Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Power of Story Telling

By Steven M. Worth, President at Plexus Consulting Group, LLC

Walking through the souk in Marrakesh, Morocco one day I saw dozens of circles of people sitting on the ground surrounding speakers who were variously sitting or standing while keeping eye contact with their audiences and gesturing vigorously. Some circles were dominated by children who would laugh and squeal at what they heard while other circles were dominated by sober, intent adults. Some circles were large and some were small. I asked our guide what all of this represented. “They are story tellers,” he said. “Each circle represents a different story being told and whether a circle is large or small is a reflection of a story teller’s abilities.” This is the Marrakesh version of American TV channels—only if you want to change channels in Marrakesh you move to another circle!

But story telling of course is not particular to Morocco; don’t we all remember as children having an adult read a story to us at bedtime or even perhaps during the day if we were lucky? Perhaps you have passed this tradition on to your own children with the same spellbinding effect.

What is it about stories that fascinates us so? Perhaps it is in our genes. Perhaps Darwinian selection winnowed out all those humans who would not or could not listen to what they were being told!--but regardless of the cause, in the end we all like a good story. Stories appeal to both sides of our brains—the rational and the emotional; and the result is that we can often easily recall the details of the stories we were told decades after the fact.

Story telling transcends cultures, languages and generations. It offers an almost magical way of capturing attention and creating a lasting impact. Come to think of it--what a wonderful communications technique this is!

As we who are or have been involved in corporate communications concentrate on boiling down messages to “just the facts”--terse little, forgettable sound bites--maybe it would behoove us once in a while to go back to our childhood roots and find what we need to put our messages into the form of a good story. Who knows, you might end up creating messages that people remember a generation from now!

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