From the beginning of our lives we listen to stories. Children love to hear, create, read and act out stories. The flow of a story gives us a very real and grounded way to experience emotions and situations. Great stories stick in our minds far more than facts and figures because they so effectively touch our feelings.
You've undoubtedly heard the phrase "They may forget what you said or did, but they won't forget how you made them feel."
Stories make people feel.
You can look at it humorously, as happened in New Zealand in 2004 when Shrek, a Merino sheep was caught after having avoided shearing for six years. The rather impressive fleece (see above) weighed 27 kilos, compared to the average of 4.5kg and some exceptional cases of 15kg fleeces. The story captivated New Zealanders to the point that a local school began writing books about Shrek. This story is far more compelling than a larger scale look at how many sheep go lost and found in general.
As emotionally manipulative as it may have seemed from some news outlets, the death and body of Alan Kurdi, the three year old Syrian who drowned and was washed up on a Turkish beach, caused grief and pain to many (myself included). The story touched us in a way that the, objectively much more horrifying and sad facts of deaths in the Syrian civil war (~300,000-400,000 according to some estimates) generally don't.
Or there's the inspiring story of Elon Musk sinking a great deal of his money into multiple companies (SpaceX, Tesla motors & SolarCity) to make humans an interplanetary species and to combat global warming. Risking the fortune he already had to aim for something bigger and more altruistic resonates with many, even though there are undoubtedly thousands of others who have taken such risks for a greater cause.
Stories create emotions and let people connect to them.
As good communicators, we need to help our audiences connect to what we're saying. To do that, weaving stories into our message is essential. Keep in mind the stories above and the rather (in)famous quote from Josef Stalin that "A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic." As humans, our brains aren't so well equipped to deal with large scale numbers as much as with personal, smaller scale events. Our stories must therefore connect to something that people can feel.
Right, enough of the theory and ideas behind storytelling. How do we implement stories into our communication? There will be a full blog post on this topic soon but to start you thinking, consider this.
The most powerful stories are the ones that you have lived or have a personal connection to. Since they are part of who you are, when you use them in a public speaking setting, it will be so much more natural and your stage presence will be congruent with what you're saying. You need to connect your life stories to your presentations.
"But Pete, what if I don't have many stories?"
You have more than you might think. A tip I got from a connection course I recently completed with the Live your Legend team is the A-Z story building. Write down the letters of the alphabet and then find a way to connect a story from your life to each letter. You can be as tenuous or strong as you like with the link but get started. Here are a couple of examples for me:
- A - Asking for tickets to a Muse concert when I worked in a radio station. I was told no, as they were reserved for a client. Fair enough. At 4.45 pm I got a call from the salesperson saying that if the tickets hadn't been claimed, they were mine. I quickly realised the power of asking for something, not pushing, just asking.
- B - Getting to explore the (previously locked) old city walls of Bratislava, Slovakia because I said yes to an invitation from some friends who do medieval swordfighting. It turns out they know the people who have the key.
- C - All the many coffee stories I have from working at Starbucks for 8 months. Perhaps the most frequently used being the effect of giving power to customers to choose whatever they want. Most people take it well and just enjoy their coffee, but a few take it to extremes with their specific demands.
- D - Grilling bacon and paprika sausages over an open fire at next to the river Danube using freshly cut branches from the trees as our skewers. A really low tech and wonderfully real experience compared to my previous outdoor grilling experience.
Start building your story list and we'll get back to this topic soon.