The 3 storytellers


I recently read that storytelling is going to be the marketing trend in 2015 and that is funny, because storytelling is as old as the first humanoids learning how to express feelings (actually it started with drawing on the walls of caves). It’s our brain that since then has been so over-developed with the neo-cortex, that we forgot most of that and are focusing to much on words and bullet points as the way to get a message across.

The neo-cortex, pfff that’s a game changer! We learned to think rational instead of using our instincts and gut feeling. It reminded me of my son of three. He wanted to walk on a wooden beam but kept falling off. When I told him to look at the end of the beam and just walk over there, he forgot to look at his feet, didn’t think and didn’t fall off. Instinct won it from ratio.

Back to the storytelling.

The reason we like story telling is pretty simple, it is because, when we were children, lots of stories have been told to us. And boy did we like to listen to them! And as it is part of our childhood, it is also programmed deeply in our brain and we probably get an instant good feeling when we hear somebody tell a story.

Storytelling is very graphical and that sticks; good storytelling creates images in our minds when we listen to them. That way you don’t have to process the words, you just look at the images as the story continues. That’s the power of paintings as well, they tell a story without words, so we can absorb it, without thinking.

Actually, doing the reverse, is telling a story. Think of an image or scene and describe what you see. That’s a good way to tell stories, and it is amazing how the show in your brain works: If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were and our sensory cortex lights up. If it’s about motion, our motor cortex gets active. Scientists found that the brain sees no difference between thinking about it or actually experiencing it. The same parts of the brain light up! Just imagine what a story can do.

Telling stories also means putting effort into it as a proof you want to make the other understand (it’s investing in the listener). That is the most pure form of engagement. The true meaning of engagement is occupy, attract, or involve (someone’s interest or attention) or engage someone in (cause someone to become involved in a conversation or discussion). But there’s more, whenever we hear a story, we look for relations to one of our existing experiences. That way we can much quicker understand a story. At the same time the brain of the teller and the listener synchronize, becoming a bit as one…

That’s why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula, which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, disgust or else. Besides, it makes it easier to understand, no effort’s necessary, no decoding.

Telling stories, instead of giving solutions, works so well because of this. The relating to stories and the synchronization of brains, makes that telling the context of an idea as a story makes that the listener is creating the idea himself as part of her of his own experience (leave your ego at home and don’t try to claim the idea).

Words without a story makes are our brain becomes very busy trying to decode decoding words into meaning. And because of it after that it stops; nothing really happens after that. It’s like the bullet points in a PowerPoint. In the end the only thing you remember is the bullets… (besides it’s a mnemonic for lazy storytellers).

Long time a go, around 850 BC an Arab goatheader named Kaldi noticed how his goats acted strangely. When he looked what caused it, he saw they were eating certain berries. Intrigued by it, he tried them himself and was excited by the effect it had on him. It didn’t take the Arabs long to figure out how to dry and boil the berries in what they called “qaghwa a shortening of qahhwat al-bun ‘wine of the bean’.”

After that the Turkish used this brew as well and with them it travelled to the French who give the brew the name “cafe” and from there it was picked up by the Dutch who named it koffie and were responsible for making it enter the English language as “coffee”.

From now on chances are, you’ll remember this story when you drink coffee and probably tell it is well. This would not be the case when I had presented it in bullet points in a power-point-presentation, that’s for sure.

Now I hear some people say: “I am not good at it, I cannot tell stories” but then I say “You can”.

Try to imagine the idea, the point, the scene, the thing you want to make as a destination. Go back to where you are/stand and tell the story as the road to that destination. OK, 3 bullet points, but told as a story. A good way to become a storyteller is by:

  1. Experience stories, listen to them, be open for new ones and ask questions and
  2. Imagine the story. Think in images, not words but most of all
  3. Learn to tell, by doing and observing the listener.


And remember:
“Don’t be the traveler but focus on your listener being a passenger”.

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