All Posts in empathy

January 29, 2013 - 158 comments

The Importance of Storytelling

Arguing against the importance of storytelling is challenging, as stories have been an effective mode of communication for thousands of years. But what makes it effective? Why is storytelling more compelling than just listening to the facts? What makes us as humans gravitate towards stories?

One of the most intriguing aspects of storytelling is that it builds empathy. As a result of telling a story, empathy is built up within the audience for the protagonist of the story. This is incredibly effective if the protagonist is a business, or a product, as that empathy will create an emotional attachment to the company or product. Here are a couple examples of effective business storytelling:

The Dawn Wall by Facebook
Child of the 90s by Internet Explorer

A study done by scientists at Princeton, led by Uri Hasson, revealed that as a story is told the storyteller and the listeners brain activities emulate the storytellers brain activity. As a result, a good story leaves the audience feeling what the storyteller felt. By telling a story, thoughts, ideas and emotions could be planted into the listener's brains. Another fascinating aspect, is that the areas of our brain activate as if we're doing the activity the storyteller is mentioning. It's as if we are the subject in the story.

Granted, all of these implications are worthless if it's a bad story. So what should we avoid when we're telling a story?

We need to avoid complexity in our stories. A clear story has a protagonist which is relatable, attempting to accomplish an objective. We don't need parallel stories or universes, multiple objectives, or several characters. Even the seemingly most complex stories, are truly simple. One character, attempting to overcome obstacles to accomplish the objective. Additionally, we need to be careful in how we word the story. Many scientists maintain is that some words lose power, suggesting that one has to be careful how one sculpts a story and the words chosen to tell it.

"Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like "a rough day" are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more."

What are your thoughts? Have you ever had a time in which you had empathy for a company or person solely from a story they shared? How can you use this in your life?