Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas in the world

Robert McKee

Each one of us has a story etched in his/her heart. This story could be one that we heard from someone or read somewhere; it could be a memory of something that we want to re-live. Perhaps, it’s a future projection that we have created for ourselves. Stories make us human – they delight us, teach us, motivate us! They imprint a picture onto our minds. They inspire action. They help us understand. I am convinced that every aspect of our existence can be not only conveyed but also influenced by the help of a story.

Power: A story derives its power from content and presentation. When it comes to measuring the impact of a story, I give equal weight to both components. Take one without the other and your story would not be compelling enough. As Chris Anderson, curator of TED Conferences puts it: people can see right through you. They can tell a genuine story from an emotionally manipulative one. I find his talk on effective public speaking very meaningful – it’s simple and profound, and, in a way, not limited to public speaking. When given conscious thought, these principles can be applied to written communication just as seamlessly as to boardroom meetings. Therein lies the real power of storytelling – it pervades all forms of communication!

Purpose: This works because the purpose of storytelling remains the same in almost all situations. Imagine two points A and B. Your audience is at point A. You are at point B. A zero-gap between A and B indicates that agreement exists between you and your audience. It is only when there is a perceptible distance between A and B that you need a compelling story to bring your audience to a point as close as possible to yours. The purpose of communication is to connect with people to narrow that gap – help them see what you see. How effectively one does this correlates with one’s storytelling capabilities. 

For example, is your product radically different from the existing ones in the market? You may use the Fosbury Flopstory-line as an introduction to the pitch you make at the next venture community event. Visa used this reference in one of their ads. What one should take away from this analogy is to approach any form of formal communication as a channel to practice this skill.

Value: Creating Powerpoint presentations at work has made me extremely curious about enhancing my storytelling side. Even though data occupies more than 80% of all presentations I have made for my clients, it is always the story, which begins with that first data point and runs through till the last one, that ties the whole deck together. Numbers and facts, albeit absorbed during the meeting, stay glued together because of that compelling story – this is where value creation takes place. The numbers cease to exist in isolation; they become one with the overarching story!

As an exercise in self-awareness, try creating your own story – Who are you? Paint a story for your future self – Whom do you want to be? “I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one,” said Flannery O’Connor. I couldn’t agree more. It’s a challenging task to find answers to these questions in one sitting. At least, we can begin by jotting down the data points; the story may unravel itself eventually.

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