“Those who tell the stories rule the world.”—Hopi proverb

One Sunday morning, as we were gathering the kids for Mass during a rare visit home, one of our boys asked me, “Why do we have to go to Church? How come Grandma and Grandpa never go?” “You know, that’s an interesting story,” I replied. He just stared at me with that “not again” look most parents know all too well.

As we strapped the kids into their car seats, I started to explain. “You know how much I like comic books?” I asked. He nodded, suddenly taking an interest. “Well, when I was about your age, we used to watch Batman on TV at night.” I went on to explain how my mother would read the captions that erupted onto the screen: screams of “BAM!”, “POW!”, and “CRASH!” would echo across our living room. Adam West and Burt Ward were my heroes, my icons, the very center of my young life.

“And that may have been the problem,” I told him.

I honestly don’t remember much about the day itself, but it was a defining moment in my young life. It was the spring of 1967, and we packed into the station wagon and made our way to church for the annual children’s Easter concert. There, we assembled on a cascade of risers, standing proudly before our parents. For some reason I still don’t understand, I was relegated to the uppermost bleacher, where I looked out across the multitude of parents in the pews. I really was kind of the mountain.

Not surprisingly, I really wasn’t all that interested. I didn’t know the words to the songs we sang that day, so I stood on the tips of my toes and looked around for my sister. Still not finding her, I shoved aside the boy in front of me so I could see a little better. Like a scene out of Home Alone 2, one child after another fell until I was the only one standing. There, surrounded by children large and small struggling to their feet, I did the only thing I knew to do in such a situation.

I raised my arms in triumph and yelled, “BATMAN!”, across the now silent church.

“Two things happened that day,” I explained to my son. “Your grandparents never set foot in another church, and I was never allowed to watch Batman again.” Hearing the laughter from the back seat, I said, “Sometimes, you gotta just be you,” then added the moral of the story, my favorite line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in while you could miss it.”

The Art and Value of Storytelling – Follow These 5Bs

As leaders, storytelling has incredible value. There’s nothing quite like a good story to share a lesson, offer a bit of learned wisdom, or teach an important point. Storytelling can inspire, persuade, and motivate. It helps us to simplify the complex, to convey and idea that captures the imagination. It allows a leader to connect on a very personal level with an audience, to forge a bond that cements their role.

Effective storytelling doesn’t come easy. It takes experience. It takes practice. It takes time. You can’t rush it, and you can’t fake it. But there are a handful of useful guidelines to get you started.

1. Be genuine.

When telling a story, honesty breeds credibility. Audiences recognize when someone’s story is too good to be true, or when the person telling the story isn’t sincere. When you tell a story, tell it from the heart, don’t embellish the details, and be your genuine self. That allows you to establish a true connection with your audience.

2. Be purposeful.

The best stories are those that are audience specific. Know your audience. Understand what drives them. Connect with them. Challenge them. Use language that evokes a response. Keep them interested. Tailor your storytelling to them. It’s about them; it’s not about you.

3. Be compelling.

A good storyteller understands how to captivate an audience, to weave a tale so good that the audience hangs on every word. It’s good to have a theme when you’re telling a story, but you want to tell a story so good that the audience will be talking about it long after you’re finished.

4. Be focused.

All good stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Simplify. Focus. Don’t take your audience on an obstacle course of obfuscation. Know how you want to end your story, so you don’t spend too much time in the middle. Start strong, weave your story, and finish with a flair.

5. Be humble.

Some of the best stories involve personal failure. That’s a big part of what makes them so good. But, to tell them, you have to be willing to admit your own shortfalls. Humility allows a storyteller to deepen their connection to the audience on a very personal and intimate level. A little self-deprecation goes a long way. Don’t tell your audience how awesome you are, let them figure it out for themselves.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, I still keep my utility belt under my pillow.

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Steve Leonard is a former senior military strategist and the creative force behind the defense microblog, Doctrine Man!!. A career writer and speaker with a passion for developing and mentoring the next generation of thought leaders, he is a senior fellow at the Modern War Institute; the co-founder of the national security blog, Divergent Options, and the podcast, The Smell of Victory; co-founder and former board member of the Military Writers Guild; and a member of the editorial review board of the Arthur D. Simons Center’s Interagency Journal. He is the author of five books, numerous professional articles, countless blog posts, and is a prolific military cartoonist.