Casting a Spell with Stories.
A Thousand Hours - 1000 hrs.
This isn't a clickbait-ey beginning written just to lure you into reading what I'm about to say. However, the article banner, is. A thousand hours is the amount of footage an average human consumes in the form of Movies, YouTube videos, and Netflix marathons in a year. It's a moderate estimation. Some folks go way over this 1k hour marker.
I have a tendency to micro-observe the digital data I consume, let alone videos. After analyzing my share of videos consumed over the last couple of years, I arrived at a not so grandiose conclusion some time ago. It's something we are all aware of, yet don't see. It's one of those conscience blind spots, which when pointed out, we say - "ah yes, isn't that obvious?". The underlying pattern I found was that the majority of the content we consumed were *drum roll* STORIES.
Not just mediums of entertainment, even the training content people avidly consumed on learning platforms and the many tech blogs we subscribe to (being a techie myself), were inevitably stories. I, like the masses had a natural inclination towards learning paths that were more of narratives than prescriptions. As humans, we hate being told what to do. We dislike following rules and being handed down prescriptions. However, we still do what is expected of us. Let's see how.
The go-to method of boosting our attention, spurring our dopamine levels and a way to get us, the listener, hooked to a point has been - the use of well-structured Stories. Why are they so good at attracting listeners, the way bees are drawn to honey? Stories contain emotion and when we experience emotionally-charged events, our brains release dopamine into the system making it easier to remember details and with greater accuracy. Name the specifics of the last article you read. Odds are that you can remember the narrative (if there was one) but not the exact specifics. The many characters and emotions that a story contains, stimulates multiple parts of the brain which creates vivid pictures, unlike data that stimulates just one part of the cortex. Our brains cling to pictures easier than they do to data. Now that we've established that stories are scientifically more memorable than facts stacked together, let's talk about everyday instances.
We consume Stories subconsciously
Our three major sources of stories on a daily (don't let me surprise you) -
Gossip - We all love our share of gossip. Our favorite pastime is to talk about - you guessed it right, other people. The good, the bad, the ugly. We talk about all of these without sparing a second thought about how great a job we're doing at narrating stories. Stories about who's doing what, who's engaged to whom, and who's bought their newest car or home.
Social Media - If you're reading this, it means you're a part of the wide majority that accesses social media outlets on a regular basis. Social outlets, both official and personal, where we narrate our personal stories in the form of pictures, shared content, articles, and blog posts, are all aspects that make up our personal brand. A personal brand - nothing but a story that we're narrating to the rest of the world, about how great/talented/credible we are in all the things we specialize in.
The News - Oh the News! We consume tons of news every day, both useful and garbage. News media no longer reports news, they narrate it. Stories are meant to be narrated, not the news. The news is meant to be reported, but these days we can’t tell the difference between a badly written story and the news.
Heck! Even the brands we purchase - starting from our phones to our footwear, are all stories we consume before actually purchasing the product. If stories can make you shell out thousands of dollars every year, they must be powerful!
Our popular Beliefs are Stories
Again, I know this comes across as a grandiose claim, but there is truth to this. Let's take a moment to think about the very construct of society - the social fabric and the beliefs that unite us as one. I'll mention two non-controversial ones in particular.
Money – The concept of money is purely on the basis of trust and agreement. Our hunter-gatherer ancestors would laugh at how our souls are attached to merely printed pieces of paper. We agree on the value of money because our predecessors did. Our predecessors did because their predecessors did. In the literal sense, the story of money was handed down to us rather than money itself.
A Company – A company is a group of people working towards a common goal, a common mission. This unwavering belief in the same goal is what unites us as members or employees of a company. When a total stranger strikes a conversation with you, and you find that they work for the same company as you, there's an instant connection. Why?
If stories have had such a deep-rooted impact on us, it simply means that they have been one of the founding stones that the evolution of humankind has been built upon. I will go a step further to say that all our strongly held beliefs are stories backed by reason. It is now obvious why stories have such a profound impact on us. Be it as kids growing up, or even at our workplace, to this very day.
Why Stories are Awesome
If you try to name the most articulate and bankable colleague at work, chances are that they're someone who can hold the attention of their audience. Whether it involves reading emails written by them, listening to them speak at meetings, or at a conference. Being able to hold your audience's attention as a propagator of information is the highest level of praise one can receive. That being said, I'm willing to bet a 1000$ that this person you're thinking about, uses stories in all forms of communication!
Simply put, in times of decision making when the odds are 50-50, we as humans get influenced by emotion. Emotions are not created by statistics and data. Sure, data is necessary to back up your claims and give you credibility but they're not the deciding factor. It is this phenomenon that gave rise to the concept of Business Storytelling - Drawing out patterns from seemingly gibberish data and intricately lacing it with a story to make it more memorable. More on that in future articles.
Even in these stressful times, the story of hope and that good prevails over evil, is what keeps us going day after day in a quest to get the better of this pandemic.
My only ask as a Presentation and Story Coach is this - If you find the arguments thus far compelling, start using stories at work. Let us go beyond being data-crunching machines. In your emails, in your conversations, in your business presentations, use stories everywhere. You will humanize and therefore improve the level of engagement with your audience. Stories will work wonders when they come from a true, unadulterated place, backed by facts and data. You'll see that they bring a windfall of appreciation and success your way, simply because people can relate to you better. People will see you as more than data, more than an employee ID, more than an email address writing to them. They will see you as human and it will start to feel like you've cast a spell on your audience.