There are many qualities that make a great storyteller: the ability to turn a witty phrase, the sense to know what makes a captivating narrative, the understanding of how to grab an audience’s attention.
But one quality of storytelling that’s often overlooked is the capacity to be truly yourself. The best storytellers are the ones who are completely, unapologetically themselves – they don’t worry about living up to other people’s expectations, they don’t utilize techniques that aren’t true to their style, and they certainly don’t try to emulate other people. They just know what they like, and what they’re good at, and they do that!
One such storyteller is Ellen DeGeneres. As a television host, Ellen is always 100% Ellen. Her particular brand of humor and heart has made her a household name. When you tune in to watch Ellen, you know what you’re getting (in the best way possible): a host who will entertain and uplift you by sharing meaningful content.
Let’s take a closer look at three specific storytelling lessons we’ve learned from Ellen DeGeneres.
#1: Everyone Has a Story to Tell
One of the best parts about Ellen’s show is her lack of ego. While her show is named after her, Ellen is often a vehicle for sharing other people’s talents. Ellen brings everyone from famous celebrities to dancing toddlers on her show and excels at making them seem special, no matter how banal their talent. As a host, Ellen is the perfect blend of funny, kind, and encouraging – she’ll poke fun at her guests (and herself) but, more than anything else, she’ll encourage them to use her platform to share their stories.
Brands can learn a lot from this approach. Consider athletic commercials, which often feature stories of everyday athletes as inspiration for purchasing their product. When you shift the focus from your story to everyone’s story, you’re building a deeper connection. You should be less telling a story to your customers about your product than letting your customers tell YOU a story about your product.
#2: Own Your Story
Aside from being a phenomenally talented television host, Ellen is also a trailblazing advocate for LGBTQ+ rights. It may seem hard to remember now, but Ellen’s coming out in 1997 was groundbreaking in a number of ways. Coming out publicly wasn’t an easy decision for Ellen and was one that could have had a serious negative impact on her career. However, Ellen decided that she needed to share her own story, not try to emulate someone else’s. In doing so, she became an inspiration to us all to own our own narratives.
As a brand, you should never try to be something other than what you are. Trying to emulate what you’re not may come across as inauthentic and, more importantly, lose touch with what you’re really meant to be.
#3: Operate With Grace and Kindness
How rare is it to meet someone who makes you feel good simply by being themselves? Ellen is one such person. Her warmth and empathy put her guests, her viewers, and (we’re guessing here) her friends and family at ease. That’s not to say that Ellen is a pushover or can’t stand up for herself – she has more than proved her abilities in both of those areas. However, Ellen chooses kindness first (so much so that she ends every show with the phrase “be kind to one another.”
Operating with grace and kindness means that you’re choosing to put other people’s needs above your bottom line. That message resonates with people: consider the success of companies like Tom’s and Warby Parker. We’re not saying that you have to donate your goods or your time, but let the story your company tells be one that’s meaningful and helpful and that message will impact your audience.
What Story Will You Tell?
As companies, we have the opportunity to wake up each day and choose what story we’ll tell the world.
What story are you going to tell?