Why Stories?

 Well, it’s in our blood

Cave art shows that humans started telling stories as soon as we were able to.  We developed abilities to communicate – probably gestures and expressions first making it useful for surviving easier. A cave dweller could tell their ancestor exactly where those deadly saber-toothed tigers lived.  They could then stay away from them and lead a happy, long life. Detailed communication is perfect to spread knowledge, advice, rules, and ideas.

Anthropologists tell us that storytelling is central to human existence. That it’s common to every known culture. That it involves a symbiotic exchange between teller and listener.  They teach and inform us, of life lessons, of important human experiences, of identity and belonging.

When we present to an audience, small or large, we want to use stories to get our point across in an appealing, memorable form.   As a storyteller, we tell our audience what it needs to know – about life, community, feelings, challenges, hopes, dreams and fears.   We use our stories to hold up a mirror, to make a point, to enlighten, to help, to motivate and to inspire!

What’s Happening Here?  

Just as the brain detects patterns in the visual forms of nature — a face, a figure, a flower — so too it detects patterns in information. Stories are recognizable patterns, and in those patterns we find meaning.  We use stories to make sense of our world and to share that understanding with others.

Our impulse to detect story patterns are so powerful that we see them even when they’re not there. In a landmark 1944 study by Heider & Simmel, an audience was shown this short film and asked what was happening in it.

Only 3% of the test subjects saw this scene for what it was:  shapes moving across a screen. Everyone else came up with elaborate narratives to explain what the movements were about.  The triangles were “fighting”.  The circle was “worried.” The rectangle was a “safe place”. The big triangle was “blinded by rage and frustration.”

Cartoon on Better Before Fire
Cartoon courtesy of Joe Dator: https://joedator.com/

Because stories are part of our human experience and we can all relate to them, we in fact crave them and help us remember and process information.  So the more we can use great stories, the more effective our presentations become.

Image to convey good story telling

The 5 Golden Rules

of Story Telling

So what makes a good story and what makes you a great story teller?

  1. Know Your Audience:  Will this story be important or contain interesting information for your audience?  A great story will do both! Are you speaking to high school students, corporate leaders, mourners at a memorial service, or colleagues at an industry conference? 
  2. Set the Context:  You know what happened in a given situation and where your story is going, but your listener does not. The very first words should introduce such details as who, what, why, where, and how.
  3. Keep It Short: You might go for as long as a minute or two, but anything longer risks losing the audience or put too much emphasis on any given story.  Make sure you have a compelling beginning, middle and a clear ending/point!
  4. Avoid Unimportant Details: It’s easy to get lost in your own details.  As fascinating as they may seem to you, these sidebars will only distract and perhaps even frustrate your audience.  In terms of a good story, it’s ok to embellish a little, but not too much.
  5. Practice, Practice, Practice: You don’t have to read out a script every time you tell your story, but you might want to run it through in your mind. It’s especially important to anticipate the ending because this will allow you to follow a more direct path through the arc of the story from beginning to middle all the way until the final, climactic scene.
Great Story Telling

A Nielsen study shows consumers want a more personal connection in the way they gather information. Our brains are far more engaged by storytelling than by cold, hard facts. When reading straight data, only the language parts of our brains work to decode the meaning. But when we tell a story, not only do the language parts of our brains light up, but any other part of the brain that we would use if we were actually experiencing what we’re reading about becomes activated as well. This means it’s far easier for us to remember stories than hard facts.

Once Upon a Time
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