Of all the communication tools available to a leader, perhaps none is more powerful than storytelling. From Martin Luther King Jr. to Sheryl Sandberg, great leaders have always used stories to connect people to ideas, to each other and to a vision of the future they want to be a part of and make real.
But every great power has inherent risks and rewards in using it, and storytelling in leadership communication is no different. Tell the wrong story in the wrong situation and you run the risk of your audience staring blankly at you, wondering silently (or worse, out loud) what the point of your story was and how they get back the three minutes you just took from their lives in telling it. But share the right story in the right situation and the rewards can be great, specifically in your ability to connect with your audience at a more human level, and indirectly shape the way you want them to think and feel about whatever you’re gathered to present, review or discuss.
To reap the greatest rewards from storytelling in the workplace and steer clear of the risks, leaders must think strategically about the stories they tell, making sure they can first identify what they need a story to achieve so they can then find or develop the right story to achieve it. It also involves building great stories to be told. And while every story is different and unique, all great strategic stories are composed of five essential elements.
This is the context for your story, connecting the story you are about to tell to the workplace situation in which you’re telling it and the mind-set of the audience who’s hearing it. Establishing the premise for your story is a way of setting it up, building common understanding with your audience and helping them better appreciate why they should listen to it.