We live in a world of information overload. We’re flooded with data, facts, statistics and information in all forms. Definitive answers to specific questions are easily and immediately available from search engines. However, people want and need more than facts to be engaged. They want understanding, meaning and context that is relevant to them They want stories.
Children ask their parents to tell them stories because they like to fit the pieces of the story into a picture they can understand. It is the same with adults. Audiences at seminars and conferences don’t want to be overwhelmed with data and figures. They prefer stories – relevant stories – with emotional impact that hold their interest and convey meaning. One of the most powerful ways to get your message across is by telling a story. One of the reasons that Christianity took hold is that Jesus conveyed his message not in sermons or theological discourses but in parables – he told stories that people could easily understand and repeat to others. Stories involve people, emotions, feelings, consequences and outcomes. They hold our interest because we want to find out what happens to the people in the stories.
Be prepared to tell stories in social and business contexts. You can tell a personal story on all sorts of occasions – on a date or when giving a keynote talk. The stories that only you can tell are the best. However, interesting stories about other people are also worth retelling if they are really amusing or make a relevant point for your audience. Keep a file or notebook with interesting stories and think creatively about how you can weave them into your work and conversation.
So, how do you tell a story? Here are a few simple steps to follow:
1. Introduce the characters. Stories involve people so describe them.
2. Set the scene. This often involves some challenge or difficulty that has to be overcome.
3. Explain what happened next and how the situation resolved itself.
4. Draw out any conclusions or lessons learned.
E. M. Forster illustrated this very simply. A fact is ‘The queen died and the king died.’ A story is, ‘The queen died and the king died of a broken heart.’ When your goal is to convey a message, don’t think just in terms of giving information. Ask yourself how you can illustrate the message with both examples and tales. Use fewer facts and more stories. You’ll capture your audience and that’s good for business!