People love to tell stories, but have you ever wondered why?
From campfire stories to stories shared on a stage in school to fascinating Netflix documentaries, stories can be passed on from one generation to another. So, what is it that makes them so powerful? Perhaps there is power in understanding that before people learned how to write, they would tell each other stories. A great story can capture the listeners’ imagination, and imagination, and they may end up thinking about your story for weeks, maybe years. Perhaps a story could spark something to change someone’s life? The literary greats have an impact on the social fabric we inhabit today, and our modern great storytellers will long have an impact on our future. The power of great storytelling should not be left to just authors, film directors or leadership coaches. We all have a story to tell but how often do we tell it? Storytelling is about telling stories. It is about using stories to engage your audience, or to make something clearer. They have long been a valuable source for learning. As parents, we enjoy sharing stories with our children as we see the impact it makes and how it simulates their incredible imagination.

In the first instance, we should consider how we tell the story how it is structured. Stories that work best can be shared as a simple three-part segment and this enables the reader or the listener to be taken on a journey as follows: –

1) Setting (introduce the character, time and location, disruptive action)
2) Conflict (the battle faced along the way)
3) Resolution (outcome describing the end of the story)

From a business perspective, storytelling is a brilliant way to share your organizational stories in a way that factual statements encapsulated in bullet points or numbers don’t. Storytelling can help to forge connections among people as well as helping you to convey the culture, history and values of your business without the need for a Power point presentation. Good stories do more than create a sense of connection. They build familiarity and trust and allow the listener to enter the story where they are, making them more open to learning.

The Listener’s Mind
Psychology researcher Uri Hasson and his team at Princeton University completed a storytelling experiment on how the storyteller’s brain activity can be mirrored in the listeners’ minds – a phenomenon he coined as Neural Coupling. In this study, volunteers listened to a 15-minute audio recording of an emotional story of high school prom while their brains were imaged by MRI. Next, listeners took a test on story comprehension and recall ability. After the listeners’ MRI data was mapped to the storyteller’s own MRI, those listeners who scored the highest on story comprehension also showed the closest neural coupling to the speaker. Top listeners synchronize with the speaker and even anticipate thoughts. This implies that people understand each other by mirroring each other’s brain responses.


Stories for Everyone

Storytelling works effectively for all types of learners. Paul Smith, in “Leader as Storyteller: 10 Reasons It Makes a Better Business Connection, said “in any group, roughly 40 percent will be predominantly visual learners who learn best from videos, diagrams, or illustrations. Another 40 percent will be auditory, learning best through lectures and discussions. The remaining 20 percent are kinesthetics learners, who learn best by doing, experiencing, or feeling.” Storytelling has aspects that work for all three types. Visual learners appreciate the mental pictures’ storytelling evokes. Auditory learners focus on the words and the storyteller’s voice. Kinesthetics learners remember the emotional connections and feelings from the story.

Stories that Stick

Storytelling also helps with learning because stories tend to stick in people’s minds. Organizational psychologist Peg Neuhauser found that learning which stems from a well-told story is remembered more accurately, and for far longer, than from facts and figures. Similarly, psychologist Jerome Bruner’s research suggest that facts are twenty times more likely to be remembered if they’re part of a story, highlighting again, that the power of storytelling should never be undervalued.
We have learnt that stories are loved because they of the engagement it brings in a relatable way. Most importantly, people will remember your story, and with that, they will remember your message or even your brand. They will remember you. And, if you use stories in a good way, you could even inspire people to make a change. So where possible, weave your words in a tapestry of pure wonder and you could start inspiring others without even realising it. Because everything starts with a good story…

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Jo is also a registered speaker for schools and can be booked here