The Importance of Storytelling

The Importance of Storytelling

“‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house…”

“Marley was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.”

“Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.”

We all love a good story. A tale that tugs on the heartstrings and whisks us away to a different time, place, or even world. They stick with us, even once we’ve closed the book, turned off that e-reader or walked out of the cinema. 

And at no time do we think about this more than at Christmas, when we celebrate the start of ‘the Greatest Story Ever Told’. (Those lines above are the opening sentences of the ‘classic’ Christmas tales of “A Visit from St Nicholas”, “A Christmas Carol” and “Love Actually” respectively, by the way).

Contrast this with how little we use this skill in daily life. Think of the number of presentations, reports or emails you’ve sent out – how many of those were truly designed to tell a story and lead the reader / viewer on a journey? How much better could the results have been if they had been?

We can all be storytellers, and we don’t need to write grand works of fiction to do it. You can paint a picture (metaphorically speaking) during an AGM to get your people on board with a new strategy; or you can structure an email or a report with a story arc designed to engage and motivate.  Some key things to consider could be:

  • Have a start, a middle and an end – this sounds obvious, but is so often overlooked and when properly planned, becomes much more effective. Think about a strong opener to get people engaged, structure the middle, and come to a conclusion (which could be wrapping up your points, or a question or even a call to action).
  • Give people something to care about – who is the protagonist in your tale? What is the thing you want people to care about? It might be a new vision, or a change programme, or even a piece of work you’re delegating. Tell people about it, and give them a reason to care.
  • Involve emotion – stories can make us laugh and cry, and are often so much more memorable for doing so. I’m not suggesting you organise a full-on weepie-fest, but some demonstration of emotion and empathy will set your message apart.

What’s the next story you need to tell to your people? How can you make it into a classic?

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