He cannot choose but hear... Engaging your audience through storytelling

He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.
— from 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner', Samuel Coleridge


In the age of information, how do we choose to communicate? The answer is… in the same way as we have for thousands of years. Humans tell each other stories. The medium we choose may be different: a tweet, blog, email or text – but mankind has always warned, taught and understood themselves through narrative.

In his book A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future the business writer Daniel Pink explains that the critical skills of the 21st century are those of story tellers: “a society of creators and empathizers, of pattern recognizers and meaning makers”. To stand out in a crowded market, you must make an emotional connection with your audience.

Urban myths, cyberspace anecdotes, watercooler gossip: according to evolutionary psychologist Robin Dunbar, social conversation makes up well over half of all human discussion in public places. The explosion of social media in the last ten years is in fact merely representative of what has been happening via word of mouth since humans first spoke at all.

Over the last few days the international community marked first World Storytelling Day, and then World Poetry Day. We celebrate these forms of communication because they are instinctive to us – they create the capacity to remember and to reflect.

Consider the last two or three stories you heard – read to your child at bedtime perhaps, or watched on television? A fairy tale warning of ravenous wolves in the woods; a Scandinavian crime thriller. A story captivates us where simple facts fail. We are gripped by another’s experience, and just as the wedding guest listening to the ancient mariner, we cannot choose but hear.

And there’s a story in everything. Forget the conventional wisdom telling us a news reporter may cover a political piece, or economics, and at the end of the show you’ll have a ‘human interest story’. Was there really any other kind? 

So when you next seek to convey technical information to your customers, to share an update on a breakthrough, to celebrate a new product – do it the intuitive way. Tell them a story.

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