Why is storytelling is so effective? Below are ten of the most compelling reasons I’ve encountered.
- Storytelling is simple. Anyone can do it. You don’t need a degree in English, or even an MBA.
- Storytelling is timeless, unlike management fads such as “Total Quality Management,” “Re-engineering”, “Six Sigma”, or “5S.” Storytelling has always worked, and it always will.
- Stories are demographic-proof. Everybody–regardless of age, race, or gender–likes to listen to stories.
- Stories are contagious. They can spread like wildfire without any additional effort on the part of the storyteller.
- Stories are easier to remember. According to psychologist Jerome Bruner, facts are twenty times more likely to be remembered if they are part of a story. Organizational psychologist Peg Neuhauser found similar results in her work with corporations. She found that learning derived from a well-told story is remembered more accurately, and for far longer than the learning derived from facts or figures.
- Stories Inspire. Slides don’t. Have you ever heard someone say, “Wow! You’ll never believe the PowerPoint presentation I just saw!” Probably not. But you have heard people say that about stories.
- Stories appeal to all types of learners. In any group, roughly 40% will be predominantly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams, or illustrations. Another 40% will be auditory, learning best through lectures and discussions. The remaining 20% are kinesthetic learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing, or feeling. Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types. Visual learners appreciate the mental pictures storytelling evokes. Auditory learners focus on the words and the storyteller’s voice. Kinesthetic learners remember the emotional connections and feelings from the story.
- Stories fit better where most of the learning happens in the workplace. According to communications expert, Evelyn Clark, “up to 70% of the new skills, information, and competence in the workplace is acquired through informal learning” like what happens in team settings, mentoring, and peer-to-peer communication. And the bedrock of informal learning is storytelling.
- Stories put the listener in a mental “learning mode” versus a critical or evaluative mode where they’re more likely to reject what’s being said. According to training coach and best-selling author, 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.” Or as consultants and trainers Mary Wacker and Lori Silverman noted, “Storytelling puts the audience in a different orientation. They put their pens and pencils down, open up their posture, and just listen.”
- Telling stories shows respect for the audience by getting your message across without arrogantly telling them what to think or what to 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.” As for what to do, corporate storyteller David Armstrong suggests, “if there was ever a time when you could just order people to do something, 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.’”
Adapted from Lead with a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives that Captivate, Convince, and Inspire by Paul Smith. (c)2012 Paul Smith. All rights reserved. Published by AMACOM Books www.amacombooks.org