Why You Were Born to Tell Stories

Storytelling is big business these days.

I was reminded of this yesterday when I heard Microsoft® had added storytelling software to its Office suite. What really caught my eye was its name: Sway.

Merriam Webster defines sway as “a controlling force or influence,” which is apropos for storytelling software, don’t you think? Apropos because stories evoke emotion and influence people’s behavior in ways that facts and figures — or product features — cannot.

Stories activate more than just the language processing areas of the brain — they light up parts of the brain you’d use were you experiencing the event yourself.

As Jonathan Gottschall wrote in his Fast Company article about why great stories spread, recent research has shown storytelling to be so powerful that it can change people’s behavior, presumably by promoting the production of oxytocin, the empathy or love hormone.

A well-told story, then, creates an empathic connection between you (or your protagonist) and your listener.  It’s this power — and the attention recent research has drawn to it — that’s made storytelling de rigeur of late.

Just as brands use storytelling to differentiate themselves in an attention-starved marketplace — the skilled creation, placement, and delivery of a compelling story can do the same for you.  Storytelling can make you and your ideas more memorable and influential.

“But,” you say, “I’m no good at telling stories!”

Nonsense. You were made for it…literally.

Narrative is as old as the human race. And there’s something all narrative shares in common – whether an epic poem, limerick, or work of formula fiction.

All narrative follows a formula or framework.

All stories tend to follow the same basic structure: Problem and resolution. In some cases, the resolution is less a happy ending than a cautionary lesson.

Problem. Resolution. Easy enough, right? Now, go forth and tell stories. No, not yet? OK, let’s go a bit deeper.

At Mandel, we use frameworks. Even our SCI-PAB® framework reflects a classic storytelling structure. But, in our storytelling training, we use the Mandel Storyboard®.

Here’s how the Mandel Storyboard® works.

  • Story Link: Begin by linking to something your listener has said or believes.
  • Main Character: Describe the person your story is about, using details that help your listener identify with him or her.
  • Setting: Provide context your listener may need to appreciate the story. Keep it brief.
  • Inciting Incident: This is where you introduce the problem. What happened to put your main character in jeopardy?
  • Events: Earlier events are problems your main character experienced as a result of the inciting incident and prior to the resolution. Later events may be actions your main character took toward resolving the problem or continued consequential problems.
  • Resolution: Describe the benefits your main character is now enjoying or the final condition of your main character as a result of the inciting incident.
  • Main Point: Explicitly state the point you’re trying to make or lesson you’re trying to teach your listener.

What you see above is the archetypal problem-resolution narrative structure. Mandel has simply broken it down into its component parts, to make it less intimidating (and faster) for you to use to create and tell your own stories.

Sharing a meaningful story or anecdote can be nerve-wracking, especially in a business setting. Every time you do it, you’re putting your ideas and your credibility on the line. But you don’t have to fear it.

Storytelling comes naturally, if not intuitively, to people.

With just a little help, I’m confident you’ll be able to effortlessly use stories to engage in more meaningful and influential ways with colleagues and customers. In the process, you’ll have promoted more empathy in this world. And, couldn’t the world use more of that?

Imagine what a well-trained workforce of master storytellers could do for your business? Contact us to SCHEDULE A CONSULTATION

Picture of Steve Mandel

Steve Mandel

Steve founded Mandel Communications in 1983. He is a renowned presentation skills trainer and coach and the author of the highly successful book Effective Presentation Skills. In addition to serving as a key Mandel company executive, Steve thrives on working directly with clients in one-on-one coaching and group workshop settings. He has a deep understanding of the communication challenges faced by professionals and executives in high-stakes settings and works with clients to pinpoint and address mission-critical communication needs. Steve's business success and his avocation as an accomplished amateur astrophotographer have earned him special recognition in Forbes magazine.
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