For centuries, people have used storytelling to pass on cultural traditions and important values. As technology advanced, storytelling methods evolved to reach wider audiences. Today, storytelling is also a vital skill in the workplace, with the unique ability to enable a more connected culture.

I am grateful to know Karen Eber, a leadership development and strategic communications expert who has helped numerous companies and leaders build more inclusive cultures through storytelling for more than 20 years. During our recent conversation, Karen shared insights from her upcoming book, The Perfect Story: How to Tell Stories that Inform, Influence, and Inspire, and offered advice for anyone looking to tell their own stories. From experienced leaders to those just starting their careers, Karen’s advice resonates with so many.

Laura: Storytelling is such an important skill for leaders. Given increasing demands on time, we’re so often focused on ‘getting things done’ with teams and may forget that people truly engage with stories – and that making time for this in our communications will make us more effective leaders.  You remind us of this so well in your TED talk.  Thinking about the changing dynamics of the workforce, why is storytelling such an important aspect of leadership development today?

Karen: Stories are a basic unit of understanding. A great story can build a fully formed idea in your head without you consciously having to will it. But not all stories are created equally. The way you tell a story makes a difference in how it is understood.

I’m often told, “It’s easier to share data or give an update than it is to prepare a story.” While it may be easier for you, that doesn’t mean it is understood or remembered by your audience. Communication is the commerce of leadership. Yet most people talk at their audience and fail to engage their brains enough. Great stories help ensure the audience comes away with the desired outcome.

Psychological safety is an attribute of the most successful teams. One of the greatest responsibilities of leaders is to create an environment of trust and empathy. Stories are the foundation of both. When someone shares a story, the listener gains empathy, experiences a burst of oxytocin, and forms trust toward the storyteller. Influential leaders create a habit for teams to share stories about mistakes, lessons learned, or examples of great employees or teams—encouraging what is valued and strengthening trust.

Laura: Your new book, The Perfect Story: How to Tell Stories that Inform, Influence, and Inspire, is coming out in a few months.  What was your favorite part of bringing this work to life? The most challenging?

Karen: The writing process was easy. I had a good routine for getting into a deep state of flow each writing session. For the most part, the chapters flowed, and I didn’t experience any major blocks or procrastination sessions cleaning my home. Storytelling has been a big part of my leadership and culture work over the past decade, and I had this book in me. It was fun thinking through different ways to bring the ideas to the audience. The best moments came when I read the book and would be impressed with what I wrote.

Two things were challenging. The first was editing. I’m pretty good at cutting anything that doesn’t add momentum or value. But I had to learn not to edit for long stretches. Editing involves looking for problems, and long stretches impact your mood. I realized two hours a day was my max.

The second challenge was time. By the time it is published, the book will have been finished over a year. I want to get it into people’s hands now! I’m immensely proud of this book. I’m very excited to share it with people and watch the impact it can create.

Laura: Based on both your experience as an author and a ‘corporate anthropologist,’ can you share your top tips for writers or creators looking to tell their stories?

Karen: Corporate anthropology involves looking for patterns in behaviors, beliefs, challenges, or even mistakes. These show there is something underlying to explore that often isn’t unique to one group or setting. Writing about these shared experiences is such a strong way to connect with your audience. These are the frustrations felt over a situation. A hope or aspiration for something we want to achieve or become. The “I’ll have what she’s having” desires towards a product or service being sold. These are experiences we can identify with and have deep feelings about. Lean into the emotions and details of these moments and rich stories emerge.

Recognize an idea doesn’t have a home without an audience. Stories that go off the rails aren’t relevant or the audience. People feel like they are being talked at instead of engaged in the story. It’s a bit like the relative who tells the same stories that are their greatest hits at the holiday tables. You quickly tune out. Stories are successful when they begin with the audience and what you want them to know, think, feel, or do as a result. Start with your audience, not the story!


  • Laura Cococcia

    Contributing Writer

    Laura Cococcia is a recognized thought leader on the evolution of work, with 20+ years of strategic communications and organizational development experience at respected global companies, including GE, Google, and American Express. Committed to advancing dialogue and action in this space, she actively contributes to forward-thinking professional and academic forums including the Aspen Institute, Cornell University and TED.  Additionally, Laura is an advisor to startup and venture technology companies who are building a better future of work, helping founders drive meaningful change through innovative and sustainable solutions. She has been a contributing writer for several publications, including Thrive Global, focusing on the technological, generational, and social shifts that impact how we work and live. Most recently, Laura was accepted as a Fulbright Specialist, which pairs highly qualified academics and professionals with host institutions abroad to share their expertise through short-term consulting assignments. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from The College of the Holy Cross and a master’s degree in human resources from Cornell University.  Laura is based in New York City.