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The Power of Storytelling: A Life Well-Lived

Blog / Produced by The High Calling
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“How did you get to be such a good storyteller?” I tease, when the others have drifted away. This colleague of mine holds court by his desk every day, people from every department vying for a moment of his time.

He grins slyly at my question.

“Because I’ve lived it, Baby. I’ve lived the story.”

And it’s true. A former gang member turned pastor; recovered addict, now a devoted father and husband—this man has a story for every season, a personal tale to connect him with almost any experience confided by another.

He’s not shy about sharing his stories either. Because my friend has learned something highly valuable over the eventful course of his life: If you want to make an impact on other people? Tell a story.

Stories are Memorable

“A story is up to twenty-two times more memorable than facts alone,” says Professor Jennifer Aaker of the Stanford Graduate School of Business. One reason for this, Chip and Dan Heath tell us in their book Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die,is because when we hear a story, our brains are actively engaged. The authors call stories “flight simulators for the brain.” When we hear the right story, rather than listening passively, research shows that our brains simulate what we are hearing, engaging the brain structures that would be involved if we were acting out what is heard.

Finding the right story is the best way to make your message stick, the Heath brothers maintain. They have found that the most effective stories have certain qualities in common: they are concrete, credible, have an element of the unexpected, are simple, and engage the emotions.

Other research indicates a tried and true formula for storytelling is most effective. In an article for The Harvard Business Review online called The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool, writer Harrison Monarth gives us an interesting parallel between Budweiser and Shakespeare. It’s called Freytag’s Pyramid, and it’s a simple storytelling formula that has worked for thousands of years. Read more about how Shakespeare and Budweiser used Freytag’s Pyramid to their advantage.

Great Leaders have Great Stories to Tell

That’s what a group of entrepreneurs called The Storytellers say. They have capitalized on this concept to form a leadership-training business based on storytelling principles.

“The Storytellers are world leaders in the use of narrative and storytelling techniques to help business leaders realise the potential of their people. We help them execute strategy, build cultures, improve performance and make change happen.”

Watch this video on their website to get a glimpse of how effective their philosophy is.

Stories Connect Us to People and Create Empathy

Forbes magazine contributor Rodger Dean Duncan interviewed professional Storytelling Consultant and Trainer Geoffrey Berwind about his experiences. Berwind says that effective leaders understand in order to succeed with business strategies they must first establish a human connection with the people they hope to influence.

“Stories powerfully connect us to our listeners. When we share our own real-life stories or the stories of others … our audiences feel that they get to know us as authentic people—people who have lives outside the corporate setting, people who have struggled with problems and who have figured out how to overcome them.”

Read more of the interview to find out what kinds of stories he recommends leaders use to influence others.

In an article for Psychology Today online, Dr. Pamela Rutledge summarizes some research that demonstrates how storytelling has been used to change attitudes and promote empathy.

“Two studies from the health care industry show its power: Penn State College of Medicine researchers found that medical students’ attitudes about dementia patients, who are perceived as difficult to treat, improved substantially after students participated in storytelling exercises that made them more sympathetic to their patients’ conditions. And a University of Massachusetts Medical School study found that a storytelling approach has also been effective in convincing populations at risk for hypertension to change their behavior and reduce their blood pressure.”

Stories Help Us Work Toward Our Goals

In this video for LeanIn.org, Dr. Jennifer Aaker explains how finding your signature story can change the way your colleagues see you. She explains that a signature story is a story you tell over and over again to shape the way others see you.

“For many of us there is a gap between where we see ourselves and where we’re going, versus how others see you and where you’re going. Story is one of the most effective ways to close that gap.”

Dr. Aaker discusses harnessing the power of stories to help you to be more persuasive, inspire people to action, and advance in your career. 


The Power of Storytelling

Storytelling is powerful. This is true whether you are a mamma-writer doing the hard work of walking alongside your children through life’s scary moments, an insurance adjuster piecing together stories of loss, the director of a nonprofit trying to inspire change, or holding court at your desk during break time at the office. Story has the power to boost memory, spark our emotions, inspire us to change, and alter the way others see us.

But one thing my friend from work demonstrates that the research doesn’t mention: the story that speaks loudest is the one we live. The most powerful storytelling is lived out in the everyday moments of life.

To make an impact on the world around us, we must live better stories. Even Shakespeare cannot argue with that.

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The Power of Storytelling

A note from our managing editor: When my children were young, telling stories at bedtime was always one the best parts of our day. I usually read stories straight from a book. But, my husband made up stories to tell the children and those stories continue to show up in conversations, even now that our children are adults. Stories are powerful and we may tend to forget that as we grow up and move on into board rooms and classrooms and carpool lanes.

What can a story provide in a board meeting that facts and figures alone can't accomplish? How has storytelling improved relationships among coworkers, especially coworkers whose faith is different from mine? What are some of the best stories ever told in the workplace and why did it make a difference? Why is it important to be able to tell a good story and what is a good story anyway? In this series at The High Calling, we take a look at The Power of Storytelling in the workplace. Pull up a chair and join us in the conversation.

Featured image by Lucas (Holiday rhythm). Used with Permission. Source via Flickr.

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