Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today. —Robert McKee
Storytelling is oral: spoken, not written and read aloud, and not recited exactly from memory. Storytelling is a three-way interaction, there is the teller, the story and the audience, and the better the connection the more powerful and enjoyable the story is for everyone.
The storyteller is immersed in the imaginary world of the story, describing what s/he sees and feels, so that pictures form in the imaginary world of the audience. It is this type of storytelling that all of us do every day when we talk with each other about what happened to us. The main difference with a storytelling event is that the stories are crafted and rehearsed – memorised but not learnt by heart.
Storytelling has so many benefits. It builds imagination, it develops our ability to listen, it teaches us values, to appreciate the environment and aspects of history, and with personal storytelling it allows us to explore our experiences and see them in a new light. True tales allow us to connect to universal truths and relate them to our own lives. Folktales teach us about great story structure because they have stood the test of time.
Stories are all around us. They are what move us, make us feel alive, and inspire us. Our appetite for stories is a reflection of the basic human need to understand patterns of life — not merely as an intellectual exercise but as a personal, emotional experience. Stories are the way to reach out to people and emotionally connect.
For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods.
When we are being told a story, things change dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.
We know that we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning?
The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think.
Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That’s why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.
Stories spark emotions. We have an intuitive, emotional side as well as a deliberate, rational side to our character. Too often in business we only try and connect with people on a rational level but this isn’t enough to actually change how people behave. People may understand what you want them to do but if they aren’t emotionally engaged they just won’t do it! Storytelling gives leaders a way of inspiring colleagues in a way that appeals to both sides of our character.
People use stories to make sense of things. Everyone has a story in their head about what their work means for them. This story is the result of thousands of interactions and experiences and it becomes the ‘lens’ through which we interpret the world around us. Leaders with a shared strategic narrative can engage people in the wider context of the journey the business is on, giving people a framework to understand changes and action required. A story has a core message, but can be interpreted in different ways, depending on the lens through which it’s being heard.
People learn from stories. Stories are a great way of learning from others, and can help shape cultures within business. Stories give people the space to discover the implicit meaning of what’s being said, enabling them to learn, discover and own what they need to do for themselves. Storytelling is a great tool for leaders seeking new behaviours in their teams. Sharing emotive stories of best practice inspires individuals and teams, helps them learn more quickly and helps organisations to become more agile.