Good leaders are good at storytelling. It’s an effective technique to build support for a project, explain how an employee might improve or inspire a team that is facing challenges. Stories create sticky memories by attaching emotion, giving skilled storytellers advantage in the office, the marketplace and the media.

Start your story by defining the audience and the ultimate message you want to convey. For instance, if you want to convince senior management to take a risk by supporting a new initiative, tell a story that shows success that came from taking smart chances.

Look to your own life experience to illustrate the message. “Anecdotes that illustrate struggle, failure and barriers overcome are what make leaders appear authentic and accessible,” says Jonah Sachs, CEO of Free Range Studios and author of Winning the Story Wars. “When the storyteller talks about how great they are, the audience shuts down,” so make sure the audience is the hero. Keep the emphasis on a lesson learned, people known or events witnessed.

A story without conflict isn’t very interesting but keep it simple. Remove extraneous details to narrow the focus on the resolution. Don’t tell your audience what day of the week it was, for instance, but transport your listeners’ imagination with a few well-place details — how you felt or the expression on a face, for instance.

Storytelling requires repeated effort to get it right, so practice with friends, loved ones and trusted colleagues to hone your message into the most effective and efficient story. “Stories are the original viral tool,” says Sachs. “Once you tell a very compelling story, the first thing someone does is think, ‘Who can I can tell this story to?’”


  • Consider your audience — choose a framework and details that will resonate with your listeners
  • Identify the moral or message your want to impart
  • Find inspiration in your life experiences


  • Assume you don’t have storytelling chops — we all have it in us to tell memorable stories
  • Give yourself the starring role
  • Overwhelm your story with unnecessary details

Read Carolyn O’Hara’s  “How to Tell a Great Story” HBR blog