The Power of Storytelling: A Listener’s Perspective

If you’ve been around the presentation space for more than a few minutes, you’ve have heard experts talking about the importance of using story to influence listeners. So we get it – stories are good. But have you ever asked the question, why?

Most people will frame their answers based on the communicator’s view, but today we want to look at it from the listener’s perspective. Doing so helps us take a more empathetic view of what our own audience wants and needs, leading us to give them the same things we as listeners crave.

Engaging Listeners with Stories

You know that feeling when you’re sitting in a presentation, they’ve been going on about stats and data, and it’s good, but it’s also hitting that mark when you’re starting to get hungry and think about lunch or what’s coming next, and then all of the sudden you hear, “Let me tell you a story”? That one line draws us right back in.

Why? Because we love stories. Stories draw us in in a way that data simply cannot. Studies show that stories light up 7 different parts of our brain, while stats and numbers only light up 2 parts.

Our brains are quite literally wired to love stories.

Now, I’m not saying it’s bad for a communicator to use facts, data, or statements. Those appeal to the logical side of our brain and that’s important. But stories engage minds in a different way, bringing those other elements to life. As author Lisa Cron puts it in her book Story or Die, “Story is what humanizes facts and makes them accessible.”

Again, think of yourself as a listener. Do relevant, well-told, effectively structured stories engage you? Do they help get your attention, re-focusing you on the speaker and the topic at hand? Do you even feel a little relieved when a communicator tells a story after having been in facts, data, and statements mode?

What’s good for you is good for your listeners. At Ethos3, we challenge our clients with this: never give a presentation you wouldn’t want to sit through. Would you want to sit through a presentation without a story? If not, don’t be the kind of presenter who overlooks story to the detriment of your audience and their story hungry brains.

Building Trust through Stories

Imagine you’re listening to a leader communicate to an audience about the common challenges they face. The leader offers advice and direction about how listeners can change tactics and overcome their obstacles. Basically, the leader is communicating a fair amount of instruction.

Then, the leader opens up and tells a story about a time when they faced a similar challenge. They confess their shortcomings in terms of skills, mindsets, self-doubt, or overall insecurities. Then, they talk about how they either succumbed to those shortcomings and missed their goal, or discovered a tool (product, insight, or guidance) which helped them reach their goal.

How would a story like that affect your view of the leader?

Would your eyes go wide, shocked that a leader was, in fact, fallible? Would your respect for the leader plummet because they admitted a time when they didn’t naturally have what it took to succeed? Would you see them worse than you saw them before?

Or would you gain admiration and respect for the leader? Would something in you appreciate their humility and openness? Would you see them less as a superhero and more as a human with the ability to grow and change and find the tools necessary to succeed?

I suspect we’d all fall in the latter category. We’re drawn to imperfection, because the reality is- we’re imperfect. We know what failure feels like. We know what it sounds like. We know being in that moment. When someone shares a story like that, we’re naturally drawn towards them.

Using Stories to Describe the Future

Imagine you’re listening to a communicator who is trying to persuade you to buy a product or service, adopt a new way of working, or apply an insight or bit of wisdom. Their goal is to inspire you to act on their call to action because acting it will positively impact you in some way.

The communicator gives you a bunch of data on what they want you to buy, adopt, or apply.

Something in you isn’t quite “seeing” what they’re saying. Sure, you get the numbers they’re throwing out, and you understand the supposed benefits, and how the cost of change will be greatly offset by all you’ll get as a result.

Then, the communicator tells a story. They don’t just tell any story, though. They tell a story about another person or organization who bought the product, adopted the system, or acted on the morsel of wisdom.

They describe a person or organization who wanted something, but a roadblock was standing in the way. They then speak about how someone came along offering them a product, service, system, or wisdom. The person then had to choose between doing things the same way or using the tool to achieve their Goal. After weighing the costs, the person or organization bought, adopted, or acted upon what they were offered, resulting in success.

Now, this story isn’t about you. It’s about someone else or a different company, team, or group of people, altogether. But something in this story resonates with you. Though you’re hearing a story about someone else, you listen to it through the lens of… you.

You identify with the protagonist of that story. You have a similar goal. You face similar obstacles. You want what they want and you can’t get it for the same reasons as them.

By listening to a story about someone else, you envision something: a better, possible future for you. You want the outcome the person or organization in the story achieved! You want those benefits!

Only then do you feel a deep urge to buy, sign up, change, or act. Why? Because in someone else’s story, you heard your own possible story and you “saw” the way to get there.

Explore the impact of storytelling from a listener’s viewpoint. Learn how stories engage, build connections, and inspire action in your audience

As a listener, you like to hear stories. They engage you, connect you with the speaker, and give you a glimpse of a better future and how to attain it.

Your listeners are no different. They like to hear stories. They want to feel engaged, connected, and able to see the way forward.

Be an effective and empathetic communicator and tell your audience a story.

And if you’re looking for help to craft a story like that, we’re here to help. We help countless individuals and organizations to “tell better stories”. And we’d love to help you!

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