Storytelling is one of the oldest forms of conveying our history. Since the beginning of time, we really haven't changed much.
From cutting-edge CEOs like Richard Branson, who gathers his team around a fire to swap stories, to motivational speaker Tony Robbins, whose stories have inspired thousands to become their best selves – throughout history, storytelling has ignited our spirit to reach higher.
Storytellers can not only inspire us and motivate us, they can educate us, create movements, and help us to open our minds to all of the possibilities that life has to offer.
The greatest storytellers simplify. Richard Branson once said, “If your pitch can't fit on the back of an envelope, it's rubbish.” Business leaders like Bill and Melinda Gates are expert at explaining complex subjects using simple words.
Effective communicators simplify the story and craft their message in words that are so simple, an elementary school student can understand.
Great brands and great businesses all have great storytellers behind their success. They have to tell their authentic, compelling stories to build the relationships that carry them to success. Every great relationship, brand, and business has to be built on trust and the power of a great story can build the foundation.
Here are seven of the greatest storytellers of all time and what we can learn from their stories!
1. Anita Roddick
Although she's gone now, Anita Roddick was one of the greatest storytellers in business. She built the Body Shop on a great story and inspired millions through the stories behind her products, it's support against animal testing, her belief in basic human rights, ethical trading, the arts, and the environment.
In one of her last interviews with the Daily Telegraph, she said, “One of the most intriguing things in management and in business is the role of storytelling – people need the anecdotes to do the work they do.”
She was a great archivist, and she took the history of the Body Shop and created the stories that grew her brand, shaped its strategy, and identified what made her organization great.
From her, we learn that our history is who we are. Telling the stories of our values, our successes, and our failures can influence our businesses direction and build a brand.
2. Walt Disney
Whether you're watching one of his films or visiting his theme parks, Walt Disney told stories that transcended age to create experiences that immersed people in his fantastic worlds.
Disney understood that to create an unforgettable experience meant focusing on the minute details and how those details contributed to the full story.
What we can take away from Disney's magic is that using details can create an immersive experience. Just make sure that the details don't detract form the story you're trying to tell.
3. Richard Branson
Richard Branson is one of the richest and most powerful men in the world.
He got that way by never shying away from a conversation and an opportunity to tell stories about the remarkable moments of his life, and the lives of others.
He freely shares what he thinks, what he has seen, and what he does and that openness is reflected in the Virgin Brand. He understands the power of nuance, even if it's not polished, that makes a story captivating.
The takeaway? The flaws are what make your stories interesting and memorable. Don't polish every detail: just tell your story, flaws and all.
4. Bruce Springsteen
For decades, “The Boss” has painted pictures of the American experience through his songs.
Great stories have villains and heroes, they have conflict, happy endings and sad endings, and sometimes, no ending at all. The stories Bruce Springsteen tells are often inspires by the stories of other people. His multi-platinum hit “The River” was said to be inspired by his sister's relationship.
Because his stories are so deeply personal, they have the ability to draw you into the song as a character living the experience. His talent is making the listener feel like their story is communal, a shared history and that makes you feel less alone.
Great storytelling brings us together by touching us on an emotional level and creating a shared experience that makes us feel like a part of something bigger. By framing your story in an emotionally inclusive way, you can work to build your tribe.
5. Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs is a must on any list of storytellers. His entire career was based on stories.
He understood that his products didn't just need customers; they needed disciples who would tell his story as if it was their own to move his business forwards. And that's what made Apple.
The best storytellers get others to tell their stories for them. In order to do that, the stories need to be recallable and motivate. If your stories have emotional impact, resonate with the listener, and are relevant (which comes out in the details – see Walt Disney above) your listeners will do most of the work for you.
The lesson? Create an experience worth sharing if you want your story to spread. It has to be memorable and backed up by the facts – i.e. your product – to resonate and be effective.
6. Sheryl Sandberg
Through her own personal anecdotes, the COO of Facebook and author of Lean In uses her position to address common problems that men and women face today.
Her stories are ones that we can all relate to. By tapping into her personal experiences, ones that are sometimes surprising to hear from someone so powerful, she generates empathy with her listeners, empowering them to reach new heights.
The takeaway? Sharing personal stories can make you feel vulnerable, but your vulnerability is what truly resonates with listeners. It's the tie that connects us all.
7. Tony Robbins
Tony Robbins built his career on his ability to tell a story.
His passionate story of his humble beginnings, "...living in a 400-square foot apartment and washing his dishes in the bathtub," is something we can almost all relate to.
Remember those first years on your own after college? His inspirational story of how he built his company and his life to the point where nothing is impossible is inspirational and has lit the fire of change for thousands of listeners from all over the world.
We all have a story; even if it's uninspiring, it is still being written, and with creativity and drive, anything is possible. Robbins stories work because we're wired to root for the underdog. Struggle is a part of life, and we find stories of triumph over the odds inspirational.
Today, we're bombarded with choices. Who we do business with often comes down to who tells the most compelling, honest story. Having a good story can define your brand, explain your history, provide the listener with a better understanding of your values, and help you to grow your business.
In the business world, the most successful companies have the most compelling stories. Storytellers are all around us. It's time for you to share your story with unflinching honesty, warts and all!