Watching the superb film “Lincoln” by Steven Spielberg, I discovered a very important fact about our 16th President that I wasn’t really aware of. He was a great storyteller. I knew he was strong in his speechmaking (having memorized the Gettysburg Address in Grade School, along with countless other youngsters), but I didn’t know how skillfully he used the power of story to lead and inspire, to defuse tension and to stir an audience. He was an expert in using powerful language, imagery and humor to get across key points, to open listeners’ ears to another point of view, and to convey practical advice and wisdom that people then wanted and needed to retell themselves. He didn’t force his messages on his audience, he let in unfold in their own imaginations.
Mr. Lincoln knew that stories were vitally important. He knew that stories could draw people in, take them for a ride, and let them discover their own personal connection to the tale. Once caught up in the story, people better understood Mr. Lincoln’s point of view, and were more likely to act upon it.
You might be wondering how you could use these tactics in your own business. After all, you probably aren’t a natural born storyteller like Mr. Lincoln, and you might not have a treasure trove of fascinating stories to draw upon. But good ol’ Abe never claimed to have authored many of the stories he told-he collected tales over the years from interactions with friends and colleagues. He also borrowed stories from many other writers, such as “Joe Miller’s Jest Book”. He pulled upon his memories of great anecdotes and stories to better illustrate points in a more colorful manner. By understanding stories and their construction, he knew how to arrange the material, set up the central figure and their conflict, and make everything build to it’s climax. He knew how to use curiosity to hold people’s attention to the end, and how to use humor to make things more relatable.
“I heard him tell a great many stories, many of which would not do exactly for the drawing-room; but for the person he wished to reach, and the object he desired to accomplish with the individual, the story did more than any argument,” recalled Chauncey Depew. “He said to me once, in reference to some sharp criticisms which had been made upon his story-telling: “They say I tell a great many stories; I reckon I do, but I have found in the course of a long experience that common people — common people — take them as they run, are more easily influenced and informed through the medium of a broad illustration than in any other way, and what the hypercritical few may think, I don’t care.” (These quotes from the webpage “Mr. Lincoln’s Stories”.)
So draw upon great stories you have heard or read. Use these stories to better get across hard truths, to slip in your message instead of hitting people over the head with it. Connect to people’s hearts by the stories you tell. As Former Secretary of the United States Treasury George S. Boutwell said of our storytelling President: “Mr. Lincoln’s wit and mirth will give him a passport to the thoughts and hearts of millions who would take no interest in the sterner and more practical parts of his character.”
So stop being so logical, fact filled and practical in your communications. Learn from the President. Dig deeper, make people laugh, cry and think by wrapping it in a wonderful story.
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