Stories are probably the best way to make any presentation, speech or article more engaging, but what makes them so useful in business?
I’ll’ never forget when the Hunger Games books came out one my friends read all three books in the course of a weekend. To put that in perspective that’s 1,184 pages of content in less than 72 hours. The only thing powerful enough to draw you in and connect you to the plot and characters compelling storytelling. In business, leaders use these types of stories to educate, engage, inspire and encourage.
When you are dealing with complex situations, topics or people, stories offer a way to bridge the gap through the use of what is called universal truth stories. These types oof story help us gain greater and deeper insight because of their familiarity.
To illustrate this, before you watch the clip below let me present the facts of the scene:
- Four junior high aged boys are traveling across their county to see something interesting
- They come to a railroad bridge that spans a large canyon with a river below
- They decide to cross despite the possible of danger of a train passing through
- Two of the boys narrowly miss being run off the tracks when a train does pass through
Big difference right? The scene presents the story on a level that is hard to deliver with facts alone. Maybe you didn’t have to dodge a train, but most adults can relate to doing something dumb (and possibly dangerous) when they were younger. Whether your “dumb event” was dangerous or not doesn’t matter from a storytelling standpoint, because it’s a universal truth story. Universal truth stories are used to communicate widely understood values, beliefs or situations that are commonly understood regardless of race, ethnicity, religious beliefs or gender. Ultimately this is what you want to achieve when you pick a business story.
Universal stories help us relate to the message
In a business context, you know a story hit the mark when it helps your audience connect the dots relate to the message you are trying to share. We’ve all experienced loss, fear, doubt, change, and complexity. Sometimes it’s easier to put those experiences in perspective when we see them through the eyes of a character in a story. Your stories should make it easy for the audience to empathize with what happens to the characters based on their life experiences.
Most people don’t keep track of situations, stories, and anecdotes they can use later to explain work issues or problems because everything they learned in school and business says that facts, rather than narrative should drive our decision-making process. Here are some reasons why it’s you should seriously consider using meaningful stories in your communication:
Change is an inevitable part of work life. Stories are very useful when you need to help cope with change. Change always brings some level of discomfort to the workplace because when people don’t know what will happen their natural inclination, is to perceive the change as bad. When things change a story can help people understand that change doesn’t always mean doom or loss. By relating to their fears, uncertainties, confusion and anger you can help your audience craft a new more positive version of their stories (more on the negative stories we create later). When crafting a story about change don’t just ask what happened. Ask yourself “what will make people understand the change?“, “, “how can I show that the world is not ending?”
Stories help make the complex simple. If you look my presentations, you will see I am not a fan of the ‘stuffed data’ slide. I learned a long time ago that people just tune you out when you drone on about data item after data item. We live in a complex world that has taught us to rely heavily on facts and figures when communicating meaning in the modern workplace. Facts have a place, but it comes to expressing meaning or belief, no one cares about your facts and figures. When you want to communicate with clarity, use a story that explains what those numbers mean and why that meaning is essential. A simple, memorable universal truth story about a person who solves a problem by taking a particular course of action will always serve you better.
Stories persuade where facts can’t. We live in a world where the best storytellers get what they want. They understand that the stories we hear and tell daily influence us on a very deep level. They also know that relying solely on organizational, product or technical knowledge isn’t enough in today’s complex business environments. When faced with an opportunity to persuade, if you can’t make it meaningful for your audience, what you talk about doesn’t make much difference. Stories will work because when compared with other persuasion methods, they allow your audience to come to the desired conclusion on their own.
Stories produce mental images. Visual communication is a fundamental part of human history. Indigenous cultures used pictures to communicate and record history. You see it in primitive cave painting, the hieroglyphics of Egypt and the notes and sketches of such great thinkers as Leonardo Da Vinci. This tradition has helped shape language, history, and culture around the world. On top of that, a full 80% of our brain is dedicated to visual processing. If you can find a way to activate your audience’s imagination and create a strong mental image, the impact of your story will be multiplied. Visual imagery can help capture ideas and significantly improve the ability to learn and comprehend a subject. Start using visual words like imagine, think, picture, or when was the last time.
Stories have been used since the beginning of time to share human knowledge, history, and ideas. They connect with us in a way that facts & figure simply can’t. When you use the power of story to communicate your message you can inspire your audience and move them to action. In this presentation I discuss basic skills in storytelling that will that transform the way you use stories