You know how little kids start begging to hear a story about the time they begin putting words together to make simple sentences. They love stories…and they’re not alone. Adults love stories too.
Story-telling gets a lot of attention from business experts for that reason. Whether you’re out to get funded, sell a product, or promote a cause, a good story well-told will get you there way faster than dumping data on anyone who will sit still long enough to hear it.
We like to think we’re rational people persuaded by facts and numbers and logic. Truth is, we’re emotional people persuaded by a good story. Then we justify our decision by trotting out those facts and numbers and logic.
I’ve been reminded of that lately, by the reactions to stories I’ve been telling.
You probably know about my shiny new knees—because you’ve heard a story or two about my surgery, recovery, or the professionals involved.
Most of the time, I didn’t have any particular goal in mind. But now, looking back over the past few weeks, I can see what my stories—and yours–can accomplish.
People have told me they learned something from the tales I told. They got some insight into how the health care system operates. Or they learned a bit about orthopedic surgery and how to know if you’re a candidate for it.
I’ve had people ask for my surgeon’s name, where I did my rehab, and why I opted for both knees at the same time. It’s all information they’ll be using (or sharing with their mothers) to guide their own decisions.
I’ve been putting off this surgery for a long time, and I’m not alone. I have a friend who’s also been dilly-dallying about taking care of an orthopedic issue. But she is all over it now.
Because hearing my stories about the process, and what I did to increase the chances of success, lit a fire under her. So now, she’s through with worrying and fear and procrastinating.
All of a sudden she’s doing her pre-hab, seeing her doctor, and getting her own procedure on the calendar. It’s a perfect example of how stories can prompt a person to act when data and logic and even experience have failed to do the trick.
Every now and again, you hear a bit of information so startling or unsettling that it changes your point of view. It happens, but not often.
I wrote on Facebook about my interaction with health care workers. From the Philippines, and India, and Kazakhstan, and a dozen other places, for cryin’ out loud. Native-born Americans were in short supply, which raises a question about those people who want to keep newcomers out. Who will be taking care of their health when they need it?
That post was shared and commented on, and yes, it was disputed. Not everyone sees things the same way, of course. But at least it took most people beyond slogans and automatic reactions and into a more thoughtful approach.
It’s usually when the facts are put into human context that we begin to soften our long-held position, question things we’ve been certain of, and consider a new way of looking at things.
It’s the story, not the information, that prompts a change in perspective.
I probably don’t need to say anything more about this than I did in my post:
“Thanksgiving Day winds down with Tess the Nurse Tech knocking on my door to ask one question.
‘Have you had a bowel movement today?’
Sometimes they make it hard to #RockMyRehab”
They’re preoccupied with poop, these health care professionals. And lots of people had stories about that. Most of those stories were entertaining.
That’s why we can use stories to inform, inspire, persuade and entertain. None of those things can happen without a connection. And stories help us connect with one another. We humans are, in fact, wired for stories.
A Princeton neuroscientist demonstrated story-power with brain scans. Uri Hasson measured the brain activity of the person telling a real-life, it-happened-to-me story about her high school prom, of all things. He also scanned the brains of the people listening to her tale.
What did the MRIs reveal? Surprisingly similar patterns of brain activity in the story-teller and the listeners. In the world of neuroscience that’s called “speaker-listener neural coupling.” And Hasson said neural coupling is widespread and extensive.
What does that mean for us?
If you want to make a point…or a sale…the best thing you can do is tell a story.
You might be thinking that you don’t have any stories, or your experiences aren’t compelling enough. My guess? Things happen in your world every day that can become the stories you tell in a speech or a sales call or a simple conversation.
To become a better story-teller, all you need to do is notice them.
I’ve started writing things down, even ordinary things that maybe don’t seem that significant in the moment.
Because those everyday events in my life – and yours – become the way we inform, inspire, persuade and entertain an audience. The way we make a connection that opens all kinds of possibilities.
Post a comment below to tell us tell us how you use stories in your work or your search for work.
Or…just tell us a story. We might even discover some virtual neural-coupling.