They Don’t Tell Stories (CEO mistake #2)

Before email, before the computer, even before the Guttenberg Press – there were communication and speeches. And those speeches had STORIES. And they communicated with power and emotion. Where have all the flowers (er, stories) gone – (actually not a bad metaphor, stories are a fragrant aroma in a good speech.)

The Five Biggest Mistakes CEOs make in speaking (and how to overcome them.)

This continues the series that will be done in five parts – don’t want to make the posts too long (and want you to keep coming back too!) Remember, if you want them all at once and in advance, send me an email at .

Mistake #1: They Read Speeches(see the last post)

Mistake #2: They Don’t Tell Stories.

CEOs, much like all of us, get continuously inundated with facts and figures. They are pressured with the minutiae of the day – so they tend to think in facts, tasks, concepts,
numbers, etc. The problem is, in the spoken medium facts and figures don’t cut it. They are not remembered, and they are usually boring. Save their overuse for the written medium, when you are trying to inform, not trying to influence.

And the irony is that a CEO’s real job is not to inform but to influence. They are always influencing, for they are the vision casters – or should be. And vision is made up of the collective aspirations, efforts and triumphs of the people of a company or an organization. Which is overflowing with vital, interesting, and compelling – stories.

A second irony is stories are easy to tell. It makes speaking easier. I remember a corporate client that had a new CEO elected after a long absence in the position. The CEO happened to be at the headquarters about a month before he was to officially start, and there was an all employee meeting going on. The interim leader asked if he wanted to drop by, and the CEO saw an opportunity – not for a formal address but to say a few words – just to get acquainted. He thought quickly. Then he spoke for 8 minutes, of which 6 minutes were a story of his first (positive) experience with the company. People loved it, and him, even though there wasn’t much content there. A story is not only easy to tell, it connects with people. Sometimes that’s the most important thing.

Stories are the way we kept traditions and passed on wisdom in ages past. Just because we have faster means of telecommunications and video today, doesn’t mean we should forget this most powerful medium of all. Remember that the one person considered by many to be the greatest communicator in history ONLY spoke in stories and parables. He was a leader of tens and hundreds, and ultimately millions, and he didn’t have the benefit of a speechwriter, or a large organization for support, or the leverage of the media for that matter. But he changed history more than any other man, in one solitary life. And Jesus did it all by speaking. With stories.

So become a storyteller. And it’s not just for CEO’s, but for all of us. We have gotten out of the habit of telling stories. They are great conversation starters at lunches, conferences and parties too. Stories are going on all around us – and we don’t take advantage of them. There are our own personal stories, and stories of our employees and clients. And don’t forget the power of OPE, Other People’s Experience. That is even more effective when you can make a point by lauding, building up or highlighting another rather than yourself. Think of the inspirational stories we can see and hear daily if we keep our ears and eyes open. It’s a mind set – and can expand to stories of events and circumstances, animals and nature, and even fantasy and fable.

Get in the habit – be a great storyteller.

Next: CEOs are too stiff.

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