Melissa Reaves is a professional and award-winning storyteller, as well as a storytelling coach to executives around the globe. She has an extensive background in sales and marketing, in addition to countless stage credits as a professional actor/improviser. Combining these forces together led her to found Story Fruition to help others find and tell their own stories.
We were fortunate enough to chat with Melissa recently about her work and her new book that was recently published, The Storyteller’s Mind Movie.
You are a storytelling enthusiast and have created Story Fruition as a means of teaching this talent to top executives and CEO’s worldwide. Why is storytelling such an important feature for executives to master?
Humans relate to humans, not charts. Data is the science for us to make an analytical and logical decision, but we must also have emotional buy in—and that’s where the storytelling skills are imperative. Great leaders know that people will follow your vision, understand when choppy waters have occurred, or celebrate successes—through stories. And when the presenter is excellent and captivating the room their leadership elevates. Their teams feel valued, inspired and that’s when innovation and productivity thrive. As I say a lot, storytelling is an essential business skill.
You also have a new book out, The Storyteller’s Mind Movie. What is the most surprising thing you discovered while writing this book?
I’ve been an actor since I was nine, so I have always been keenly aware of what I was offering the audience. Essentially, I knew they were wanting to slip away from the day-to-day and see a story unfold before them with delight. As I wrote the book, I became keenly aware of what we’re doing to our audience in presentations—and what NOT to do is a part of becoming a great presenter. Watching slide decks carefully so that they support the speaker and not upstage them due to the “data dump” they are doing. As the speaker, you have both the opportunity and obligation to keep the business communication train on the track—so pointing out what works and what doesn’t feel good to bring to light.
What is the most rewarding part of your job? Can you highlight one or two examples, in particular?
I work with a lot of people who spend most of their day in numbers and data. And I notice that they speak pretty black and white, too. I lovingly explain that “You’re working out in the Neocortex Gym with your work. You’re pumped in this black and white area. BUT, we need you to sign up for this new Limbic System Gym to strengthen your colorful storytelling skills so that you’re balanced and strong in both.”
I worked closely with a senior finance person who had been told she was not exciting to listen to—and they expected her to improve. Though this sounds harsh, she agreed and wanted to expand her skills. So, we worked on her boardroom presentation. It started off all graphs, Profit and Loss statements as expected—as well as wordy slides that no one could read and listen at the same time. That’s taking the communication train right off the tracks and she’d lose her audience’s attention. So, we found beautiful metaphors and weaved them into the entire 45-minute presentation. We had a boat metaphor, “We’re all in this boat together,” and that put the entire boardroom in a “friendly team boat” in their minds. Then when she had to report some numbers that weren’t hitting expectations, she said, “With any start-up we can hit some choppy waters….” We had a rippled water image on that slide. Then she said,” But we hired an amazing Growth officer and he’s turning the boat around and getting us back to smooth waters.” And then an image of a still lake appeared. She was loading that room up with digestible Mind Movie images and they loved it. She put “heart behind the chart” at every turn. When she was done, the Chairman of the Board said, “That was the best unpacking of a P&L I have ever seen.”
This is what we try to do for all our clients. Make them stars and increase their effectiveness to move the needle in the direction they desire.
What was the best advice you have ever been given by someone, and why was it so helpful to you?
You can’t build this on your own. Welcome people into your vision and give them the tasks that they are great at—and free yourself up to do what you do best. I have a social team, three finance pros, four coaches, and marketing for my website and newsletters. They are brilliant at what they do—and that allows me to represent Story Fruition’s mission most frequently to the public.
If you could spend a day with a leader of any capacity, who would it be and why?
If I could have lunch with either Barack Obama or Oprah Winfrey, I’d be thrilled. I would want to ask them what they thought made great leaders—and how to build large teams that work together.
(I did meet Barack Obama at a hotel gym and worked out with him for 20-minutes. Not only did I get him to laugh, I got to snap a picture of him, too! It was one of the first comedic stories I told publicly, and I’m still known for it!)
Pick Up a Copy of ‘The Storyteller’s Mind Movie : Become an Emotionally Connected Leader Through Your Storytelling Skills’ Today! https://www.amazon.com/Storytellers-Mind-Movie-Emotionally-Storytelling-ebook/dp/B0BSVLHVQZ/