A child starts to speak years before he or she learns to write. Likewise, the art of storytelling predates calligraphy by thousands of years. Before scriptures were invented, humans passed on vital information in the form of stories.
It is a long-established tradition. Every tribe would have an elderly person sharing stories of ancestors, gods, adventures, and great famines. These stories had a purpose – to provide information to the new generation and to spark the imagination. Stories have provided innumerable benefits in human history, ranging from maintaining cultural heritages to informing the masses about ethics, entertainment, and so much more.
‘Storytelling as a tool’
A good story will invoke emotions in the audience, and emotions lead to action. Let’s take the example of Mia, a sales representative. Her initial pitch to raise capital for her projects was turned down due to the lack of emotional elements in her presentation and applications. Only including raw data and facts cast a poor light on her ideas and she was not able to attract the attention of senior managers. By adding the storytelling element Mia created a personal relationship between her audience and her ideas, she was able to connect with her managers and successfully obtain their guidance and, eventually, funding for her initiatives. To summarize, emotions provide a hotline to fast human connections, storytelling is the way to invoke emotions. Stories bring together facts, ideas, and passion together for a successful pitch.
Stories Trigger Imagination
Stories remain with us, they change us in our deep unconscious, in ways we aren’t even aware. The human brain can be trained in combat as well as in simulation; this capability is what puts us in the top category in terms of cognitive capabilities among all living creatures. Stories provide the simulation required for training. In every story, we imagine ourselves right in the middle, feeling every situation and emotion. Great stories have numerous characters for everyone to see their shadows in them, we will pick our characters and reasons why we like them, in the process learning from them and situations they are in, what we would or wouldn’t have done – this unique process wires our brain in new ways and helps us develop us as individuals.
Evolutionarily we are inclined to pay more attention when situations are presented in the form of stories; pure facts are second best. Stories have a purposeful engagement or emotional immersion; they include a sequence of events taking place in space and time. Every action taken by the characters drives the timeline ahead and pushes the story forward – without action there is no moving forward. The lives of characters in these stories get impacted by actions, their cause and effect. The interplay of characters and the emergence of the hero through this maze of events are part of a well-told story. When I was growing up, my grandfather told me many stories at bedtime. Every night I would go to sleep and dream about what would happen next. Throughout the day these stories would keep me on edge, and a big part of my curiosity today is driven by those storytelling sessions. By delivering complex messages in a simple form, using examples, stories can nourish our individual personalities in myriad ways. The narratives in the stories and the dialogue of the characters allow different perspectives to surface while delivering important messages. In the corporate world, we can use the medium of storytelling to connect people with ideas – Inspire Imagination and Motivate Action.
‘The girl from the Alps’
In 1881, Swiss author Johanna Spyri brought a fictional character, “Heidi,” to life. Since then “Heidi” has been a pioneering example of how emotions and knowledge can be transferred through generations. The story connects us to our human side, linking us to our past and simultaneously providing glimpses into our future. Storytelling is relayed through societies, passing on culture, traditions, and critical knowledge. It’s our turn to pass this ancient art of knowledge transfer on to the next generation. In fact, in the best business schools the modern way of teaching is case based – a storytelling form.
Through this case-based method, professors present stories of companies and their problems and bring imaginative young minds into groups to brainstorm solutions. So next time you are pitching or want to convince someone, just tell a good authentic story.