How Important is “Story” to Your Success?

By Jane Atkinson

We know that telling a story in your business helps people know you and perhaps relate to you better, thus winning you more business.

We also know that your percentage of storytelling vs. teaching is important to the success of your presentation. But, many people lean too heavily on teaching.

Kelly Swanson, speech coach extraordinaire says this:

As speakers we have often heard that we should tell stories in our presentations. But nobody ever explains why. We don’t just tell stories to be more entertaining. We tell stories because the brain is wired to be impacted through story, not data. Science has proven that when we give bullet points, we only light up one part of the brain – the language processing part. But when we tell stories, we light up all other areas of the brain. When we do this, we have the ability to actually plant ideas into other peoples’ minds. It’s quite fascinating when we understand this tool.

Most people tend to shoot straight to facts in a presentation. “Here’s what you need to know” is never an effective form of persuasion. Connection is emotional, and data doesn’t have the ability to connect emotionally. Story is the real life application of your data. Story is what connects AND persuades, while letting the listener come to their own conclusion instead of you telling them what they need to do. Tell the story, then let your data drive it home.

Lecturing or teaching about what you know is a natural starting point for building a presentation, but as Kelly says, we need to connect on another level with our audiences, take them on a journey with us, or to a place that evokes emotion.

I know first-hand this isn’t easy.

When putting together my workshops, I’d always have to remind myself to add more stories once the presentation was all in place; it just didn’t come naturally. Several of my clients are from academic backgrounds where story isn’t necessarily a norm and sometimes is actually discouraged.

So where do you get these stories?

Of course, they can be drawn from your own life. So many of you have powerful stories that link back to your teaching. We recently shared the story of Orlando Bowen, a professional football player, who was set up by dirty cops for a drug bust after being beaten within an inch of his life. In that moment, he lost everything including his lucrative football contract due to his injuries and yet, his story is one of forgiveness. And it is powerful.

You can gather stories from client work that you do, or from audience members who share with you after your presentation. When someone comes up to you and tells you a story of how your work affected them, get their card so that you can interview them and build a story from it to use in future presentations.

An idea that Joe Calloway shared with me and demonstrates beautifully on the platform is making the audience the heroes of your stories. That means doing your research ahead of time and asking to speak with three or four well-liked people who will be in the audience. (It’s important that they be well-liked or your idea of making them a hero may backfire). You can ask them questions that lead directly back to your key ideas. And when you make people in your audiences the heroes of your stories, that in turn makes you a hero. How cool is that?

Sometimes the stories come to you just minutes before your presentation. When you can be “present” in the room before it’s your turn to speak, magic can happen.