You have seen how vital the art of storytelling is, but the coin has a different hand. You will need to be adept at story-listening if you really want to be able to affect others. You need to truly listen to your partner in a conversation.
This way you’ll come to understand not only his opinions and arguments but also his uncertainties and true feelings, because he’ll see how closely you’re listening and feel comfortable opening up.
Often this is the only opportunity that anyone would have to be affected: listen to their story. You will also find that if you only listen politely to them, they will start thinking on their own views and questioning their views, all on their own. They also change their place to something nearer to yours.
For example, imagine you’re a car salesperson, and you want to sell a customer a Toyota, but he says he “hates Toyotas.” What story should you tell? None, yet.
Listen instead to the story of the customer on why he hates Toyotas. This will encourage him to express what bothers him, and will also help him think about whether any of his criticisms are baseless. He might even end with something like, “But that may just be the Toyotas I’ve driven, that would be ideal for the new ones.”
You have your second chance to impact the other person because you have listened, and he would want to extend the same courtesy to you. For your own story, you’ll have a concentrated audience. What’s more, because you’ve bonded because he told you his story, the customer feels closer to you. This is a perfect point of departure for you to influence them.
Though there are many ways to tell a story well, there are also a few surefire ways to make a mess of it. To avoid the latter, keep these three simple don’ts in mind.
Do not behave superior to your audience, first of all. There is a danger that if you lord it over them, they will see you as some sort of guru who they will obey without thought, and the same impression would drive away many other would-be listeners. You’ll have a larger audience if you aren’t a guru, so trust your listeners to think for themselves.
It’s better to show that you’re just like your listeners, so connect to them via shared interests and common experiences. Tell them about your fears, hopes and passions.
Second, don’t get your listeners bored. Everyone knows how boring a story that either goes nowhere or is way too long can be to listen to. So when you’re telling the story, pay close attention to how the audience would feel. Don’t go straight to the stage, and force your audience to feed it. Share some vivid and bizarre details that make your audience really entice them to follow where you take them.
Finally, don’t scare people or make them feel guilty. Negative emotions make people antagonistic and less likely to make lasting changes. Only positive emotions will make people take action or change their mind in the long run.
Abraham Lincoln is one shining example of believing in the power of positivity. When he was told that he should destroy his enemies, Lincoln simply replied, “Isn’t that what I do when I make them friends?”
In the minds of others, being a great storyteller would make you more influential and convincing. But that’s not all: in your own life, you’ll find improvements as well. This is because the world is seen differently by a storyteller. You’re going to start seeing your life as a novel, and you’re the person who decides how the plot unfolds. For starters, if you’re currently living in a story where you’re constantly depressed and irritated, it’s time for something more optimistic to rewrite the storyline.
Once you’ve found a good story to live, your place in the world will become clearer and your life will seem more meaningful. You’ll also begin to look at problems differently, because you’ve seen how even the most massive problems can be solved.
Being a storyteller will also have a significant effect on the relationships you have with other people, and you have a major responsibility now: the stories you share will have a long-term impact on the lives of those around you. So it can change your family, your company, or even your community if you tell stories that make the people around you see themselves as victims, or start accusing each other.
As an example, consider one of the most influential fearmongering storytellers in history: Adolf Hitler. His stories provoked such powerful reactions of fear and hatred in the German people that they perpetrated the Holocaust.
Never underestimate the power and responsibility that come from being a storyteller. These days, it seems the most valued thinking skills in the world are rational and critical. They are taught at school, and they help you get jobs. But in fact there’s another kind of thinking that can be very beneficial for a storyteller, namely story thinking: framing problems and situations as stories.
When approaching a problem or situation with purely rational thought, the goal is to remove all ambiguity, anecdotes and emotions from the equation. It’s like using a ready-made recipe or formula: you know what you’ll end up with, but it definitely won’t be anything new or innovative.
On the other hand, story thinking literally broadens your horizons and helps you to work even when there is uncertainty. It helps you to forget the rules and accept feelings, which is helpful when telling stories: by expressing emotions with them, you can better connect with your audience.
What’s more, story thinking helps you identify stories all around you, and this will improve the stories you yourself tell. Story thinking also dissuades you from trying to be too objective: our experience of the real world is subjective, after all, so if you try to tell an objective story about it, it won’t seem real to the audience.
The fact that story thinking is so free and fluid is what makes it more an art form than a science. It promotes creative intelligence and a better imagination, which is what’s needed to enact any change in society.
Storytelling is a way of manipulating people even more effectively than referring to facts and figures. Stories can help you meet every audience to take action and inspire them. Actually, storytelling is such a strong medium that you have a great responsibility to tell stories that enrich the lives of those around you once you become a storyteller.
So in your next presentation, use stories. Why not base it on stories the next time you have a presentation or speech coming up? Work out the key points you want to make, then try to think of anecdotes that in a straightforward, relatable way will illustrate them for the audience. If you wish to encourage the benefits of organic food, for instance, do not cite dry phosphate and vitamin statistics. Instead, say a tale about how the farmer who grows the commodity will hug his kids immediately after coming in from the fields, since his clothes do not have harmful pesticides. Your presentation packs will find you a much more effective blow.
Check out my related post: Why should you use the art of story telling at work?