Use Simple, Relatable Stories To Get Your Message Across

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What's the No. 1 skill employees are lacking? Effective communication, according to a recent LinkedIn survey.

"The ancient art of persuasion is no longer a soft skill. It's your competitive edge in the age of automation and artificial intelligence," said Carmine Gallo, author of "Five Stars: The Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great." Gallo is also president of Gallo Communications Group, a keynote speaker and Harvard instructor.

Tips on reaching people:

Keep it basic. Great persuaders use simple words to explain complex ideas, Gallo says.

He points to co-founders of a fast-growing startup in the health insurance space, who Gallo interviewed for his book. "They decided to write all of their material using third-grade words. Most of your customers don't understand your subject as well as you do. Use simple words to sell your ideas."

Spin yarns. Humans are hard-wired for storytelling, Gallo says. "Stories inform, educate and inspire," he said. "Stories are the single best tool we have to transport our ideas to another person."

Richard Branson, the billionaire Virgin-brand founder, told Gallo that storytelling can be used to drive change. Do that with your customers and within your organization by "seeing yourself as the chief storytelling officer for your brand or department," Gallo said.

Great storytellers have an unfair advantage. But you can learn to tell good stories.

Tell personal stories of overcoming hurdles. Share customer case studies. Inform about your company's history. Storytelling is "an unfair advantage that you can use to stand out in a sea of average," Gallo said.

Refresh presentations. Stick to a 10-minute rule, Gallo says. Studies show that most people tune out of a lecture or presentation after 10 minutes.

"After the 10-minute mark, you must re-engage your audience with stories, videos or demonstrations to maintain their interest," Gallo said. "Above all, make sure you hit the most important points in the first 10 minutes."

Be genuine. Honesty is always the best policy, because people will know where they stand. And they will have been provided a direction to improve.

That's from Sandy Brown, commissioner of Major League Lacrosse, the premier professional outdoor lacrosse league.

Acknowledge people. Offer a pat on the back for a job well done. "A little encouragement goes a long way," Brown said.

Be polite. No matter the subject matter of an email, always end with "many thanks," Brown said. Extend an olive branch even in the most difficult emails. And "for those emails that are even the most mundane, it shows that you care," Brown added.

It's also his policy to return emails within 24 hours, or better yet within the same day. "This says a lot about your dependability," he said.

Be present. FaceTime is a useful tool. But actual interaction is still crucial.

"Moreover, these opportunities do not always happen organically — sometimes you have to create the chance to get in the same room with your important constituents," said Scott Ferguson, CEO of World Trade Centers Association, a trade group.

Take initiative. Check in with employees across the organization. "Empathize with their concerns and jointly problem solve," said Tim Chen, CEO of NerdWallet, a personal finance website and app.

"Not only does this approach help leaders recognize the root cause of organizational issues, it also makes employees part of the resolution process," he said.

Master metaphors. Business magnate and investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA) can hardly get through an interview without using them and analogies to explain his investing decisions, Gallo points out.

"The human brain thinks in analogy," Gallo continued. "We process our world by comparing something new to something we've seen before. A great persuader understands this and will use metaphors and analogies to make the abstract understandable."