Storytelling school

Storytelling, not oversharing, is the secret to building business relationships

LinkedIn users talk about a growing trend that some people are embracing, while others call it oversharing. One user who started writing about his personal life and struggles said, “The way you go viral is to be really vulnerable.”

“Conversations become more personal,” according to the the wall street journal. “And some users have mixed feelings about it.” Feelings are mixed because sharing emotions is subjective. So where is the line between showing vulnerability and sharing too much information?

As a CEO Communications Coach, I’m glad we’re having a public discussion about expressing personal experiences. I teach senior leaders to tap into their personal stories to create stronger and more meaningful relationships with their audiences and stakeholders.

After nearly 20 years of turning leaders into extraordinary speakers, I have come to the following conclusion.

Strive to be a storyteller, not an oversharer.

Sharing personal experiences doesn’t mean you have to dig up every skeleton, wallow in your regrets, or relive your darkest hours, all for public consumption. Oversharing happens when you divulge too much information that isn’t directly relevant to your audience.

Storytellers, on the other hand, deliberately choose personal experiences that inspire trust, build relationships, and motivate others.

1. Share stories that are relevant to the topic.

One of the toughest tasks I face as a CEO communication coach is persuading leaders to open up. I encourage them to give others insight into the personal events that have shaped their lives and driven them to success.

The stories they share with me are endlessly fascinating and often inspiring.

One day I was working with a senior executive for the biggest retailers in the world. They wanted to improve their quarterly onboarding presentations to welcome new employees, managers and executives.

I suggested that she replace the pie charts and sales charts at the start of her presentation with a story about herself. She remained largely silent, so I enticed her with a specific question: “Why did you apply to this company rather than its competitors?”

This question sparked a personal and emotional story that I will never forget. Prior to joining the company, this executive was a part-time caregiver for a family member with a debilitating illness. She visited the retailer’s stores several times a week as her scale and cost structure drove prices down.

“Lower prices mean something to every customer who walks through our doors,” she said.

The single story changed everything – his quarterly presentations became must-attend events and his career trajectory soared.

Months later, I asked the vice president why she hadn’t told the story sooner.

“I thought it was too personal,” she said.

Yes, it’s a personal story, but it ties directly to the topic and sets the company’s mission in a new light that everyone can relate to.

2. Share stories that reveal lessons.

Inspirational leaders tell stories, and personal stories are the most impactful. But the best stories are deliberately chosen to highlight lessons that apply to the rest of the team or audience.

Recently, I wrote about Richard Branson’s new MasterClass. He begins the 13-episode series by saying he has five decades of stories to share about his entrepreneurial adventures. These stories offer lessons for anyone with an idea for starting a business.

Most of Branson’s stories are tales of near-death experiences (in business and in life) and the struggles he had to overcome to succeed.

A very personal experience Branson talks about is his experience living with dyslexia, a reading condition that was so misunderstood that it forced Branson out of school at age 15. But Branson turns the negative experience into a positive experience. He learned the art of collaborating, delegating and taking notes. The workings of her mind allowed her to see solutions as clearly as Anya Taylor-Joy’s character saw winning chess moves in The Queen’s Bet.

The lesson he shares from his personal experience with dyslexia is very motivating. He taught Branson a lesson that applies to anyone with a dream: “Insurmountable challenges can become endless opportunities.”

There is a fine line between sharing personal information and providing too much information that makes people feel uncomfortable. Avoid the problem by sharing relevant, educational and inspiring personal stories.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.