Take People on the Journey
Everyone knows that people love a good story. It helps them learn, remember things, and stay engaged in a presentation or conversation. But why is it such a more impactful way to convey information than simply stating facts, such as “2+2=4”? Because the story is a journey, and effective engagement, influence, and relationship-building follows the same logical flow as the growth journey that people are on in their lives.
The most famous example of this is Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero’s Journey” for optimal storytelling. Here is the diagram for that journey:
This isn’t a walkthrough of this model, so just a quick, oversimplified breakdown for you if you’re not familiar is that every good “hero” story requires the protagonist to have a goal to achieve and, therefore, an adventure to undertake, support and adversity along the way, some big moments of conflict, realization, or action that make the journey interesting and worthwhile, and along the way the hero grows into the person necessary to attain the goal so he can then return home successful and changed forever.
The question for this post is why does storytelling like this work, and why does it help entertain, influence, and build relationships? The answer is that the journey taken in a story mirrors the growth journey, which is what everyone is on in life. Here are the elements that make storytelling so important to communicating with others:
- It Helps Your Audience Get from the Problem to the Solution – If you are educating someone on the answer to a question or solution to a problem they have, then you have to meet them where they are. If they knew the solution and how to approach it, they wouldn’t have the problem. So you can’t just say, “The answer is ________,” and expect someone to be able to understand and digest it. A better approach is to take them on a journey from where they are with the problem to the solution. You do that by empathizing with their situation, explaining the problem as they understand and why they have it, and then showing them how a certain insight or teaching is what was the only thing missing from their ability to solve it. When that insight comes, you can then paint the picture of their path forward to succeed, and they’ll understand both what you were trying to communicate to them and what they need to do to move forward. Just giving them the answer won’t help them to fully appreciate how or why others arrived at it.
- It Helps You Connect with the Audience – Having someone who’s successful come and tell an audience all of the amazing things he or she did to succeed will seem like their actions are miles away from where the audience is. Meeting the audience where they are, explaining how they were there, too, and making the story relatable are all techniques to get messages to stick. A person has to see themselves in the story and imagine themselves possibly facing that exact situation so that the story resonates with them.
- The Story Mirrors the Audience’s Experience in Learning What Happens – While the story is being told, the audience is empathizing with the characters and learning the life lessons along with them. The audience is, therefore, getting background information on the situation, experiencing the same heart-wrenching decisions, and seeing how they play out. They come away feeling a similar experience of being better human beings for having heard the story: they either learned something, developed attachment to the characters, or feel better about their own lives and own futures (e.g., “It’s going to be okay—it was for them!”). So the journey helps them to go on that journey with them.
- The Experiences Engage People’s Thoughts and Emotions – In addition to being relatable, the situation causes the audience to imagine having the same experiences and engage their thoughts and feelings as to what they (wish they) would do in those situations. More than just creating empathy as described above, experience is the best teacher, and helping people live vicariously through the story, think about the situation, and feel the feelings they’d have either themselves or for the character, lights up people’s interest and engagement in what is being discussed.
So incorporating more storytelling into your teaching, persuading, and conversing can go a long way to helping people learn and building relationships. Stories make you relatable, help people understand the whole situation and the (re)solution, and get them to engage more with what you’re explaining to them. If you want someone to be on your side, get them to see why your product or service will work for them, or to help someone make the right decision, storytelling is a big tool in your toolkit. Just remember to take people on the journey; if you start where they are and end with the conclusion that you think is best for them, then you have appropriately guided them to the right answer.