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Tell Stories

Tell Stories

    We live in a world with information overload. Data, facts, statistics and definitive answers to specific questions are immediately available from search engines on the internet. But people want more than facts.  They want understanding.  They want meaning. They want context.  They want stories.

    Children ask their parents to tell them stories because they like to fit the pieces of the story into a context they can understand. It is the same with adults. Audiences at conferences do not want to be bombarded with data and figures. They want stories with emotional impact that hold their interest and convey meaning.

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    Telling a story is a powerful way to get your message across. 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.

    When you want to communicate an important point then tell a tale.  Compare these two approaches that a bank might use to let entrepreneurs know about business loans.

    A. Last year we made over 15,000 loans to small businesses with a total funding in excess of $1200 million. On average we arranged the loans within 27 days of initial enquiry and we have streamlined our applications with on-line systems that speed processing. We have over 250 trained account managers to optimize customer service. In surveys of small business owners we are consistently rated one of the top four banks to deal with.

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      B. Last year we made over 15,000 loans to small businesses. One was to Gerry Martinez who runs his own office fitting company. He is the 35 year old son of Spanish immigrants and he had built his business to a level where he employs 20 people – including many of his relatives. He secured a major contract worth over $500,000 to refit the purchasing offices of a large retailer and he needed a loan of $50,000 to fund the stock and equipment required. Gerry was anxious because he was in danger of losing the contract if he could not secure the funding and he had been turned down by two other banks before coming to us. One of our most experienced advisors, Eddy Jordan, quickly assessed the situation and arranged the loan within 7 working days of first meeting Gerry. Eddy was able to offer further help with insurances and in securing training grants for some of Gerry’s apprentices. Gerry’s business has doubled in turnover since he got the loan and he says, ‘Thanks to your help, we pulled through a very difficult time and I am proud of what we have achieved.’

      Which message is more likely to gain your interest? If you want a loan which approach is more likely to convince you to look further into what the bank has to offer?

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      How do you tell a story? Here are some 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 learnt.

      Go through your own life and think about some of your most vivid memories, some of the difficulties or problems you faced, some of the funny or emotional things that happened to you.  What were the lessons you learned? We all have stories within us and sometimes we can enrich the lives of others if we tell a relevant story well. You have to be prepared to bare yourself, to share your feelings and frailties.  But by doing this sincerely you can gain enormous respect and sympathy from your audience. Do not short change your listeners; vividly describe your feelings, your emotions, your pain, your joy. They want to hear how bad it was, how scared you were, how surprised you were, what happiness you felt. Above all they want closure. They want to know what happened and why.

      When, in later life, you think about your parents or grandparents what you will most likely remember are not the facts about their lives, nor details of their earnings, wealth or qualifications. You will remember the stories they told you; especially heart-warming stories about when they were growing up, their relationships with their parents, the mistakes they made, the adventures they had.

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      Build your own store of interesting stories. Be prepared to tell them 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 about things that happened to you are the best. But interesting stories about other people are also worth retelling if they are really amusing or make a great point.

      E. M. Forster explained it 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 you want to convey a message, don’t think just in terms of giving information. Ask yourself how you can illustrate the message with examples and tales.  Use fewer facts and more stories.

      P.S.  Here is a personal story I told on Lifehack:

      We Need to Challenge Our Children

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      Paul Sloane

      Professional Keynote Speaker, Author, Innovation Expert

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      Last Updated on August 6, 2020

      6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

      6 Reasons Why You Should Think Before You Speak

      We’ve all done it. That moment when a series of words slithers from your mouth and the instant regret manifests through blushing and profuse apologies. If you could just think before you speak! It doesn’t have to be like this, and with a bit of practice, it’s actually quite easy to prevent.

      “Think twice before you speak, because your words and influence will plant the seed of either success or failure in the mind of another.” – Napolean Hill

      Are we speaking the same language?

      My mum recently left me a note thanking me for looking after her dog. She’d signed it with “LOL.” In my world, this means “laugh out loud,” and in her world it means “lots of love.” My kids tell me things are “sick” when they’re good, and ”manck” when they’re bad (when I say “bad,” I don’t mean good!). It’s amazing that we manage to communicate at all.

      When speaking, we tend to color our language with words and phrases that have become personal to us, things we’ve picked up from our friends, families and even memes from the internet. These colloquialisms become normal, and we expect the listener (or reader) to understand “what we mean.” If you really want the listener to understand your meaning, try to use words and phrases that they might use.

      Am I being lazy?

      When you’ve been in a relationship for a while, a strange metamorphosis takes place. People tend to become lazier in the way that they communicate with each other, with less thought for the feelings of their partner. There’s no malice intended; we just reach a “comfort zone” and know that our partners “know what we mean.”

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      Here’s an exchange from Psychology Today to demonstrate what I mean:

      Early in the relationship:

      “Honey, I don’t want you to take this wrong, but I’m noticing that your hair is getting a little thin on top. I know guys are sensitive about losing their hair, but I don’t want someone else to embarrass you without your expecting it.”

      When the relationship is established:

      “Did you know that you’re losing a lot of hair on the back of your head? You’re combing it funny and it doesn’t help. Wear a baseball cap or something if you feel weird about it. Lots of guys get thin on top. It’s no big deal.”

      It’s pretty clear which of these statements is more empathetic and more likely to be received well. Recognizing when we do this can be tricky, but with a little practice it becomes easy.

      Have I actually got anything to say?

      When I was a kid, my gran used to say to me that if I didn’t have anything good to say, I shouldn’t say anything at all. My gran couldn’t stand gossip, so this makes total sense, but you can take this statement a little further and modify it: “If you don’t have anything to say, then don’t say anything at all.”

      A lot of the time, people speak to fill “uncomfortable silences,” or because they believe that saying something, anything, is better than staying quiet. It can even be a cause of anxiety for some people.

      When somebody else is speaking, listen. Don’t wait to speak. Listen. Actually hear what that person is saying, think about it, and respond if necessary.

      Am I painting an accurate picture?

      One of the most common forms of miscommunication is the lack of a “referential index,” a type of generalization that fails to refer to specific nouns. As an example, look at these two simple phrases: “Can you pass me that?” and “Pass me that thing over there!”. How often have you said something similar?

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      How is the listener supposed to know what you mean? The person that you’re talking to will start to fill in the gaps with something that may very well be completely different to what you mean. You’re thinking “pass me the salt,” but you get passed the pepper. This can be infuriating for the listener, and more importantly, can create a lack of understanding and ultimately produce conflict.

      Before you speak, try to label people, places and objects in a way that it is easy for any listeners to understand.

      What words am I using?

      It’s well known that our use of nouns and verbs (or lack of them) gives an insight into where we grew up, our education, our thoughts and our feelings.

      Less well known is that the use of pronouns offers a critical insight into how we emotionally code our sentences. James Pennebaker’s research in the 1990’s concluded that function words are important keys to someone’s psychological state and reveal much more than content words do.

      Starting a sentence with “I think…” demonstrates self-focus rather than empathy with the speaker, whereas asking the speaker to elaborate or quantify what they’re saying clearly shows that you’re listening and have respect even if you disagree.

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      Is the map really the territory?

      Before speaking, we sometimes construct a scenario that makes us act in a way that isn’t necessarily reflective of the actual situation.

      A while ago, John promised to help me out in a big way with a project that I was working on. After an initial meeting and some big promises, we put together a plan and set off on its execution. A week or so went by, and I tried to get a hold of John to see how things were going. After voice mails and emails with no reply and general silence, I tried again a week later and still got no response.

      I was frustrated and started to get more than a bit vexed. The project obviously meant more to me than it did to him, and I started to construct all manner of crazy scenarios. I finally got through to John and immediately started a mild rant about making promises you can’t keep. He stopped me in my tracks with the news that his brother had died. If I’d have just thought before I spoke…

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