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So, what is your story?

| Friday, February 7, 2020

Kerry Schneeman | The Observer

“We tell stories in order to feel at home in the universe.”— Roger Bingham.

Stories are what make us human. They’re the native language our minds have been wired to understand since the beginning of time. Indeed, we love stories. As kids, we would beg for one more bedtime fairytale. As adults, most of our conversations often include either “I cannot wait to tell you what happened … ” or “Guess what happened … ” followed by vivid descriptions of moments, memories, conversations, fights.

In an interview with Forbes, Geoffrey Berwind acknowledged the power of storytelling: “As long as there have been campfires, humans have gathered around them and conveyed their view of the world through the use of stories. Stories are a ‘shared experience,’ and I believe we are hard-wired to receive information primarily through storytelling. Stories trigger the ancient human muscle of the imagination … When leaders use storytelling, I believe they bring their audiences back to a natural state of primal listening.”

All I’m getting from this is a reinforcement of Isak Dinesen’s words, “To be a person is to have a story to tell.”

In this column, I actually started out with the idea of analyzing the tricks and tactics to grab people’s attention and get them to listen to you. As I was reflecting on that, I asked myself, “What does it take to grab your attention?” The word story just seemed etched in my mind. I had always been fond of storytelling. In middle school, my favorite assignments were always the ones involving a personal narrative. In high school, most, if not all, of my presentations included real-life stories and experiences nestled among the hard facts and data.

Writing this piece made me realize the best speakers, the best writers, the best leaders, the best teachers … they are all great storytellers. This love for stories is so beautifully portrayed in the novel “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet” when David Mitchell writes, “The belly craves food, she thinks, the tongue craves water, the heart craves love and the mind craves stories.”

Stories can be a powerful tool to connect with the audience. By sharing experiences, you show your listener your authentic and credible side; you cater to their empathy, their compassion and their social nature. When speakers and leaders use this to their advantage and blend factual information with the right amount of influential and realistic stories they most probably will become alluring and irresistible. The listeners will want to hear you out, and they will want to hear more from you. You keep your audience on the edge as it leaves them with something to think about and to act upon. That’s when real influence occurs. That’s where real change starts.

Bill Buford, nonfiction writer and former fiction editor at The New Yorker, once said, “Stories … protect us from chaos, and maybe that’s what we, unblinkered at the end of the 20th century, find ourselves craving. Implicit in the extraordinary revival of storytelling is the possibility that we need stories — that they are a fundamental unit of knowledge, the foundation of memory, essential to the way we make sense of our lives: the beginning, middle and end of our personal and collective trajectories. It is possible that narrative is as important to writing as the human body is to representational painting. We have returned to narrative — in many fields of knowledge — because it is impossible to live without them.”

There are three elements that must be balanced in order to make your message more powerful and ensure it comes across and leaves a mark. Depending on the subject at hand, try to strike the right balance between logical appeal, emotional appeal and cooperative appeal. If you engage your audience’s logic while tugging at the strings of their hearts and offering them a collaborative goal, they will remember you.

Every time I have to deliver a message, I try to remember this funny image graciously put forth by Alan Kay, Hewlett-Packard executive and co-founder of Xerox PARC: “Scratch the surface in a typical boardroom and we’re all just cavemen with briefcases, hungry for a wise person to tell us stories.” So go out and tell your story. Actually, sell your story. Because despite all that the facts can tell, it’s the stories that truly sell.


Krista Lourdes Akiki is currently part of the Mendoza College of Business. Coming from Beirut, Lebanon, she always enjoys trying out new things and is an avid travel lover. She hopes to take her readers on her journey as she discovers new lifestyles and navigates new cities. She can be reached at [email protected] or via Twitter @akikikrista

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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