Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The power of story telling

Sometimes I have been glued to a story told well.

How is it that:

  • I remember the story almost word for word - without rehearsing?
  • I create pictures in my head from a story?
  • I can relate the story to another context and use it to transmit a message?

Stories are one of many methods of teaching and learning - but it is interesting to muse that before the written word, all information was passed on orally. Arguably, the oldest skill in the communications book of tricks is the spoken word.

With the words we speak there is no electronic spell check or grammar check. When we are talking we don’t think about left or right justified so maybe we are more ‘on the spot’ with our spoken word. Little wonder many like to think carefully before opening their mouth to speak – little wonder equally, that many regret speaking without thinking first. The power of the spoken word is immense.

I cannot recall a page of A4 text from Physics lessons at school - but I can probably recall almost word for word, some of the stories I have been told – twenty or thirty years ago.

In management and leadership I believe we are beginning to appreciate the value of story telling.

Below are some random thoughts about story telling and its relationship to effective management and leadership and how things get done.

  1. Story telling touches emotions and presses the right buttons for the listener. It is a very effective way of prompting a response and thereby creating discussion. A story can be a vehicle to transmit a potentially sensitive message.
  2. Stories told well, create pictures ….. A picture saves a thousand words ….. Hence, stories are therefore an efficient, as well as effective, communication method.
  3. At school some lecturers were “teachers” and some were “evangelist teachers.” Though I didn’t appreciate it at the time, the “teachers” were probably very competent in their subject …….. the “evangelists” were the ones who made learning interesting and enjoyable - part of their repertoire was usually the ability to “make it real” by telling a story
  4. How many times do we attend courses, conferences when what we remember of the speaker is the anecdote and the story rather than the technical information they imparted in their half hour of glory at the podium? In my experience it is more often the story telling and the anecdote that is remembered.

Story telling is one of the most potent weapons in the arsenal of any manager and if used sensibly, wisely and sparingly it can prove a most effective way of:

  • Getting your message across
  • Inspiring others
  • Spreading your message
  • Making work an interesting place to be

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