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The Importance of Storytelling

Why Storytelling is Important

Storytelling is essential because of its central role in human experience, culture, and history since the dawn of humankind. In addition, storytelling is deeply ingrained in the human psyche. Therefore, it conveys messages and insights in all sorts of scenarios – from business to education.

Storytelling Helps Convey Ideas

At the core of all great ideas is a marriage of values and beliefs. This is also true for a great narrative experience.

Transferring values and beliefs is done through your story’s character having an epiphany (a moment of sudden and significant realization or revelation). Because your audience will also experience it.

Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today

Robert McKee

Setting an idea into an experience (a story) with a relatable character makes that idea much more accessible to people, regardless of their experience and perspective.

Effective storytelling can do this.

It’s a lot more exciting and engaging than using mere bland facts and figures.

Using Allegory

Using allegory (to enable interpretation of the hidden meaning) can take the game up a notch.

Because your audience reads subtext, they get to become participants in the story instead of mere observers. Thus, you enable your audience to be a part of the experience.

Your audience also gets to discover that there is a meaning (a complex thought) buried in your simple story.

Storytelling becomes an apprenticeship.

For example, in the book “The Great Gatsby,” the manipulative, privileged Jay Gatsby may be personifying the concept of the American dream. And the unfulfillable sense of hope associated with it.

Storytelling makes such complex ideas more memorable because stories help us understand them through the process of identification.

The listener will know the story’s plot, character, and events and process this information to make meaning.

All the things that help bring ideas alive – interpretation, insight, and context – are intrinsic parts of good storytelling.

Using Story to Convey and Connect With Emotions – Especially Empathy

Sometimes, it is often essential to carry an audience with you on the back of emotions. The way you direct people to feel is by making their empathic connection with a character complete.

Great storytelling is a game of emotion. It’s the Land of Feelings. So a good storyteller usually will have the emotional intelligence to interpret their own feelings and reactions and those of others (real and imaginary).

Fundamentally, a story directs the audience to care about what happens to the hero. And to identify with the hero as you have created them in the storytelling.

There’s always room for a story that can transport people to another place.

J.K. Rowling

Whether the story’s hero is like the audience or not, empathy is the primary vehicle for transporting meaning.

Suppose you want a lasting connecting bond with an audience. In that case, you want to transmit emotions through the audience’s empathy with your characters, their reactions, and choices.

A goal is something your audience can identify with, something toward which they can reach out…

…and your characters are what make that goal possible. It requires a solid and tangible connection with the character.

Neuroscience has shown that the brain processes stories differently compared to other types of information. Basically, the emotional connection with stories enables the brain to remember meaningful details.

The best way to make an empathic connection with an audience is through telling stories about a relatable hero – a person who has the same hopes and fears, the same challenges and inner struggles as the audience.

Character flaws are used to show how our weaknesses can become our biggest strength and vice versa. The exposition of these flaws and how they help the hero defeat the ‘monster’ can conjure empathy.

Storytelling to Convince

Sales teams are well aware of the power of storytelling to convince a potential customer to purchase a product or service.

Lifestyle brands, for example, have mastered the art of brand storytelling – in text and visual storytelling in social media and elsewhere to convince potential customers to buy their products.

The idea behind a brand story is never to promote the details of the products directly but rather to connect with the target audience. And let them feel the emotional experience that the business and product provide.

It’s the core message they seek to impart. Storytelling is the pathway to achieving the lofty heights of brand loyalty.

Salesmen, marketers, and advertisers are constantly trying to understand and use techniques to influence audience thinking and purchasing choices.

Typically, in its marketing, a company will use a story to create a relationship with the consumer and speak to its values.

A good story always has three levels of meaning: on the surface is the literal level. The next level down is the moral or lesson of the story, and the underlying level is the assumed world of the story.

When buying a product, consumers will often search for this underlying level – what does this product represent or reflect for me?

A compelling story will answer this question. The consumer will be far more interested in a brand with a story.

The key to influencing or persuading people through the story is to use your story to provoke an emotional reaction.

You can do this by either making the story relatable to the customer by using characters they can relate to or showing the product’s consequences and the benefits to consumers from purchasing it.

This can be the primary strategy in content marketing to get audience engagement.

Gain an Audience with Storytelling

Arguably, attention is one of the most valuable commodities today. Especially when many are distracted by screens big and small!

Once upon a time, there was just television. Then came the Internet. And everything got fragmented. The attention of the audience became even more splintered.

There is no longer one mass public. But many proliferating publics that coagulate in an infinite series of specialized niches.

The age of the mass audience is over.

To engage an audience, ‘audiences have to know who they are to tell stories that interest and persuade them.

So the power of stories is to inform, change behavior, change minds, influence corporate and government policies, engage in dialogue, gain a hearing. All of those abilities result from the audience knowing and identifying with the hero of the story.

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it

Hannah Arendt

Politicians and leaders know this better than anyone. But, unfortunately, we live in the age of politician-cum-marketer.

When the leaders of a country take the time to tell stories to the public (e.g., a heroic, biblical, or another epic kind of story), they favor one type of public instead of another.

And they try to cultivate a particular kind of self-image for their public.
This is what Obama tried when he used the “Change” slogan in his campaign for the U.S. presidency.

At the same time, he competed with a range of other stories that his opponent McCain was telling about himself, the Republican party, and the United States.

To take a different example: leaders in some countries invest a lot of efforts in cyber-propaganda to shape the view of their nations. Such propaganda, therefore, takes place in cyberspace, where the imaginary world of the audience is shaped.

Cyberspace is a space of narratives. It is a space of stories. In cyberspace, the physical location of the audience becomes irrelevant.

A Way to Teach and Learn

Storytelling is a terrific way to teach because the human experience is in itself a story! Stories connect us to the broader understanding of being human – both the ups and the downs.

Not to mention the fundamental value of literacy.

In my view, it’s a core skill for every teacher. As a teacher, you want to get your student to feel the same way you did about the subject!

The engineers of the future will be poets

Terence McKenna

One of the best ways to help your student make a personal connection is to show them that you’ve gone through a journey where they can identify with a relatable hero.

Sending them on a journey can be done via storytelling.

Then, you can use storytelling to help your student relate to various aspects of the learning activity itself.

By using storytelling techniques such as metaphors and analogies, you can transport complex ideas to your students.

The human species thinks in metaphors and learns through stories

Mary Catherine Bateson

Stories can be a great way of playing with scenarios as a learning tool. However, outcomes (endings) can vary according to decisions taken by the principal characters.

In this way, you can help your students reflect on the consequences of such decisions (e.g., ethical questions).

Via these scenarios, you can teach them to solve problems.

Teachers need to keep in mind the power of storytelling because stories shape our view of the world, which is even more true for children.

The mind of a young child is very much an open book.

Through stories and fairy tales, children and students learn about their society, culture, and religion. In addition, it’s a fantastic way to develop their listening skills. Storytelling plays a vital role in cultivating imagination and the development of perception, and memory.

The brain activity of someone reading fiction has been shown to closely resemble that of someone actually going through the actual experience.

This is why the power of storytelling is such that it can even become a fundamental tool in education.

A Way to Create

One of the things I most love about stories and storytelling – that of others and my own – is how it enables real and imaginary people’s experiences to come to life.

On the one hand, the audience gets the opportunity to experience the immediate thrill of a story. But at the same time, they are left with something intangible that they consume with the memory of a story.

Also, I regard storytelling as a way to record or archive my memories. And my dreams and daydreams.

Constructing a great story, a powerful story is a significant intellectual and artistic challenge.

A skilled storyteller can bring something to life: the creation of whole new worlds. When I sit down to write a story, I feel a bit like I’m creating a new world. It’s enjoyable, like a game. The story is just a way to try out new things. Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

Not only can stories generate new everyday experiences for human beings, but also new kinds of realities.

With storytelling skills, we can make the imaginary realm – and the real imaginary.
A story is a way to productively manipulate reality and regain power over it.

Sometimes reality is too complex. Stories give it form

Jean Luc Godard

Other Domains in which Powerful Storytelling is Important

  • Conflicts and conflict resolution
  • Interactive video games
  • History
  • Mythology
  • Data Storytelling
  • Oral storytelling traditions and cultures
  • Public Speaking (e.g., a TED Talk)
  • Visual Content (Movies, series)
  • Presentations, their visuals, and visual aids

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