The power of storytelling
This blog post discusses why storytelling is useful in general, in presentations and in leadership moments. The initial ideas of benefits, types of story and how to tell them are largely inspired by (or lifted from!) Annette Simmons’ book “The Story Factor” – all credit should go to her.
Stories are good because they can easily create links between you the storyteller and your public. In place of spitting out your point in a direct pragmatic to-the-point way, stories deliver the point in an indirect, more philosophical way. But why is this good?
Take an example: My daughter has been lying about there being a nasty man in the garden. Since its a big garden and the kids play outside unsupervised, this is not entirely unfeasible. But it also happens to be untrue.
So: I want to tell her to stop lying. I have a choice: Tell her directly to stop lying (maybe even explaining assertively why and the impact her lie has on me…) OR tell her a story. I choose story (“The boy who cried wolf“, of course!).
Here’s what happens:
- I start by asking her if she ever heard about the boy who cried wolf (she replies “No”, but since I mentioned a wolf, I have her attention)
- I start the story telling her about a little boy of about 7 years old who….. (she can relate to this)
- I “act” a little bit by using some intonation, face expression and gesture. Not too much, just to bring it to life a little. (she is hooked on, listening intently)
- I sometimes ask her “Do you know what happened next?” (she answers, getting involved more and more)
- I deliver the moral of the story (which she understands, imagines in her mind and will probably remember forever)
At no point do I tell her bluntly that she should not lie about people in the garden. I don’t need to. She got it. And she didn’t walk away saying “Yeh, yeh, sure thing papa”…
What are the main benefits of story? (Thanks Annette here):
- You can more easily influence the listener (read here about “the truth naked and cold”)
- They create imagination and engagement (during the story)
- Recall of the message is greater
- The “3rd person storytelling effect” can remove the “I am the expert, I know best, I am the boss” element of making your point
What are the key elements to bear in mind when telling stories?
- Don’t make them too long or complicated
- Be honest (or at least authentic)
- Use a little humour, gesture, intonation or facial expression…
- Don’t be too specific with details – people have to be able to imagine things for themselves
- Use emotion
According to Annette Simmons, there are 6 main types of story, each with its own benefit. Click on one of the links (work in progress) to find a personal story of mine that fits in here…
- “Who am I?” stories used to introduce yourself
- “Why am I here?” stories that define your motivation or purpose
- “My vision” stories that share how you see things, possibly in the future
- “Learning stories” that help people understand a skill or attitude
- “Values in action” stories that help people to see why they should adhere to a certain value you hold to be important
- “I know you” stories, designed to show people you understand them and create empathy with the audience
I use story in presentations, to answer questions where I think people wouldnt necessarily accept a blunt answer from me, to teach my kids things and to convince … actually, pretty much all the time. I don’t create a novel or theatre piece each time, just share a little anecdote or piece of my experience to make my points. Try for yourself!
Thanks for reading!
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