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Chapter 11: Purposeful, Persuasive Stories: How You Can Use Stories To Drive Action And Shape Culture

Stories have an emotional power to persuade that gives them the edge over pure logic. As leaders, we are all about persuasion, so we have no choice but to master the art of storytelling. Not only are stories the superglue of messages, but they also help to animate us and supercharge our passion. Here are the six steps to more persuasive stories.

You’d think I would want to start a chapter on storytelling with a story, but I don’t. Instead, I want to talk about the way we listen to stories.

Why? Because stories engage the brain differently from logic, and this is the main reason stories are so important to leaders.

When we listen to a story, we use different parts of the brain from those we normally activate in discussions and talks. During a formal presentation, we use only one part of the brain – the language-processing part in our left brain. Listening to a presentation, our inner cynic also engages to challenge what we hear, to filter it through our own perceptions and experiences. By tomorrow, we most likely will have forgotten most of what we heard.

When we listen to a story, however, we engage not only the language-processing side, but also the other parts of the brain that we use when ‘experiencing’ the events of the story. If the storyteller describes the smell of coffee, say, our sensory cortex kicks in; if he describes a roller coaster ride, our motion cortex fires up. When we listen to a story, we start to co-create the story, imagining the scenes, engaging our senses, and – most importantly – suspending our critical faculties. In this way, messages get through. Our right brain is engaged alongside our left brain – painting mental pictures, making connections and finding the emotional side of the story. A story transcends intellectual argument because it puts our whole brain to work, not just one part of it. Because of this, stories are more memorable.

We are far more likely to consider very different viewpoints with a story, because it puts us into a more receptive state of mind. We are more open, and we set aside our limiting beliefs and values and opinions. We become so engaged with a good story that we turn it into our own experience. How often have you heard a friend or colleague telling your story again, as if it were their own? They might not remember it was you who first told them the story, but they remember the story!

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