The power of story and why it matters to you ...
‘Storytelling is the single most powerful tool in a leader’s toolkit.’
~ Howard Gardner, Harvard, Psychologist.
The four most evocative words… Once upon a time…
Once upon a time we lived in a wondrous world of stories. Stories of magic, make-believe, suspense, daring and adventure. Then we grew up… We became executives, accountants, lawyers, managers, marketeers, employers and employees, entrepreneurs and creatives, sales staff and computer engineers – we morphed into households, consumers, statistics in a massive global geo-political consumer market-place… where products and politicians pushed their ‘brands’ at us with persuasive promises, slogans & ads on and off-line promising: health, wealth, choice, youth, beauty, happiness, equality and security in our lives, our country and our homes!
And all around us are the Stories – albeit in a different suit of clothes, instead of the exploits and adventures of Pippi Longstocking and Mr Nilsson, Luke Skywalker and Yoda, Harry Potter and Dumbledore, Frodo and Gandalf – we have brand stories from Coca-Cola, MacDonald’s, Volvo, Shell, Apple, H&M, Monsanto, Spotify, Microsoft, IBM, IKEA, Google, not to mention the Right, the Left, the Centre, Nationalism and Religion!
All of which can be summed up in one sentence:
‘Those who Tell the Stories rule the World’ ~ alternatively attributed to the Hopi Indians and to Plato!
They were wise beings who recognised a good tale when it was being told – or sold! The ‘proof of the pudding’ is all around us socially, culturally, commercially, politically, environmentally and economically.
“The Story – from ‘Rumplstiltskin to ‘War and Peace’– is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”
~ Ursula K. Le Guin
Three examples of different styles of storytelling: humorous/anecdotal, life with a moral, personal & business success:
1. ‘An Illinois man left the snowy streets of Chicago for a vacation in Florida. His wife was on a business trip and was planning to meet him there the next day. Upon reaching his Miami hotel, he decided to send his wife a quick email. Unfortunately, when typing her address, he missed one letter, and his email was directed instead to the inbox of an elderly preacher’s wife whose husband had passed away only the day before. When the grieving widow checked her email, she took one look at the monitor, let out a piercing scream, and fell to the floor in a dead faint. At the sound, her family rushed into the room and saw this note on the screen:
“…Dearest Wife, Just got checked in. Everything prepared for your arrival tomorrow.
P.S. Sure is hot down here”.
2. New York, 11.00 a.m. A blind man had been waiting a while at a busy road for someone to offer to guide him across, when he felt a tap on his shoulder.
“Excuse me,” said the tapper, “I’m blind – would you mind guiding me across the road?” The first blind man took the arm of the second blind man, and they both crossed the road. The first blind man was the world famous jazz pianist/composer Sir George Shearing.
He is quoted as saying after the event, “What could I do? I took him across… and it was the biggest thrill of my life.”
3. We don’t have to look further afield than Sweden’s own province of Småland for the amazing story of one of the world’s most iconic brands and its founder Ingvar Feodor Kamprad, now one of the richest men on the planet. He began his career at the age of six, selling matches. When just ten, he criss-crossed the neighbourhood on his bicycle, selling Christmas decorations, fish and pencils. At 17, in 1943, Kamprad’s father rewarded him with a small sum of money for doing well in school, despite being dyslexic. With it, Ingvar founded a business named IKEA, an abbreviation for Ingvar Kamprad from Elmtaryd, Agunnaryd, his boyhood home – the rest is history!
Actually what it is, is an amazing and inspiring story of determination, guts, vision, creativity, hard work and perseverance! So what’s behind these stories, and why is Storytelling in all its forms so influential and predominant in our lives?
For thousands of years wise, knowledgable individuals have known what only lately the business gurus and creatives have come to realise that “Storytelling is among the oldest forms of communication. Storytelling is the commonality of all human beings, in all places, in all times.” ~ Rives Collins
“We live in Story like a fish swims in water. We swim through words and images siphoning story through our minds – the way a fish siphons water through it’s gills… We cannot live without language, we cannot process experience without story”.
~ Christina Baldwin
(Author of ‘Storycatcher’, renowned teacher and conference presenter)
Since then poets, priests, actors, monarchs, politicians, Ad men & salesmen, leaders and followers have told stories about anything and everything imaginable on the planet!
“…Man in his actions and practice, as well as his functions, is essentially a storytelling animal…”
~ Alasdair MacIntyre (Scottish philosopher)
‘Many Anthropologists and writers use the expression ‘Homo Narrans’ – Humans as ‘Story Tellers’ – instead of ‘Homo Sapiens’ ~ Henning Mankell (renowned author of the Wallender novels). We don’t know who told the first story… maybe as genius film-maker & storyteller Orson Welles once said: “One day in a cave someone stood up and told a story – nobody said ‘let’s have a story!’ – until someone told a story nobody knew what a story was!! So why is it that ‘STORIES’ help us to connect more quickly, authentically and compellingly to inspire, engage and motivate an audience whether it’s company strategy, product USP or brand message.
For thousands of years, people told each other stories, myths and metaphors which bridged the gap with their audience faster and more engagingly than with logic, facts and figures. Why?
Because science has proven what our ancestors already knew long long ago: that Stories create an emotional connection in the subconscious mind that alters brainwaves and creates an immediate and powerful connection and rapport with the listener:
Everyday, as individuals, executives, leaders, entrepreneurs or influencers, we spend much of our precious time talking: discussing, negotiating, gossiping, speaking and presenting to other individuals, as well as large and small groups … with the sole aim of informing, influencing, moving, persuading, motivating, inspiring and engaging our audience.
E.M. Forster was an English author best known for his ironic and well-plotted novels. Forster’s humanistic impulse toward understanding, communicating and empathy can be summed up in the epigraph to his 1910 novel ‘Howards End’: “Only connect…”
Brené Brown, an American scholar, author, public speaker and professor, who studies, writes and speaks about human connection: our ability to empathise, belong, love says “Connection is why we’re here. We are hardwired to connect with others, it’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives…” But to connect successfully we also need to be able communicate clearly…
From what I’ve seen, I believe Swedish society, business and academia has a pressing need for more – and better – connection, communication and engagement – not to mention charisma!
In this fast-moving, constantly changing, economic environment companies are looking for more than just another degree or MBA from the thousands of potential Graduate applicants out there.
And within Sweden’s conglomerates, companies and entrepreneurial businesses there is a pressing need to uplift the quality and value of Internal/external communication, management, sales and presentation skills. These qualities require empathic, expressive personality, open world-view and the ability to create inspired leadership via positive role modelling and personal encouragement! Characteristics that are usually only achievable from life/work experience or exposure to the benefits that confident, creative and empathic connection with competent communicators brings – characteristics that acquiring the art and science of storytelling offers in large and sustainable measure! The major issue in today’s (and tomorrow’s) business world is that the practice and competence of effective connection and communication via compelling storytelling is not at all widespread amongst leaders, managers and teams in companies, institutions and entrepreneurial enterprises especially here in Sweden – and practically non-existent in University and folkhögskolan graduates!
“Humans simply aren’t moved to action by ‘data dumps,’ dense PowerPoint slides, or spreadsheets packed with figures. People are moved by emotion. The best way to emotionally connect other people to our agenda begins with “Once upon a time…” ~ Jonathan Gottschall, author of ‘The Storytelling Animal – how stories make us human’ In fact there appears to be a real lack of authentic, engaging (not to mention charismatic) person-to-person & person-to-group communication/connection and decision-making at many levels of Swedish business, academia, administration and politics. If you want to deliver a powerful and empowering message so that it is received, understood and accepted – or develop a long term relationship with someone – you need to connect with them on an emotional, empathic and engaged level. The fastest and most effective way to connect with people empathically, inspirationally and engagingly, both professionally or personally, is to use story as your ambassador!
“Stories have power. They delight, enchant, touch, teach, recall, inspire, motivate, challenge. They help us understand. They imprint a picture on our minds. Want to make a point or raise an issue? Tell a story.”
~ Janet Litherland
I believe that the art/craft and science of Story and storytelling is an absolute necessity in 21st century education for anyone seeking rewarding and fulfilling employment. Post-graduates, job seekers and those on the career ladder who learn how to connect and engage with prospective employers, bosses and the outside world, are in a far better position to compete and succeed in the job and career market. Nancy Mellon says in ‘The Art of Storytelling’ : ”Because there is a natural storytelling urge and ability in all human beings, even just a little nurturing of this impulse can bring about astonishing and delightful results”. Research tell us “We make eleven major decisions about people in the first seven seconds of meeting them”.
Acquiring competence and skill in storytelling gives us the ability to create engaging first impressions and empathy in building rewarding relationships with management, clients and colleagues. Competence in the use of story/storytelling will give job seekers and changers the confidence, authenticity and empathy they’ll need – in and outside their professional and personal lives.
Over the past decade and a half the business world, led by it’s marketing communications and creative & media agencies has been forced to radically review and adjust their whole strategic approach to marketing & sales communication. Brands have been forced by a growing consumer dislike and distrust of ‘push-selling’ – and the awakening of a ‘Consumption-consciousness’ market place due to an explosion of ‘Vox Populi’ via the www/internet community explosion.
And so, in response to the force of ‘people-power in the market-place, companies and organisations, led by the top business and marketing gurus, have had to take a long hard look at both their message and their modes of communication… In so doing they re-discovered the oldest, most powerful and persuasive form of human communication… The STORY!
As Robert McKee who wrote ‘Story’, Hollywood’s screenwriters’ bible, put it “Stories are the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” By employing the emotive power of story in our speeches, presentations and pitches, we not only connect with people faster and more sustainably than by flooding them with facts’n’figures, we’re also able to engage more quickly and authentically with our audience.
As leaders, managers, marketers or engineers and entrepreneurs: ask yourself these two questions:
1) How pressing is your need to inspire deep, consistent levels of engagement and relationship from customers and clients?
2) How important is it for you – and the business – to inspire and engage coworkers, staff and teams quickly, authentically and effectively?
…If the answer to both questions is ‘it’s absolutely vital!’, then you’ll want to find the fastest, most effective way to connect with and deliver a message to your audience. This means inspiring and engaging them with the depth, breadth and passion of your vision for their and your combined success. To achieve those goals convincingly – and sustainably – you’ll need to master the oldest, most compelling and effective form of human communication: Stories and storytelling.
By using the ‘power of story’ in presentations, pitches and conversations, you’ll connect to people quickly and authentically. It’s an accepted fact that a message is more potent and persuasive when stories are incorporated into the narrative. Telling relevant stories in a compelling manner is the fastest, most effective way to holding people’s attention and engaging their action. Top business, professional, creative and media leaders all say that Story and storytelling in business is not just a nice-to-have skill and ability but an absolute pre-requisite and necessity in today & tomorrow’s social, commercial, economic and sustainable world!…
“People don’t want more information. They are up to their eye-balls in information. They want faith – faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.”
~ Annette Simmons
Wrapping your messages, arguments and supporting details in the colourful cloak of Story, significantly lifts the energy of your delivery and the power of your presentation. And your audience will see, hear and connect to a more persuasive, engaging, convincing and authentic ‘You’.
“As a young man Michael Downing lost the use of all four of his limbs. He was asked to speak to a group of wounded soldiers at the end of World War I, He started out by telling them “I want you to know that anything is possible, you have a bright future ahead of you and the potential to achieve anything that you desire”. The soldiers immediately started booing him. Who was this upstart telling them they could be and do anything they wanted, when they were so injured and impaired? Then Michael proceeded to remove a prosthetic right leg, then a prosthetic left leg, then a prosthetic right arm, then a prosthetic left hand. At fourteen he’d fallen off a wagon in a snow-storm , suffered such severe frostbite that the doctors had to amputate both legs, an arm and a hand at the wrist. Sitting there a stump of a man he started his speech over: “I want you to know that anything is possible, you have a bright future ahead of you and the potential to achieve anything that you desire”.
I should mention that Michael Downing had become a Minnesota Republican politician and Speaker of the Minnesota House of Representatives. He was also a former newspaper publisher and owned a real estate business. ~ Minnesota State Records
Rolf Jensen, Copenhagen Institute of Future Studies writes in his book ‘The Dream Society’:
“…The highest-paid person in the first half of the next century will be the “storyteller”. The value of products will depend on the story they tell. Nike and many other global companies are already mainly storytellers. That is where the money is – even today…”
If you’re looking for a faster route to get your message across, there’s a better way of connecting and communicating effectively with your audience – by putting the power of Story in your personal and corporate tool-box!
Moral of this Story: “Storytelling is the most underrated skill when it comes to business”
~ Gary Vaynerchuk
by Michael A Vanderosen March 2017
Specialist in helping people to connect via storytelling.
Michael offers engaging and fun experiential talks, seminars & workshops on become a compelling, charismatic teller of stories in all personal and business group situations. ‘Why Stories Matter!’ – his introduction to the indispensable elements of powerful storytelling in today’s fast-moving, competitive world – is a Leaders’ fast-track to better, faster, more effective one-on-one/group engagement. No team can be fully effective without inspired, whole-hearted engagement from the ‘Get-Go’! Michael has a well-deserved reputation for helping ‘raise the bar’ for organisations and individuals. As an inspirational lecturer and facilitator his dynamic workshops ‘Why Stories Matter!’ and ‘The Power of Story and How to Use It’ coach the use of powerful imagery and narrative magic to strengthen and uplift presentations and sales pitches – as well as internal and external conversations. If you’re looking for a ‘fast track’ to get your message across… there’s a better way of connecting with people by using empathy, metaphor and story. To find out how to uplift and super-charge your personal, brand and corporate stories – contact us here…
(Note: All talks, seminars/workshops are in English)