You already know you’re supposed to use stories to convey your point, right? Yet be honest: are you still using Powerpoint decks crowded with 12-point fonts and multiple bullets? And no stories?
If you suspect you might not be using story-telling as much as you should, let’s review the bidding.
Five Reasons to Use Story-Telling
1. Many of us veto the use of a story because we think it makes us appear unprofessional, or risks being seen as “too soft” on content. That right there’s a good reason to increase your use of stories: professionals especially under-estimate their utility.
2. Sims Wyeth describes why story-telling is the perfect solution to the “split audience” problem: when half the audience are technical, half aren’t; half are old, half young; and so on. And he tells you how to do it.
4. There is something about a story that lowers the emotional resistance to advice. The best way to get a teenager not to do something is to tell them to do it. And we’re all in touch with our inner teenager. But stories get past that. Somehow, when we hear the ‘meaning’ of the story, it becomes our meaning. Our inner NIH syndrome disappears, and we accept the advice, even if it’s very transparent, in ways we never would directly.
There’s a reason that we watch Jimmy Stewart play George Baily in It’s A Wonderful Life every year–because we love the story. And part of that story is the story that the angel Clarence tells George Baily—the story of his life-as-it-could-have-been. This story-telling device was used precisely the same way, to equally great success, in The Christmas Carol. Come to think of it, ditto for 1,001 Arabian Nights—the story of 1,001 stories.
Anne Miller has written a book on precisely that subject, called Make What You Say Pay. In chapters organized by application, Miller gives example after example of metaphors: to explain new concepts, to simply a complex pitch, to shift a paradigm, to close a deal, and so forth.
Miller’s book gives at least five times five ways to use stories as metaphor, you’re bound to find several that help your work.
Want some advice on how to get better at telling your stories? I can think of no one better qualified than Patricia Fripp. Here is a 7-minute YouTube piece from a National Speaker Association talk by the Frippster. You will not get more insights-per-minute anywhere else.
Fripp says, “Stories are the creative conversion of life itself, into a more powerful, clear, more meaningful experience.” And an audience will always prefer a simple story well told to a brilliant story badly told. (For the few combination speaker-musicians out there, you may know Patricia’s brother—King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp).