Things don’t always go to plan in life or in business. But you can reframe the experience and own your story and share it with real purpose.

Let me tell you about Vicky. At the beginning of this year, I was studying NLP on a retreat. There was Vicky. Was she an industry leader? An entrepreneur? No. She was a young women who worked for a local charity and wasn’t razzmatazz and show. Nor was she a millionaire. She was Vicky. And boy, did Vicky have a story.

She spoke simply, almost matter-of-factly. There was no artifice. No staging. No ‘show’. You could hear a pin drop as she spoke. In the space of twenty-five minutes while Vicky spoke, I felt my perspective start to change on the issues of addiction, loss, abuse, and the power of individual choice.

Vicky was the most inspiring speaker I had ever heard. And Vicky didn’t even know she had that power. The humility blew me away. Vicky was a true model of taking action, driving-principle, and being a leader. Today, Vicky works with clients struggling with addiction and homelessness. She has turned her story of adversity into something with real meaning and power. And she is making a difference.

Essentially, your story will help your audience walk a mile in your own shoes.

We all get the power of storytelling in a practical sense – we have observed how compelling a well-constructed narrative can be. But the science puts a much finer point on just how stories change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.

As social creatures, we depend on others for our survival and happiness.

We know the production of oxytocin in the brain is a key ‘it’s safe to approach others’ signal. Oxytocin is produced when we are trusted or shown a kindness, and it motivates cooperation with others. It does this by enhancing our sense of empathy. Empathy is important for us social creatures because it allows us to understand how others are likely to react to a situation, including those with whom we work.

More recently, they (the scientists) have concluded you can ‘hack’ the oxytocin system to motivate people to engage in cooperative behaviours. We call it leadership.

They found that character-driven stories consistently caused oxytocin synthesis. And the more oxytocin released by the brain had an impact on how much people were willing to help others: for example, donating money to a charity associated with the narrative. Further evidence proves that in order to motivate a desire to help others, a story must first sustain attention – a scarce resource in the brain – by developing tension during the narrative.

If the story is able to create that tension, then it’s likely that attentive viewers/listeners will come to share the emotions of the characters in it, and after it ends, likely to continue mimicking the feelings and behaviours of those characters.

How do I get my audience to do what I want?

So as a leader, you need to be using character-driven stories with emotional content to bring about a better understanding of what you want your audience to do, be it in a one-to-one or team meeting or in a formal presenting sense. If you do this, the audience will be better able to recall the main points weeks later.

So begin every presentation with a compelling, human-scale story. In other words, why should customers or a person on the street care about the project you are proposing?

In my humble opinion, your story, the narrative of it when told authentically, will help the people you lead navigate the world in which they operate – to know where they are coming from and where they are headed. It tells them where to place their trust and why.

Think about it for a minute. What stories give us, in the end, is reassurance. And as childish as it may seem, that sense of security – that coherent sense of self – is essential to our survival. Why wouldn’t you want that for yourself, for the people you mean to inspire and lead?

When you are telling your stories, own them. Feel them, be them…

To connect, to establish rapport, and ultimately inspire, you need to establish a common bond with the audience. That’s why tales of adversity and overcoming adversity can pay off.

And everyone’s story, even if it has a common theme, will be different. But if you’re trying to get across a new idea, or challenging the audience to think differently, then they will only grasp a new or alien concept through the story of one individual. And that individual obvs would be you.

So what about you? Your story. Using your River of Life and your reservoir of stories, you too can make a difference. You can be the one people remember. You can be the one building trusting relationships.

Try out this exercise, and build your stories using this simple 3-Core-Element framework:

You must always start with ‘why’. Remember, intent is simply asking yourself, why am I speaking? It is your motivation for standing up and talking.

Firstly, the…

Purpose – why this particular story? Make sure your story fits with your overall intent and call to action.

Then the…

Place – what action happened and where does it take place? Describe, with as much detail as you can, the action of events. The moment to moment happenings. Add into this the locations, even going as far as naming them. This anchors the story in a reality that is translatable.

Then finally…

People – who was there, and what did they think and feel? This is all about the characters in your story. Their emotional experience. This needs to be delivered with language that is appropriately emotive. Appropriate to your intent or purpose.

This is where the audience connects with what you are saying in a manner that is personal for them. This element makes the difference between presenting by numbers or going through some automatic notion of presenting versus having a conversation an audience and connecting with them.