There are a few key elements to a good story. It needs a theme, a plot structure, characters, a villain and, most of the time, a happy ending.
When the co-founder of the social media tool Buffer, Leo Widrich, started selling his business through storytelling rather than through the tried-and-tested method of PowerPoint presentations and bullet points, the sign-up rates to his website more than doubled.
When you list off points or facts in dot-point form, the person receiving the information will only be using the part of their brain that processes language. When a person is engaging with a story, however, whether written or heard, their brain utilises almost twice as many elements, employing different senses to better illustrate the narrative in their minds. Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to activate our brains, not to mention one of the most natural.
A study published in the journal NeuroImage asked participants to read words with strong odour associations, along with neutral words, while their brains were being scanned by a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. When subjects looked at the Spanish words for ‘perfume’ and ‘coffee’ their primary olfactory cortex (the part of the brain in which our sense of smell is processed) lit up. When the participants saw the words ‘chair’ and ‘key,’ there was no activity recorded in that area of the brain.
Humans are wired to tell stories. And they have always done so, whether on the walls of a cave or on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Communicating through stories is how we are programmed. We think in narratives and we talk to each other in narratives; in fact, a recent study suggests up to 65 percent of our conversations are made up of personal stories and gossip.
Stories have the ability to draw an audience in and, more importantly, keep them focused on the message you are trying to deliver.
In their most basic form, stories are a way for one human to connect with another. A story has the ability to confirm or change belief or perception, persuade people in business and foster collaboration.
When it comes to telling a great story there are a few key points to remember:
- Consider the structure: a story needs to feature a start, a middle and an end. The start of the story needs to be engaging and possibly feature a paradox or problem.
- Set up the scene: you need to establish the hero and the villain in a way that captures your audience’s attention.
- Create the journey: this can be unpredictable (surprise your audience) and needs to create tension or at least invoke a sense of curiosity from those reading it to keep them engaged.
- Take care with the ending: this could be a surprise or bittersweet, but it needs to wrap up the story, and hopefully leave your audience wanting more.