Storytelling Tips – Why Tell Stories?

Storytelling Tips – Why Tell Stories?

This post is written by Michael Davis

In one of his blog posts, author Simon Sinek wrote about an unknown director who, in 1975, wanted to create a really good horror film.  His goal was to center the movie around a violent sea creature that inflicted gory attacks on humans.

There was one problem.  The mechanical creature he created for the film was not realistic at all.  If he had used it, both he and the movie would have been a laughing stock.

Not to be denied, the young director and his team came up with a brilliant solution.  Rather than show the creature attacking its victims, they would instead use the greatest storytelling tool available… the imagination of the audience members.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Jaws, you remember the opening scene…a young woman swimming alone in the ocean… suddenly, she is jerked down under the water, re-surfaces, is jerked down again, then violently flung about.  At no point do you ever see the shark directly attack her.

In other scenes, you don’t even see a fin – you see a yellow barrel being pulled across the water, knowing that the shark, deep below, is towing the rope attached to the barrel, swimming toward the next victim.  It is your imagination that filled in the details of the scenes.  It is your imagination that created the fear and horror.   The effect was so scary and powerful, it influenced our entire society, and still does today.

Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller.  He also represents a major reason why human beings tell stories.  Research has shown that we share stories because they create an emotional connection.  Although this is a major reason, there are others.

Have you ever heard someone that left you wondering “What is this guy talking about?  Why should I care?”  If you haven’t, you’re the only one.  More importantly, have you ever told a story that left others wondering, “What are you talking about?” and “Why should I care?” If your answer is ‘no’, then you’re not telling enough stories.

Every one, at some point, has told a story that didn’t go over well.

So what are the other reasons you should tell stories?  In his book, Lead with a Story, author Paul Smith highlights 10 compelling reasons:

Reason 1 – Storytelling is simple.  Anyone can do it. You’ve been doing it since you learned how to put two sentences together. You don’t need a college degree to tell stories.

Reason 2 – Storytelling is timeless. Because human beings have always told stories, it is not a fad, unlike many other ideas that come along in the business world.  Storytelling is especially powerful for leaders, and it always will be.

Reason 3 – Stories are demographic-proof.  Everybody— regardless of age, race, socio-economic status, or gender— likes to listen to stories.

Reason 4 – Stories are contagious.  The best stories spread by word-of-mouth. Before human beings invented the written word, the only way to pass on their knowledge was to tell it to others.  One person shared it with another, and it was passed down through the generations.  Think about stories that you’ve heard and then shared with others.

Reason 5 – Stories are easier to remember.  According to psychologist Jerome Bruner, facts are 20 times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story.

Reason 6 – Stories inspire. Have you ever heard someone walk out of a business meeting and say, “Wow! You’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw!”  Probably not, because most of the people walking out of a Power Point presentation are just trying to wake up.  You  have , however, heard people say “Wow, you should hear the story that I just heard”.  This is especially true when people see great movies or plays.

Reason 7 – Stories appeal to all types of learners. In any group, about two out-of- five people will be predominantly visual learners.   They learn best from videos, diagrams, or illustrations.

Another two out-of-five will be auditory.  They learn best through the spoken word, such as lectures or discussions.

The remaining one out-of- five is kinesthetic.  S/he learns best by doing, feeling or experiencing.

Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types of learners. Visual learners appreciate the mental pictures that your story creates.  Auditory learners focus on words and the storyteller’s voice.  Kinesthetic learners remember the emotional connections and feelings from a story.

Reason 8 – Stories fit better where most of the learning happens in the workplace. According to communications expert Evelyn Clark, “Up to 70 percent of the new skills, information and competence in the workplace are acquired through informal learning” such as what happens in team settings, mentoring, and peer-to-peer communication.  And the bedrock of informal learning is storytelling.

Reason 9 – Stories put the listener in a mental learning mode. According to best-selling author and training coach Margaret Parkin, storytelling “re-creates in us that emotional state of curiosity which is ever present in children, but which as adults we tend to lose. Once in this childlike state, we tend to be more receptive and interested in the information we are given.”

Author and organizational narrative expert David Hutchens points out, “storytelling puts listeners in a different orientation. They put their pens and pencils down, they open up their posture, and just listen.”

Reason 10 – Telling stories shows respect for the audience.  Stories get your message across without arrogantly telling listeners what to think or do. Regarding what to think, storytelling author Annette Simmons observed, “Stories give people freedom to come to their own conclusions. People who reject predigested conclusions might just agree with your interpretations if you get out of their face long enough for them to see what you have seen.”

To underscore the reason why to tell stories, especially in the workplace, corporate storyteller David Armstrong suggests, “If there was ever a time when you could just order people to do something [at work], it has long since passed. Telling a story, where you underline the moral, is a great way of explaining to people what needs to be done, without saying, ‘Do this!’ ” This answers the question, why tell stories?

Always remember, you have a story that someone needs to hear.

* Remember to follow How To Be a Speaker to get the tips and resources that will help you be a better storyteller.

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