I was speaking on a podcast recently when the host asked me why I call myself a “storyteller”.

Rather than explain my job title I shared the story of the iPod. Some years ago I walked into an Apple store and bought 3 iPod – for me, my wife and my son. I thought I was a “baller” so asked for a discount. The Apple employee replied, without blinking, “we don’t do discounts”.

So what do I do? Walk out.

No, I bought 3 iPod at full price.

In that short story, we can find many solutions to the challenges we all face as business leaders.

The first is educated demand.

I already entered the store knowing what I was going to buy and why. These customers are high value. They are already sold and are quick to convert.

The second is experience.

The store employee was as convinced about the iPod as Steve Jobs. The customer experience permeated every level of the company.

The third is price.

How often do we have to deal with leads who want discounts, who churn regularly and are generally uninformed about the product?

Let’s go back to where that all started.

When Jobs stood on stage and announced the iPod to the world, he didn’t say it was “the world’s best MP3 player” (as Microsoft did).

He called it “a tool for the heart”.

Jobs chose his words carefully.

The reason why this impact continues to be felt in the world of design and business is because he understood the power of story.

Now when I say “story”, you probably are thinking “Once Upon a Time.”

Sure, we’ve been telling stories like this for thousands of years. But stories can also be a single line or even a word.

Length is not important. What matters is understanding how stories work.

Deep in our human psyche we have a timeless need to understand the world.

We fear the unknown.

  • That “unknown” could be the mysteries of the night sky or the reason why this year’s crops have failed.
  • That “unknown” could be the “promised land” that Dr Martin Luther King shared from the Lincoln Memorial. It was a future and often feared future where “the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
  • Or that “unknown” could be the John F Kennedy’s vision of “putting a Man on the Moon and bringing him home safely by the end of the decade” in 1963.

Stories connect unknown futures with known pasts. Our brains cannot distinguish between past and present, they only know “experience”. So, when we call an unknown electronic device “a tool for the heart” we immediately unlock feelings and experiences in the audience that are familiar and welcome.

We understand music how music can make us happy, sad and bring us to tears. You’re at a cafe when “that song” starts playing and immediately takes you back to a place or a person that it reminds you of.

Storytellers can unlock these feelings with a simple line.

That’s why business leaders are increasingly turning to storytelling as a way to influence change. Authority no longer derives from job title or qualification. Authority comes from attention. Attention is the new currency of leadership.

And it’s why when business leaders start on this journey of storytelling, I recommend they learn their craft by speaking on podcasts as a guest.

Being a guest, as opposed to the host, means every episode is an invite; an invite to take the stage and share stories that will educate, inspire and move your audience.

It’s a performance, a timeless skill we need to master to thrive in the 21st century.

Getting better at storytelling will impact every aspect of your business life, from the questions your customers ask you, to the experience your team conveys to those customers, to the price you charge for your service.