shutterstock_231401779The best storytellers lead the tribe.

The best stories are short.

The best stories are memorable.

The best stories are actionable.

239 Years Ago

There was a story ready to be told. It was short, it was powerful. It was worth fighting for. Of course, I’m referring to the story that lead to the creation of the Declaration of Independence. Which was adopted on July 4th in 1776. (note: I didn’t say signed because it wasn’t signed on this date, but that’s a longer story.)

The 56 people that signed the Declaration of Independence had a story they wanted to tell. They envisioned a new country that was free from the rule of King George III and away from under the watchful eye or Great Britain.

Did they tell the entire story?

No. Did they say what would happen to those that committed treason? No.

What they did say (with less than 1500 words) was what they had endured:

“The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”

what they dreamed of:

“unalienable Rights … Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness”

and what they expected for themselves and their newly declared country:

“as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”
~ Declaration of Independence, July 4 1776

Context is King

You’ll hear people say Content is King. This is not true. Content without Context is just data. The context of communications will have at least these four symbols. Each of which can stand on its own, but when combined can create an incredibly powerful construct that people can get behind.

  • Stories
  • Speeches
  • Ceremonies
  • Symbols

The Declaration of Independence has all of these. Everything from the commonly heard line “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” to the ceremonies that have been added over time. Some of which include the national anthem and the pledge of allegiance. Of course, as a symbol of the nation the flag of the United States of America is very visible and empowering. Whether it’s on a flagpole, on an airplane, a lapel pin or on a soldiers uniform it inspires people to remember and to take action.

Symbols Change Form, but Retain their Power:
The flag of the USA has changed over time, from the original 13 colonies to what is now 50 United States. As a symbol it inspires acts of patriotism. Symbols have that kind of power.

Does this Fit in the Corporate World?

I chose the Declaration of Independence as a point of reference.

The point of this post is to highlight that great stories are often quite short. They are very memorable – as told by the storytellers themselves. And, they can be quite actionable. I chose the Declaration of Independence for today because this post was originally published the day before the 4th of July.

These same traits are used to great effect in corporate settings too. Think about Steve Jobs unveiling the iPhone. Think about the pictures Malcolm Gladwell paints with words to get you to envision David vs. Goliath. Consider the effort Walt Disney went through to create magical experiences at Disneyland.

More recently think about what Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook has done for women by getting them to think about “Leaning In” — these two words are subject to interpretation, but used in the context she intended can make a world of difference.

Whether you agree with these business leaders ideas and ideals is not all that important. The point is they used Stories, Speeches, Ceremonies, and Symbols to get their message across … to tell their story.

You can use the same model to improve your storytelling skills.

Be The Best Communicator

While there are exceptions The Greater Communicator usually wins.

Why is this important? In order for you to stand out in your career you need to be able to tell stories. You need to be able to get your point across. You need to make your stories memorable.

But, you might say, I don’t want to be known as a “storyteller” at work or in my personal life. Guess what? You are already a storyteller. The question is … are you a good one?

40 Second Rule
If you are wondering if you are a good storyteller you probably already have an inkling. However, if you need a sanity check take a look at Mark Goulston’s article in the Harvard Business Review.

Remember … The Best Stories have three things

The best stories are short, memorable, and actionable.

And, remember the best storytellers lead the tribe.