Storytelling is the key to all good communication. If you give an audience context and evidence within a clearly structured narrative, they are more likely to engage emotionally with the particulars, the person, the product, the politics, or the policy embodied within that story. They will think about what they’ve heard, finding markers with which they can identify, and if it’s a good enough story they’ll disseminate it and create interest through word-of-mouth.
In the last couple of weeks I’ve run storytelling workshops with budding PRs, turning stories into pitching exercises to see what forms of information stick and what forms are instantly forgotten. A list of bullet points is a disaster – nobody retains them. On the other hand, a single well told yarn about a turning point in someone’s life – be it a birth, a death, a relocation, an accident, a birthday surprise or a revelatory moment – can be interpreted in a dozen different ways, providing numerous applications across diverse subject matter.
So it was that young people who listed the many exotic countries they’d visited were described as travellers, and the girl who told a simple story about the death of a friend was described as loyal, focused, good with people, decisive, honest, and kind. It is easier to make value judgements when there is a coherent – and dare one say, entertaining – narrative attached. We can see it in business. Companies headed by individuals who share/d narratives – Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Martha Lane-Fox, Stelios Haji-Ioannau – get more leeway when things go wrong, than anonymous corporations. Stories – and the correct dissemination of them – are vital to good communications.
At Tricycle Readers we look each week at a short story. This week we grappled with Ursula Le Guin and a narrative that changed focus from section to section. When reading to oneself, shifts in tone are easier to negotiate – and if they’re not, the reader is gifted the luxury of skimming the claggy bits to get to the meat and bones of the piece, but when you have to read the piece aloud the complexities inherent in the writing are audible. It took several practices to get delivery right.
Simlarly, when telling our own stories the more we practice the easier they become; and the more practiced the story the wider its application. People often tell the same anecdotes year on year because they’ve perfected the structure and content to a point where the stories have value in their own right; they stand alone. At the storytelling workshops we telescope the process in order to demonstrate it, getting participants to create a pitch around the information received. Like the short story writer they have to extrapolate from a single shared moment or narrative, the details that can create a window of understanding and perhaps opportunity, for others.