By Yvonne Milosevic
It’s human nature to appreciate a good story—in fact, we’re hardwired to do so. When someone tells you a tale, your brain starts looking for ways that story relates to your lived experiences. A process called neural coupling (shoutout to the neuroscience nerds) begins. As a result, new information you take in binds to existing knowledge and becomes stickier, more memorable. The increased brain activity triggered by a good story can boost information retention by a whopping seven times. Unfortunately, not enough people realize how persuasive they could be as leaders if only they learned to tap into their inner storyteller.
In the business world, storytelling can play a starring role in many ways. Managers can use stories to inspire teams to reach goals, appeal to investors, and attract top talent to their organization. Of course, stories are essential for persuading customers to buy your company’s products or services.
Before tantalizing listeners or readers with your pithy prose, you must first think about your intended audience. Who are they, and what do you want them to think or do? Next, it’s time to figure out how you can create a message that connects on an emotional level.
Unleashing the Storyteller Within
Stanford GSB professor Matt Abrahams tackled this topic earlier this year in an episode of the Think Fast, Talk Smart podcast. He and fellow Stanford professor Paula Moya highlighted the crucial differences in written vs. spoken communication. For instance, they say alliteration and repetition are helpful memory tools in verbal storytelling to keep listeners engaged. Also critical: paying attention to how your content sounds when read aloud. Often, what seems fine on paper doesn’t resonate with your audience the same way.
So, the big message is we have to envision writing for speaking and writing for being read as very different things. —Matt Abrahams
“I cannot tell you the number of times I see people try to tell stories through bullet points on PowerPoint slides,” Abrahams laments. “And it’s the wrong medium. It’s the wrong tool to get your message across.”
Meanwhile, UVA Darden School of Business professor Brian Moriarty, an expert in strategic communication, recently shared this advice on how to create and tell engaging stories in Darden’s Ideas to Action.
“Using concrete imagery makes your ideas more accessible and more memorable,” Moriarty explains. “Metaphors are an excellent tool for amplifying complex situations and processes. For example: Today’s smartphones are more like Swiss Army knives than one-trick-ponies.”
As a storyteller, you should aim to do two things simultaneously: convey information and emotion. Remember, authenticity is everything. By sharing your unique passions and point of view, says Moriarty, you’ll heighten the emotional impact on your audience.
Five “rules” for crafting compelling stories that influence and persuade
- Find out what is relevant/exciting for your audience
- Harness the power of the opening hook
- Try literary devices such as imagery, analogies, and poetry as memory tools for listeners
- Use rhetorical questions to create familiarity and empathy with the audience and get them thinking
- Finish strong to emphasize your message or spur listeners to action
“Becoming a great storyteller is a journey, and every journey begins with a single footstep,” Moriarty says. “First, decide which types of stories are most important to the next phase of your career. Then commit the time and effort to crafting appealing narratives and honing your speaking abilities. Improving your storytelling skills goes hand in hand with growing as a leader.”