With the increasing availability of news, from all manner of sources, it is easy to feel inundated with information. The challenge becomes connecting with people so that one’s message gets heard. The solution is to rediscover the lost art of storytelling.
Wikipedia defines storytelling as “the social and cultural activity of sharing stories, often with improvisation, theatrics, or embellishment.” It continues, “[s]tories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and instilling moral values.” The key takeaway from this definition is that the art of storytelling is the way that humans have shared information for thousands of years, long before the invention of writing. Storytelling is hardwired into us as a way to communicate things we find most important. As Cody C. Delistraty notes, one theory is that storytelling is an evolutionary mechanism that helped keep our ancestors alive.
Award-winning screenwriter and director Robert McKee argues that stories “fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living- not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.” He says there are two ways to persuade people, through conventional rhetoric and by uniting an idea with an emotion. The latter is the more effective way to weave information into a digestible form, while arousing the listener’s emotions and energy.
Delistraty contends that stories can be a way for humans to feel they have control over the world, allowing people to see patterns where there is chaos and meaning where there is randomness. He adds that a narrative works off of both data and emotions, which is significantly more effective in engaging a listener than data alone. Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at Stanford Graduate School of Business, pints out that people remember information when it is weaved into narratives “up to 22 times more than facts alone.”
Delistraty also cites to author Christopher Brooks’ book “The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories,” for the notion that the seven plots, repeated over and over with only slight tweaks, are:
“overcoming the monster” plot (Beowulf, War of the Worlds); “rags to riches” (Cinderella, Jane Eyre); “the quest” (Illiad, The Lord of the Rings); “voyage and return” (Odyssey, Alice in Wonderland); “rebirth” (Sleeping Beauty, A Christmas Carol); “comedy” (ends in marriage); and “tragedy” (ends in death).
So how do we go about composing stories? Alina Tugend has some wonderful tips. She reminds that stories need a dramatic arc, setting the scene building action, introducing conflict or tension, and then finally offering a resolution. The storyteller must be specific, honest, and personal. As Andrew Linderman, a New York-based consultant notes, “[i]t’s about connecting-you need to be vulnerable and connect to the vulnerability of others.”
The importance of choosing a simple and authentic message and then weaving it into stories was made clear in the recent Presidential election. Mark McKinnon, a well known political advisor, wrote recently that Trump:
“identified a threat: outside forces trying to change the way we live. And an opportunity: make America great again. He established victims: blue-collar workers who have lost jobs or experienced a declining standard of living. He suggested villains: Mexican immigrants, China, establishment elites. He proposed solutions: build a wall, tear up unfair trade deals. And the hero was revealed, Donald Trump.”
In business, as in politics, as in life, the importance of storytelling cannot be overstated. There is no more effective way to cut through the noise and reach an audience. Having reached that audience, there is no better way to move them to action than to tell them a story that is authentic, meaningful, and relatable.