Are you a thought leader? Should you be?
People ask me about thought leadership all the time. They want to know what it is and whether they should be doing it. So, let’s start with what it is. Take a minute and think about the thought leaders you follow. Who are the people you look to for ideas? Who do you trust to tell you the truth? Who do you follow on social media to find out about up-and-coming trends?
Those people are thought leaders. They are credible industry experts who cut through the noise to offer information and ideas worth thinking about. According to the Thought Leadership Lab, these are the informed opinion leaders and the go-to people in their field of expertise. They are trusted sources who move and inspire people.
Being a thought leader can help you sell your idea or product before you even step through the door. Your thoughts can become your calling card, and people may even seek you out for them. For business owners, entrepreneurs, and consultants, this can be an extremely effective way to find leads and grow your business—especially if you are in an innovative or cutting-edge field.
Experts agree, one way to become a thought leader is by creating great content. And, the most effective way to become a thought leader is to use stories to truly connect with your readers.
Why do stories matter?
As human beings, we crave stories and we are hard-wired to seek them out. That means that in our ever-crowded world of non-stop social media and information, stories break through that din. They make our readers more receptive and help us share our ideas more quickly and effectively. They help us become leaders in our industry and establish credibility with our peers, customers, and prospects.
How does it work?
Research shows that when we hear stories, a different part of our brain is activated, which makes it more receptive to new ideas and persuasion. Researchers at Princeton University studied people’s brain activity while being told a story. They found that the listeners’ brains reflected that of the speaker. When the speaker’s frontal cortex lit up, so did the listeners. Here’s the important part:
By simply telling a story, the speaker could plant ideas, thoughts, and emotions into the listeners’ brains. And tell me, what entrepreneur or sales leader wouldn’t want a more effective way to share their thoughts and bring others onboard?
How stories can help you be a leader
Today, to be a leader in your industry, you have to connect with people and build credibility. By telling stories, you can communicate more quickly and efficiently, allowing your ideas and reputation to flourish.
Stories allow us to build connections. When we hear a story, our brain seeks to find the cause and effect relationship of something we’ve previously experienced. This activates a part of the brain that helps us relate to the experiences of the storyteller. By telling stories, you can create a fast-track to relating to your audience and building a relationship.
Practically, telling stories is an essential part of building your digital presence and reputation and establishing thought leadership in your given field. Strong content feeds your social media channels and allows you to share your own ideas rather than someone else’s with which you agree.
Where to find stories that matter
I know, what you’re thinking. “All these facts about brains and science are fine and good, but how can I tell stories about my business that are relevant?”
That answer is actually pretty simple. First, consider what stories will help you grow your business. If the ideas you plant will take root with your intended audience, you must be specific about what ideas you want to share. Think about the key messages you want to communicate, and then write those down.
Next, think about who will care about these stories and read them. Without an audience, your story is like the proverbial fallen tree in the woods—if no one can hear it, then it doesn’t exist. Paint a picture of your ideal audience member or target customer and ask yourself:
- What their demographics?
- What are their psychographics?
- What are their day-to-day concerns?
- What problems can we help them solve?
- What jobs can we help them complete?
By creating this profile, you will start to find topics and ideas that matter deeply to your audience and you. And that is the sweet spot for finding stories. Once you know the ideas that matter to both you and your audience, you can find the stories that convey those ideas.
The elements of a story
All effective stories have three crucial pieces:
- Characters matter because people connect with other people. Without a central, human figure to identify with, your audience is less likely to care about your story.
- A problem to solve creates tension in your story and draws in your readers.
- The resolution solves the conflict and leaves the reader feeling satisfied.
Now, you DON’T have to write a 500,000-word story to convey these ideas. In fact, you can cover character, conflict, and resolution in three paragraphs or less. Here’s an example of just that from a blog post that Alice wrote:
“When you walk into a networking event, you’re walking into a room where everyone’s personality is on display. Over there in the corner is a person who looks like they want to talk to new people, but can’t muster the courage. There’s always one person roaming the room, making friends with everyone and telling jokes. Then, there are the few groups scattered about, standing in a circle facing one another and not talking to anyone outside that circle.”
In those four sentences, Alice established characters and gave a hint of the conflict to come. By describing a common networking scene, she connected with anyone who has ever been to one.
In the next two paragraphs, she further establishes the conflict (building connections in a short period of time) and ties it up with a resolution (make the most of your time there).
“Networking events are critical to building the types of relationships you need to grow your business. People want to do business with people they know, like and trust. Building these bonds generates business and keeps you at the forefront of your industry. It takes time, but it’s critical.
But, it’s not enough to only attend the event—you have to make the most of your time there!”
See, three paragraphs and a story. Done and done.
Try it out
Start telling stories and sharing them on a blog to develop your thought leadership. Make a list of the stories that you can tell to communicate the key messages about your business to your audience. Then, assign some dates for when you’d like to publish those stories. Give yourself about a month to work on each post, so that you have plenty of time for proofreading and editing. (According to Mark Twain “Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.” I sometimes agree with him.) If you don’t have a professional editor, check out grammarly.com, which checks for punctuation, grammar, context, and sentence structure.
By telling stories, you can connect with people on a base level, which will, in turn, grow your brand and reputation and establish you as an expert in your field.
So, what’s your story?