“The purpose of a storyteller is not to tell you how to think, but to give you questions to think upon.”
–Brandon Sanderson, fantasy and science fiction writer
We all have a story. It explains our past and inspires our future; it is, was, and will be essential to who we become. As Harvard’s Dr. Howard Gardner says, “stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” The research suggests we almost exclusively operate within a “story mindset.” Leaders who are not afraid to enter someone else’s story understand the power of empathy. But leaders who are not afraid to share their own story understand the power of vulnerability. The future belongs to the storytellers. You are a story – are you willing to share it?
One of the best predictors of sales success isn’t just likeability, experience or expertise, but how one authentically tells a story. Most people in sales and marketing work in facts, details, and stats; in doing so, they overwhelm their customers with the weight of information. And it is forgotten as quickly as it is received. Researchers Dan & Chip Heath found after a presentation 63% of attendees remember stories, while only 5% remember statistics.
Stories move us – but why?
“Stories create community, enable us to see through the eyes of other people, and open us to the claims of others”, says Peter Forbes, photographer and author. When emotions get too complicated, it is time to rely on a story to simplify the moment. Jimmy Neil Smith, Director of the International Storytelling Center, points out that “We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.” People with a story can’t be ignored.
The pioneering work of neuro-economics leader Paul Zak has uncovered that stories trigger the release of Oxytocin, which encourages empathy in the receiver of the story. This release is what researchers refer to as the “trust hormone,” a chemical that encourages empathy.
We prefer pictures, and we relate to stories, not facts. Ironically, facts are oftentimes debatable, but stories allow us to connect on a deeper level. Again, we process visuals 60,000x faster than text. A good story speaks to our intellect, our emotions, and it’s personal.
“People think in stories, not statistics.” ~ Arianna Huffington
Business is about relationships; it is about storytelling. And it is about connecting my story to yours. So how do we better utilize stories in our professional life? Two ideas to consider:
Be Human. Do you have the courage to open a discussion sharing how you and your team have failed? This includes the missteps, the confusion and the frustrations you have encountered. This is much more believable and human. If you have finally uncovered an idea worth discussing with your customer, it was more than likely birthed out of failure, frustration and pain. Why not share the whole story, not just the sanitized version? That is a story worth listening to and remembering.
What if? What if we are missing something which is hidden right before our eyes? What if, with one decision, could improve loyalty with our customers? What if we could transform a current partnership with one new idea?
Effective storytelling oftentimes begins with a question. The right question opens the door for collaboration with your customers and leads you into deeper discussions. Stories are journeys, and they oftentimes begin by questioning something. A thoughtful, “what if?” question sets the stage for a compelling story. It opens the audience to discovery. It opens the door to change one’s mind.
The best organizations are not afraid of telling stories. As J.K. Rowling shared, “There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”
Quit dumping too much data; instead bring others into your story. A great story moves and takes others on a journey. Storytelling is how we relate to each other and is one of the most powerful ways to share new ideas and build relationships. Are you comfortable sharing your own story?