Stories do what facts and statistics never can: it inspires and motivates. Expert storytellers translate complex ideas into practical examples laced with strong emotional connections. The audience tunes in because they see themselves woven into the story.
Daniel Taylor, the Healing Power of stories.
Two account managers are asked to present to the executive directors about business growth after the first trading quarter.
The first manager talks to a PowerPoint presentation with several dot points on each slide bearing meticulous information about the numbers as they fell and rose, the percentage increases in sales, and the profit and loss. Finishing, she says she’s pleased to report there’s been an overall increase in business growth, and sits down.
Thinking in stories
The next puts up a picture of a rollercoaster. He says this quarter has been one awesome ride.
He shares the stories, setting the context of the individual team players involved and the business growth innovation they’d worked on.
He ignites the story when he reveals the despair they felt at the end of the first month as it looked like failing.
He tells them some of the many stories that evolved as they worked without break for two weeks to resolve it.
He shares the exploits of a night out to celebrate their success, which cemented an already well-bonded team relationship.
He was proud to tell the board, there had been no sick leave or absenteeism, and no conflict in the team during the quarter.
He ended with an explanation of the brainstorm the team had to develop, document and implement future growth.
From the first presentation the executives know that there had been growth, but they learn nothing about the people, effort, innovation, dedication or otherwise of their employees.
From the second, they learn all of this and more. They engage in the stories’s narrative arcs and relate to many aspects or it. They understand the clarity, vision and collaboration this growth has involved. And they recall it for a long time after.
Because stories work in our brains to organize incoming information. We respond to each aspect of a story — assessing it, relating to or discarding it, comparing it, and benchmarking it against our own experience.
In its simplest form story is a connection between cause and effect. ‘We thought our innovation was failing, we felt despair, so we took action and it succeeded.’ Cause and effect.
That is how we think. We think in stories.
How they influence our thinking
On the way to a critical business meeting (to which she was already running a little late because the cat vomited, and her mother rang stressed about a local fire), her car gets a flat tyre, incensing the driver behind. After a memorable exchange, she sets about changing it just as it starts to drizzle. She’s saturated by the time she’s caught an Uber.
Way before this unfortunate person arrives, she’ll have already formulated the events of the day into multiple stories, accessing other related stories from her past experiences to stitch it all together into the fabric of her life. This suite of stories will live with her and those she regales them to for a long time. And, she’ll learn something from them. Without the story they’re isolated events, unconnected dot points in her brain.
Research shows too, that when stories are character driven and emotionally charged such as was the case in the second manager’s account, they produce a chemical reaction in our brain, releasing neurochemicals that focus our attention and foster empathy.
That is why we learn from stories, and why we don’t from a list of facts, stats and data.
Your goal in every communication is to influence your target audience (change their current attitudes, belief, knowledge, and behavior). Information alone rarely changes any of these. Research confirms that well-designed stories are the most effective vehicle for exerting influence.
Kendall Haven, author of Story Proof and Story Smart
Learning is taking in information, processing it, absorbing it into our experience of life and recalling it. If we’re not learning from a presentation, then our time is wasted
Which presentation would you make? And if it is the latter, how well will you tell your stories, so that your audience is engaged, recalls and is influenced to whatever your intention for the presentation is?