Liv & Maddie on Storytelling

During breakfast this morning, my daughters were reciting plot twists from last night’s Liv & Maddie. If you have young girls, then you’re familiar with this Disney show about twin sisters and their wacky adventures. Even if you haven’t seen it, there’s a lesson to be learned in the power of storytelling.

This particular episode of Liv & Maddie intrigued my kids because it revealed backstory into the characters. The flashbacks showed what they were like when they were younger. How did Maddie come up with her catch phrase, “Bam! What!?!” How did Liv get cast on her television show?

It is fascinating to learn the backstory of how people become who they are. It is not just endearing for the sake of adoration; learning about someone’s past exposes their motivation and drive. It explains why they behave the way they do and provides context that we can use to help guide and develop them.

As leaders, we get so caught up in our day-to-day grind that we overlook the importance of sharing our backstory with those we lead. If your staff knew how many jobs you sustained to work your way through college, do you think they would find you more relatable? What if you described a blunder from early in your management career?

When presenting your backstory, you don’t need to write a report or give a cumbersome presentation. It happens in bite-sized nuggets and is revealed when it will help illustrate your point.

In a recent interview, Paul Smith, author of Lead with a Story, provided several elements to improve your storytelling:

Start with the context. Explain why you are telling this story and how it fits into the conversation.

Appeal to emotion. People make decisions largely based on emotional reasons. Whether you invoke laughter, sadness, or wincing, the goal is to make them feel something.

Include a surprise. When I tell stories from my past, I build it up to the big reveal, which is usually a mistake that I’ve made. It gets a laugh, keeps their attention, and is a good time to give the lesson.

Use a narrative style appropriate for business. Be concise. Your story should not last more than three minutes. Avoid extraneous details and get to the point.

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