When we think about the art of storytelling, we might remember a favorite novel and how its author wove a tale of wonder, skillfully drawing us in and creating characters we loved (or hated). And on rare occasions, we may find ourselves enchanted by a lush tale that leaves us wanting more when we close the cover.
Storytelling isn’t reserved for a good book or movie, though. SaaS marketers use storytelling regularly to drive home key messages, capture and keep customer loyalty and differentiate their brand from the competition.
But have you thought about storytelling’s impact on SaaS leadership? It plays a massive role in driving employee buy-in and engagement. Storytelling also connects to branding, change management, strategy development, values, vision work and more.
Adding storytelling to your SaaS leadership toolbox
Some SaaS leaders may think of themselves as devoid of storytelling abilities, but I believe it’s a skill they can learn. It’s a skill every leader should hone because when they tell a good story, they become more effective at:
- Introducing new ideas.
- Communicating their vision.
- Shifting employee mindsets.
- Winning over clients, teams and other stakeholders.
- Inspiring audiences — and so much more.
Tap into emotions
Sharing narratives evoking emotions like empathy, excitement and humor allows you to establish personal connections and build trust with your audience. People who feel emotionally connected to their leaders are more likely to feel motivated, loyal and willing to follow their vision.
Explain and clarify
Want your people to remember your message? Tell a story. It’s much more memorable than statistics, facts or abstract concepts. A story offers the perfect vehicle to explain and clarify abstract concepts! Presenting information in a narrative format provides a context for people to understand and retain your message’s key points. You enhance your communication’s effectiveness and ensure your message resonates with listeners over time.
Champion your vision
Sharing personal anecdotes or illustrating real-life examples empowers you to paint a vivid picture of the core values and beliefs guiding your decision-making. Helping your employees understand and align with your vision fosters a sense of shared purpose and enhances collaboration and commitment to common goals.
Inspire and drive transformation
Leaders often face the challenge of driving transformation or overcoming resistance to change. By sharing stories highlighting the benefits of change — or positive, achievable outcomes — we can create a sense of urgency and motivate our teams or employees to embrace new ideas and approaches. Stories inspire during challenging times, reminding people of past successes or illustrating the resilience and determination required to overcome obstacles.
Define culture and identity
Storytelling also plays a vital role in shaping an organization’s culture and identity. You can use stories to establish a shared narrative defining the organization’s traditions, history and values.
Sharing stories celebrating past achievements, lessons learned and defining moments reinforces a sense of identity and fosters a culture that values innovation, collaboration — or other traits you deem essential. With these stories, you will communicate your organization’s mission and brand — internally and externally — to create a sense of shared purpose and attract like-minded people.
Characteristics of effective storytelling
- Know your audience
You might share the same story across your organization, but delivering an identical message to your managers, teams and individual contributors, new hires and veteran employees won’t land as well as tailoring one to each audience.
Start by talking to people informally because it’s much easier to learn what worries or motivates them or what piques their curiosity. When you know your audience, you can more easily infuse your story with examples and specific language, speaking directly to their concerns and questions.
- Ground your story in context
Imagine rolling out a new initiative but not explaining the reasoning behind it. Your employees might see it as a random initiative from the top — but if you show how it fits into your company’s broader vision, you’ll likely get more buy-in. Why? Because people will see the genesis of the changes, their necessity and how they contribute to future strategy.
- Humanize your story
We’re all drawn to stories — especially personal anecdotes, which humanize abstract notions, help you reframe objective claims or drive home a point. And you don’t have to be your story’s hero, either. Sometimes showing your fallibility is more effective. After all, being great is… great, but it’s not always relatable. As Tyra Banks wrote, “Perfect is boring.”
- Make your story action-oriented
If you want people to understand your story — and empower them to take action from it — focus on what you want your audience to do after they hear it. Offer practical advice and clear direction because specifics reduce anxiety. When you help people understand a change in company direction, for example, and how those changes relate to them, it’s much easier for them to set and work toward their goals.
- Stay authentic and humble
Anchor your story with personal experiences, emotions and values. Embracing authenticity connects you to your audience and helps them relate to and trust your message. Speaking with humility demonstrates your capacity for learning and growth, showing you don’t claim to have all the answers, have made mistakes and have corrected course as necessary.
When you admit you’re not perfect and own your mistakes, your audience relates to you more easily. After all, some of the best stories involve failures, disasters and mistakes. They give your story tension, add emotion and become the pivot points that makes your story memorable.
- Have a clear outcome
Your story should leave your audience with some takeaway — a lesson or thought-provoking message. What should people have learned, or what should they do after they hear your story? Perhaps you’ve provided actionable points that propel action. Or you’ve shown your audience where you’ve come from — and where you’re going. A clear outcome generates trust and confidence in your values, mission and purpose.
We remember those storytellers who have great presence and tell great stories. From actors and teachers to mentors and leaders, we associate these people with the stories they’ve told. Why? Because stories empower us to create connections, foster engagement and share meaning. And as leaders, they matter to our identity and roles, our priorities and our aspirations.