However, it has been recognised for centuries – way back to Ancient Greece and beyond, and a study by the University of Liverpool found that 65 per cent of all human interactions are storytelling.
At the moment, I’m reading Team of Rivals about the presidency of Abraham Lincoln. One of the most important factors in his success was his tact when dealing with people and his ability to persuade by the power of his rhetoric and speeches. And that power was based on storytelling.
Talking of the stream of visitors Lincoln received before his inauguration who wanted posts in his government, author Doris Kearns Goodwin quotes the New York Tribune correspondent Henry Villard and says :
What most impressed Villard was Lincoln’s remarkable ability to tell a humorous story or deliver an appropriate anecdote “to explain a meaning or enforce a point, the aptness of which was always perfect.”
When delivering communications skills courses, whether presentation skills, media training or indeed storytelling, we always emphasise the importance of storytelling, and of using anecdotes, examples and analogies to make your point.
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It is far more difficult for people to relate to, or even understand, what you are talking about if you use overly technical language or jargon, or talk always on a theoretical level about principles and ideas.
All industries and sectors use technical language and jargon as a short-hand to discuss common issues – including the media. However, if your speech is littered with too much, even the most knowledgeable audience will struggle to sustain their interest and, most importantly, remember what you are saying.
The problem is that if your audience, whoever it is, doesn’t understand what you are saying, or it doesn’t capture their imagination, they may simply switch off and stop listening.
So your challenge when speaking to a wider audience is to translate your concepts and key messages into words which illuminate your subject, and strike a chord with the listener/audience.
Read more: six ways to give a memorable interview
Storytelling is an innately human way of communicating, with very credible science about the importance of storytelling and why and how stories spark our neurological wiring and release a flood of endorphins which
Case studies, examples, analogies, interesting statistics, personalisations and anecdotes help bring your subject to life and resonate with your audience. As Lincoln did, they can be used to explain or reinforce your point. If you’re doing an interview, they are a good way to set the agenda, since if they are interesting enough, the reporter will ask you about these, instead of what he/she had planned to during the interview.
Tips & techniques to improve your storytelling
- Create a “bank” of anecdotes and stories that you can draw on when you’re planning a speech, presentation or interview
- For every point you want to make, think of an example that might illustrate it
- Look at your own experiences and see where they are relevant to what you’re aiming to get across
- Use interesting language which paints pictures with your words
- Starting a sentence with “imagine you are …” immediately paints a picture and forces you to tell a story
- Think about what might grab your listener’s attention and how you might start, or headline, your topic
If you can tell a story, it will create connections and speak to people’s hearts and minds. At story appeals to our emotional rather than our rational mind, moving our hearts, staying in our minds and stirring us to action.
The more you can weave stories, examples, anecdotes and analogies into your communication, the more interesting, engaging and memorable you will be.