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You, The Authority

I attended a presentation this past week that opened much the same as most presentations.  The presenter offered the usual name, job, and company log-line, and then stated, “I have been teaching corporate storytelling for the past 20-years.”

Now, I truly don’t mean to sound flippant or demeaning.  Yet, the first thought that came to mind was, “So what?  If you’re a corporate storyteller, tell me a story.”

Presenters are taught very early in their careers to lead with their credentials.  This is not really done as a courtesy to the audience, but more to explain why this particular presenter is qualified to make this particular presentation.  In short, why should we believe what the presenter is saying?

I’m not against this practice at all.  It does lend credibility.

Of course, if you are new with a company and have yet to establish a track record of your own, this tried-and-true practice can also be a liability.  You may have researched your topic beyond all possible expectations and found so many expert resources to back up what you are saying that the validity of your content is indisputable.

Still, there is that voice that refuses to be silenced that whispers, “Why are we hearing this from you instead of from the expert you are quoting?”  It’s quite a dilemma.

…But, not insurmountable.

One avenue that remains open to you is that of storytelling.  Unless you are telling an “I was there and here is what happened” anecdote, your credentials are unnecessary.  Anyone can be accepted as a storyteller.  Best of all, as the audience warms to your presentation, credentials become less important.  They are responding to you, not to your perceived expertise.

As you can imagine, I often open with a story when I make presentations.  This method immediately engages my audience, draws their attention, and allows them to be emotionally invested in what I am saying.  The question they ask is not, “Who is he?”  The question they ask is, “What happened next?”

Much the same as watching an exceptional play or a particularly engaging motion picture, the mind switches into a different analysis mode when an effective story is presented.  Overly critical judgment shifts gears into a suspension of disbelief.  The mind is ready to be entertained.

Best of all, the effective story well told is a great leveler.  The audience responds exactly the same to the company summer intern as it does to the 25-year veteran.  While the story is being told, the experience of the speaker is irrelevant.

This allows the corporate presenter time to make an impression.  If I have been entertained by the presenter, I will want to hear more…even if we have switched from storytelling mode to an interpretation of factual information.

“In my younger and more vulnerable years, my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.”  This is the opening line from my favorite book, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s, THE GREAT GATSBY.

Now, imagine it as the opening sentence of a presentation.  Does it make you want to know what that advice was?  Does it matter to you who the speaker is, or who the speaker’s father might have been?  Do you need to know the speaker’s credentials?  For that matter, do you need to know the topic of the presentation?

The elements of effective storytelling are your credentials.  They captivate an audience more than almost any biography could possibly hope to do.

…And they are available to you right now.  Anyone can tell a good story.

Thank you for reading.