A few weeks back, I wrote a blog about the benefits of storytelling for businesses. Among other things, research shows that stories help leaders to reduce complexity, foster engagement and cultivate empathy. Stories are also something that employees crave, particularly in these times when we're all struggling to get our heads around the concept of "office re-entry."
But there are other grounds for businesses - and indeed, all organisations- to embrace storytelling. Here are three more evidence-based rationales for why we need more storytelling in the workplace:
Facts are great. But they don’t have nearly the same emotional impact as stories. When done effectively, stories allow for "neural coupling," whereby the same areas of the brain are aroused in the speaker as in the listener. This means that you, the listener, experience the same emotional states as your protagonist.
But the emotional power of narrative extends beyond traditional storytelling. Evidence from neuroscience suggests that when you frame a statistical insight as a data story, you build a bridge to the emotional side of the brain. Stated somewhat differently, stories humanize numbers and themes, enabling the findings to resonate on an emotional level. As Brené Brown once famously put it, “stories are just data with a soul.”
This brings us to memory. "Killer facts" certainly have the potential to burrow down into the human heart and inspire emotion. But our emotional response to facts is usually quite short-lived. In contrast, stories stick. According to research from Stanford Business School, a story is up to 22 times more memorable than facts alone.
In one famous study on stories and memory, researchers let two groups of people remember random nouns. One group was instructed to create a narrative with the words, the other to rehearse them one by one. People in the story group correctly recalled the nouns six to seven times more often than the other group.
Perhaps not surprisingly, of the 500 most popular TED Talks, stories made up at least 65% of content. This shouldn't be all that surprising. At the most basic level, the brain wants to find the easiest connection between cause and effect, and stories enable the listener to connect the dots.
Whether you need to win over a client, a boss, or a group of external stakeholders, effective storytelling can help you build credibility for yourself and your ideas. Telling a story that humanizes an issue can illuminate the broader significance of a problem, enabling you to deliver results. In one study, researchers tested two variations of a brochure for Save the Children, a UK charity. The story-based version outperformed the infographic version by $2.38 to $1.14 in terms of per participant donations.
In sum, whether you want to motivate, persuade, or leave a lasting impression, one of the most effective tools you have at your disposal are stories.
At iOpener, we train leaders in how to use stories effectively to engage and inspire others. Interested in finding out more? Check out some of our work or get in touch with us to enquire about how we can support you.