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The Power of Storytelling to Inspire and Engage

Updated: Oct 31, 2019

My dad is, by far, one of the best storytellers. Some of my most cherished memories were listening intently to stories from his childhood about him and his brothers causing mischief in the neighborhood. I also will never forget the stories he would tell me if I was scared or anxious. I remember there was a time we went camping and I couldn’t sleep because of the noises I was hearing outside the tent. He leaned over and told me a story on the fly about a deer, a squirrel, and raccoon and how they worked together to overcome their fears. I remember campfire stories that made me laugh, cry, ponder, wonder, and believe. Those were my favorite!

Ever since humans first sat around a campfire, stories have been told to create emotional connections. Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information, more powerful and enduring than any other art form. In our workplaces, campfires have now been replaced with projector bulbs, and the power of a story has eluded presenters in the workplace. Let’s change that shall we?

As humans, we are hardwired to learn lessons from the observation of others. Life is crazy, so we connect with characters who have real-life challenges similar to the ones we face. Think of your favorite book or T.V. show in which you connect with the characters on a very personal level. Isnt it amazing to see the character encounter a dilemma and then transform as a result?

As professionals, using stories to create emotional appeal feels unnatural because it shows a degree of vulnerability to people whom you do not know well. Some personal stories even expose your missteps and shortcomings. However, I am telling you all right now, that these are the stories that have the most inherent power to cause real change in your audience. Professionals enjoy following a leader who has encountered and overcame personal challenges and can adequately share a narrative from those challenges.

Robert McKee said,

“The best way to unite an idea with an emotion is by telling a compelling story. In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listeners’ emotions and energy. Persuading with a story is hard. Any intelligent person can sit down and make a list. It takes rationality but little creativity to design an argument using conventional rhetoric. But it demands vivid insight and storytelling skills to present an idea that packs enough emotional power to be memorable. If you can harness imagination and the principles of a well-told story, then you get people rising to their feet amid thunderous applause instead of yawning and ignoring you.

I really hate saying this, but most presentations at school and in the workplace are boring and forgettable. They are typically very rigid and static. Now try to think back to those presentations that were memorable… Most likely they involved a captivating story or experience right? In my experience, I have seen that information is static; stories are dynamic. They help an audience visualize what you truly believe. Tell a story and people will be more receptive to your idea. I promise.

So how can we accomplish this amidst all of the exhaustive and boring factual details, graphs, and figures that need to be in the presentation or speech? In our professional worlds, it’s become the cultural norm to write presentations as reports with factual details. But presentations should not be reports if you want your audience to really apply the knowledge being conveyed. Reports should be distributed, but presentations should present the report and then amplify with a story. The reports and facts carry information, and then stories can sweep in and produce a memorable experience. The trick is to find a middle ground between the information and the experience to connect the information to your audience.

Listen… I get it. It is so much more comfortable and less time-consuming to present, data-driven static reports, but that does not connect people to ideas. Stories do that.

Let’s bring that campfire storytelling mindset back into our presentations and speeches!!

I would love to give you more information and insights surrounding storytelling in presentations, but that would take up pages and pages. Go to my services tab and have you or your co-workers sign up for my Storytelling Training. This will provide a very methodical and detailed approach to accomplish what I outlined in this article.


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