Do you remember your favorite children’s book? The one you always wanted someone to read to you? My all time favorite was the Story of the Root Children. Every spring, my father would read this fanciful story. I’d crawl into his big brown chair and listen to him tell the story of the root children waking up. I remember the story was often followed by a trip to the forest with my father asking….”Can you hear the root children?” Of course, I did. I always did.
What does a great children’s story have to do with leadership? We can learn a great deal from children’s book authors and illustrators. These authors have mastered the art of using as few words as possible to make a wonderful point that draws you right into the story. They use illustrations that fill in the gaps for the words and allow you to think about all that’s possible. Truly great leaders know how to do the same: engage the listener, be concise, and help a team envision what’s possible.
This last week, I had the opportunity to see how the power of story telling not only engages a team but also bridges cultural differences.I teach Foundations of Leadership at University California Santa Barbara Extension. Many of my students are international students who’s employers send them to America to develop English speaking skills and complete a degree. This term I have students from China, Brazil, Norway, Germany, US, Austria and Switzerland.
Last week, the students had to present a case study on a company challenge. They had 10 minutes to describe the challenge and facilitate a problem solving discussion with their classmates. One of my goals was to help them focus on their public speaking skills. I required them to use the tool HaikuDeck. This online presentation tool allows you to select photos for your slides. It also limits the number of words you can use per slide. For many students, not having numerous slides was the biggest challenge. Yet, after the presentations, they all agreed this approach helped them to focus on their speaking skills.
For most students this was their first presentation in English. Each student found the right photographs to illustrate his/her points. The students told stories that helped us to see cultural differences and leadership in action. We were all engaged by the stories and saw how no matter the culture or language differences, that we can learn to be leaders together through the power of a great story.
As students told their stories, I imagined myself crawling into that big brown chair in our living room, listening to my father’s great stories and being completely captivated. Listening to leaders who know how to tell a story with fewer words and great photos is part of the trend to move away from bullet laden slides to presentations that engage listeners through the art of story telling.
These types of presentations might almost be as good as listening for those root children in the forest…almost.
What can you learn from your favorite children’s author about developing your presentation and leadership style?