Storytelling can make you more effective

A couple of years ago I was trying to get my co-workers to adopt something new. I had done my research, read the experience well known people in the industry had had with it, had the facts. I was sure I could convince them. Nothing was farther from the truth. Some asked questions, most agreed with what I was telling them, but in the end, nobody did as we had discussed.


Asking questions instead of telling would probably have been a better approach. But there is an even better way.

When I was preparing for my Lightning Talk at GOTOamsterdam2016 a neighbor of mine, Ernst Weerstra, mentioned he was teaching a “speaking in public” workshop the following week. That workshop totally blew my mind. In two ways.

For one, its exercises were nothing like I had experienced before. Or had even read about as stuff to practice. Picture yourself at the focal point of a semi circle of your audience – your fellow workshop attendees, standing silently for 90 seconds, only allowed (and required) to make eye contact. Or talking for 2 minutes about the present – not about tomorrow, not about yesterday, not even about how you got there – just about “now”.

For two, the workshop introduced me to storytelling. Apart from running public speaking workshops, Ernst is a storyteller and runs an agency for storytellers. I was totally enthralled. Wanted to know more about it.

Right about that time I was also going through the Rising Strong part of the Living Brave Semester. It drove home how important stories are to us. We all love to hear and tell stories. We drop off while listening to dry facts and “convincing” arguments, but we perk up and pay attention when someone starts telling a story.

There is a reason for that. A biological one. We humans are totally “wired for story“. With everything that happens our brains look for a story to explain the situation and decide whether we are safe or will be sorry.

Every time our brain recognizes a story:

  • “Loud bang. 4th of July. Fireworks. Pfew. Ok.”
  • “Grizzly bear. Grizzly cubs. Bear is a mom. Mom will eat you. Run!”

it releases scrumptious dopamine, that lights up our reward centers. It’s precisely why storytelling is such a big thing in any public speaking and corporate presentation training, now.

Turns out storytelling isn’t just a hobby to pursue, then. Storytelling skills make you much more effective in every part of your life.

Next time you want to persuade someone, at home or at work, try telling a story. A story about the success of someone who did what you want them to do; or about the failure of someone who did what you don’t want them to do. Doesn’t have to be long. Just needs a beginning, a middle and an end.

Let me know in the comments how you got on!

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