When you tell a story, the audience recalls similar events in their own lives and a bond is created. As a result, stories enable you to form a relationship with your listeners in a matter of seconds.
Storytelling in action
For our first example, watch Audrey Choi’s TED talk on making global capital markets catalysts for social change. Notice how she begins by telling her mother’s story to provide context.
Our brains are primed to pay attention to new information, which is one reason why our social media feeds are so addictive.
The start of an unfamiliar story pulls people away from their smartphones and into the present moment. That’s how you grab attention.
Stories appeal to the right-hand side of the brain, bypassing the logical and judgemental left-hand side. We make decisions emotionally, thenback them up rationally.
A story gives you direct access to that emotional decision-making centre.
In business, speakers and presenters too often try to connect with people only on a rational level. While your audience may understand exactly what you want them to and why, they will only act on your message if they feel emotionally engaged.
Criticising an audience or instructing them what they should do, say or think will probably result in folded arms and mutters of discontent. But when you tell a story you demonstrate the consequences of an action in a way that your audience can learn from without becoming defensive.
Storytelling in action
Margaret Heffernan is the former CEO of five companies. Watch how she starts her talk on the perils of organisational hierarchies with a story about chickens.
A story gives you an opportunity to communicate with more than words. Your body, gestures and facial expressions contribute to the conveying of emotion, enabling your audience to empathise with the protagonist of your story.
You can entrance your audience in a state of tension until questions prompted by your story are answered. What happened next? How did it end? Bookend your speech or presentation with the start and end of a story to keep people’s interest throughout.
Lastly, sensory details engage our brains in a different way to plain data.
They are cemented into memory for longer. Include details that add to the atmosphere of your story, such as any colours, smells or sights that will help your audience visualise the scenes you describe.
Storytelling in action
As our final example, watch how Simon Sinek sets the scene with a story in his talk on why great leaders make employees feel secure.
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