters of true importance to them. As such, I purposely avoided the word “storytelling”.
However, since I see a certain category of narrative as the most powerful tool of influence that any human being can use, the act of storytelling had to come up at some point. When I spoke of my conviction that the most effective leaders at any level of an organization use their personal stories of identity to lead, and that their stories follow certain intriguing general patterns, the attendees were curious. As often happens during my speeches and seminars, someone in the audience asked me to talk more about how my views and methods were different from others who work on story-based expression with individuals and organizations.
As always, I welcome questions of this nature, as they provides an opportunity to impart my passion for the work I do, and to talk about some of the people I have had the privilege of helping. In addition, I truly believe that my use of storytelling with my clients, my particular views and methods, are all altogether different from what I see others doing in the field.
So, I told the young entrepreneurs at IAE that, as someone who has been studying and using storytelling professionally for more than 20 years, I was gratified to see the concept garnering mainstream attention in the world of business. At the same time, as with any hot topic, I see a danger that it may become a bandwagon that all types of people—speakers, consultants or coaches—will jump on, even if they lack a deep understanding of the subject.
What do I see as different in my approach? Many coaches and communication consultants help their clients work on the techniques of a speech. They observe someone telling a story, for example, and they work on improving the voice, the pace, the pitch, the modulation, and so on. I call this working from the outside in, and this can certainly be valuable in many cases.
On the other hand, I use a more in-depth approach, one I call working from the inside out. The first step is sharpening the individual’s self-knowledge, getting a client to talk about the things that truly matter to her. In other words, I first look to help her define and articulate what she truly stands for. Then we identify and work on telling the personal stories of identity that demonstrate where her deepest beliefs and values come from, and the ways she would like to influence her world.
While we may indeed work some of the time on improving the way clients tell their personal stories, my primary goal is not to achieve a charismatic or powerful speaking style. What I really seek to help individuals and groups learn is the power of speaking from the heart about who they are, why they do what they do, and where they would like to go—together with their groups—in the future. And, we seek to express all of these things not necessarily with a charismatic or powerful speaking style, but in their natural voice.
In my experience, it is this ability to speak from the inside out, to tell the personal stories of identity that express one’s character, values and passion, that allow any human being to become a true person of influence in his or her world.
Image: Flickr-user U.S. Army