Storytelling is the best survival skill our brain has in order to make sense of the things. There are countless examples in which we’ve had to craft our own narratives. Vivid description of ideas, beliefs, personal experiences, and life- lessons through stories or narratives that evoke powerful emotions and insights. Storytelling has advantages over the communication techniques commonly used in organizations, be they electronic mail, reports, or formal speeches.
Stories create an emotional connection, they help us understand each other, and make sense of things. Stories are how information becomes memorable knowledge. Because stories create an emotional connection, we can gain a deeper understanding of other people’s experiences, and by default our own.
Getting to tell stories for a living requires training and a lot of practice. The sacred exchange between a storyteller and their audience is based on the premise that the audience will experience something, and that listening to this story is worth of their precious, limited time on earth.
Western stories are straightforward cause-and-effect, largely. But Eastern stories tend to have a large cast of characters that all reflect on the plot’s drama. And in almost all cases this cast of characters will have conflicting and contradictory takes on the drama. Western stories revolve around one person and are usually told from this person’s perspective. We’re presented with a plot structure where a single person, with the strength of his or her will, decides to change or achieve something.
Dialogue is the strongest feature of eastern fiction. It is the dialogue that shows the characters vividly. On the other hand, Western literature uses more inner monologue. Authors focus more on the similes to present the characters’ inner world. Subtext: Authors put a lot of implied ideas in the dialog. For eastern culture, it’s unusual for people to show off their feelings, so it’s also the same in writing. Writers won’t directly state how the characters feel, so they do it in the dialog.
Related: Rhetorical Devices
The Neuroscience of Storytelling
When we see or hear a story, the neurons in our brain fire in the same patterns as the speaker’s, a process known as “neural coupling.” You also hear it referred to as “mirroring.” According to highly-cited work by Greg J. Stephens, Lauren J. Silbert, and Uri Hasson, these processes occur across many different areas of the brain, and can induce a shared contextual model of the situation. The motor and sensory cortices, as well as the frontal cortex are all engaged during story creation and processing. These networks are nurtured and solidified by feelings of anticipation of the story’s resolution, involving the input of your brain’s form of candy, dopamine.
That’s why when we experience an emotionally-charged event or hear a story of the same nature, certain parts of our brain release excess dopamine, making it easier to remember something with greater accuracy. If you are married, there’s a good chance you remember the exact details (the weather, the lighting, the smells) of your engagement decades later; the dopamine surge is also why well-structured TED Talks resonate with us years after we listen to them.
Related” Literary Techniques
Storytelling in Business
The most underrated skill in business is storytelling, Richard Branson once said, “entrepreneurs who cannot tell a story will never be successful.” Elon Musk, for one, created a myth around his public persona which earned him a large following. Harvard Business says telling a compelling story is how you build credibility for yourself and your ideas. It’s how you inspire an audience and lead an organization. Whether you need to win over a colleague, a team, an executive, a recruiter, or an entire conference audience, effective storytelling is key.
Every time we have to explain anything to our children, try to reconnect with friends outside of our bubbles and tell them stories of what we’ve been up to, and we’ve continually had to frame new narratives at work around the pros and cons of an interconnected, virtual-first world.
That’s because we communicate through stories, be it a new work project, connecting with someone in a fitness class, or binge-watching a series on Netflix. Humans live in, and through, stories, which is why it’s important to understand what happens in the brain when we tell stories and why they resonate so much for us.
At the 35,000-foot level, our brains like stories, because clear narratives cut through distractions. Stories help us pay attention–particularly in this attention era, when vying for people’s focus is more coveted than ever.
Related: Literary Elements
Elements of Storytelling
A lot of good storytelling falls within this prism of coherence, or the structural integrity of ideas wherein each added idea builds on and reinforces related concepts. Coherence helps us focus and cut through the noise.
Be visual: Our brains can process an image in as little as 13 milliseconds, which equates to a speed of 75 frames per second. That’s why good stories show (“Wearing her only pair of holeless pants, she sat down on a threadbare couch”) instead of tell (“She’s poor.”) Whether it’s through words or actual visuals, stories that set a rich scene help us process them faster and become more engaged. That’s also why incorporating visuals such as art and charts, when possible, into your storytelling will make your narrative stronger and stickier.
Generate insights: The most-remembered stories leave you understanding something more deeply than you did before. NLI’s research has found that organizations should design learning programs to maximize the insights that participants generate. Insight, here, is defined as that moment when an individual goes from no-solution to solution — from “I don’t understand this” to “Aha! I got it!” In a work context, you can design employee meetings around story frameworks more than “check-ins” by asking more about solutions and less about problems. Having a two-way synchronous conversation increases reflection, raises a sense of primary relatedness in our brains, and builds connections.