"One April morning after a terrible night I work up abruptly and realized I had to change my life immediately. There was only one thing to do. And now the transformation is so huge that..."
I got your undivided attention didn't I? That was the start of a story. And the power of a story is immense.
Just think about it.
You will instantly pay attention if an article or news broadcast includes a story and you will ignore the other chaff that comes through. The end piece about the act of leadership, charity or courage may be the only thing you remember from a news broadcast.
Leaders have used storytelling to powerful effect. Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama became national leaders largely in part because they were brilliant in telling stories.
A great speaker is almost always associated with a compelling storyline.
An excellent case study is worth a hundred lectures. A case study is really story with an embedded lesson
And of course good movies and books are nothing but superbly told stories.
Stories have the marvelous power to inspire, challenge, instruct, entertain and inform in a way that no other form of communication can.
Why is this?
Stories are far more natural and attractive to us. They appeal to both logic and emotion. Stories have a strong personal element and we make associations and can link the story with our own unique experiences. Stories also tell us a lot about the person telling the story, thereby satisfying the basic human instincts of curiosity and the craving to connect. Stories make us feel human and alive. Stories help us understand the patterns of life. Stories are also so memorable.
We tend to criticize a story less than we would with a concept or opinion. One reason is because we can see that a story makes sense within a particular context, like a person's life. The other reason is that there is less need to comment, respond or engage; we are allowed simply to listen. As a result we often let our defenses down, become less critical and more open.
From a neurological angle, it's quite simple. If we listen to a PowerPoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Overall, it hits the language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that's it, nothing else happens.
But when we listen to a story, the change is incredible. Not only do the language processing parts in our brain start buzzing, but all other areas in our brain that we would use when "experiencing" the events of the story are also fired up.
Story telling is not new. It goes back 25,000 years- cave paintings were simply narratives told in the simple language of symbols.
I use and see the power of stories when I teach. When I talk about, say, the concept of financial reporting quality, the fraud triangle etc., students are moderately engaged. They become far more interested the moment I start narrating the fascinating story of Enron or Satyam or Olympus (all major accounting scandals, full of mystery, colorful characters, greed, fear, corruption and disaster). I can literally feel all their eyes on me when I talk of Kenneth Lay, Jeff Skilling, Ramalinga Raju and Mark Woodford. Ditto when I try and motivate them by talking about my personal CFA experience or my travails on a grueling mountain climb. It's a rewarding feeling for a trainer because you know you've got the message across loud and clear.
How do you tell stories? Well, stories should be short, simple, relevant and powerful. But above all stories should be true. Which is one big reason why many movies starts with the line "From a true story".
Talking of movies, you may recall in the movie Gladiator, the conversation between the dying Emperor Marcus Aurelius and Maximus:
Marcus: "Why are we here?" Maximus: "For the glory of Rome" Marcus: "What is Rome, Maximus?" Maximus: "I have seen much of the world, and it is cold, and dark. Rome is the light" Marcus: "Yet you have never been there!"
Maximus believed in the glory and purpose of Rome, despite having never seen it. The stories of Rome were that powerful.
We live in a world full of stories. Everyone has a story.
So, what's your story?
Binod has been teaching advanced finance and accounting courses since 1996. He quit corporate life (where he worked for firms like KPMG, Arthur Andersen and Ernst & Young in Oman, Nakheel in Dubai and Gulf Finance House in Bahrain) in 2009 to help set up and run Genesis Institute. Binod says that his focus as a Trainer, Mentor and Speaker is to deliver conceptual clarity, get to the core issues, build relationships, keep things simple (and fun!) and talk of practical and effective solutions.