The Power of the Story
Have you every stayed up far too late watching an amazing film or reading an incredible book that you just had to finish? Have you ever changed your opinion after hearing a sad or painful story? Have you ever worked much harder after hearing a story of a colleague’s success?
If you can answer ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, then you have been on the receiving end of the power of a story. It’s a device that has been used for thousands of years to inspire, engage and motivate people in many different situations.
So why is a story so powerful? Its power lies in a story’s ability to engage a listener. It makes the listener ‘tune in’ and use their powerful imagination as they visualise every detail in glorious technicolour – a truly multi-sensory experience. The listener is transported into reliving the teller’s experience. An effective story stirs emotion, it creates sharp word pictures in the mind of the listener and is memorable as the story stays in the long term memory after facts and data would be long forgotten.
A story always has a ‘storyline’ (or what we might call in business ‘key messages’) so is remembered for a long time unlike objective facts and data which are hard to store in the memory. A story is always easy to listen to. If it is not easy to listen to then it is usually because the story is not relevant or is told in a dull, low energy way.
When we listen to a story we are transported back to our primitive selves. Our ancestors would have entertained themselves around the camp fire telling each other stories. Even now one of the greatest things we can do as parents or carers of children is to share stories with them. Even grown up audiences will settle comfortably in their chairs when they hear the magic words; ‘let me tell you a story’.
So what relevance does the story have for the modern leader in the business environment? Many people may mistakenly think that story telling is best left to entertainers but this is simply not true. It has huge relevance and wide ranging benefits when we communicate. These include:
- Engagement – A story draws us in and makes us want to listen
- Inspiration – A well-chosen carefully crafted story can inspire people to think and act differently
- Motivation – As a story affects our emotional reaction it is a powerful tool to motivate
- Empathy – A story can demonstrate real empathy with our audience
- Connection – Because a good story is colourful it can help us to ‘get through’ and not just ‘give out’
- Credibility – A story is an excellent way to reinforce credibility without being seen to ‘blow one’s trumpet’
- Influence – Due to the emotional connection we create with the listener the story is a perfect way to influence and persuade
- Likeability – As stories are generally interesting and colourful it can help an audience to like us (and therefore believe and trust us)
The modern leader needs to become a story teller and an entertainer of sorts to engage and connect with their people.
One of the required top ten skills in 2010 for the effective leader as defined at the recent Davos Global Economic Forum will be emotional intelligence – what better way to create an emotional connection by telling well chosen, interesting, relevant stories to get your message across.
Generally they will all have three component parts:
Context – Set the scene of the story as colourfully as you can, explaining where it took place, which was there. Build the characters and give them personality
Action – There has to be some action to make the story interesting, so some setbacks, failures, hardships, barriers or difficulties of some kind.
Moral or Result – So what is the learning, moral or take-away from the story. Without this the story will have no real point.
So if stories are so wonderful, could anything possibly go wrong? Of course there are potential pitfalls. Guard against falling into the following traps:
- Irrelevance – if the audience cannot see how the story relates to them they will switch off.
- Too long – listeners have short concentration spans. Make it too long or too complicated and they will lose concentration.
- No Colour – use vivid language and be descriptive. Let the audience use the power of their brains
- Limited characterisation – Make the characters in your story come alive – don’t just talk about ‘Joe Blogs’ – make them real
- Lack of Authenticity – audiences are very good at working out when someone is not telling the truth. Ensure the story is your story (it doesn’t mean you can’t adapt the story to suit the audience)
- Dull delivery – a story needs to be told with enthusiasm and energy. Even if the story is fantastic, if the delivery is dull no-one will listen.
Good, relevant, interesting stories, well told, create transformation in the minds and hearts of the listener. Much of business runs on the objective – data, statistics, processes, forecasts and is governed by the technological. As we become a more technological age we in fact crave more human contact. A story told in a business setting can emotionally transport your listener and create a hugely intimate inter-personal reaction…..communication at its best and most powerful!