One thing I’ve learned about straight-up advice is that most people don’t use it. But, you know what people do respond to? Stories. And that’s why I’m embarking on a new journey and will be offering short fictional stories to you soon!
Whoah, wait—that’s not business writing! That’s not how-to articles and listicles…you know, the stuff that’s supposed to convert like crazy and earn you raving fans.
This is an experiment borne largely from the compulsion to share my podcast guests’ stories in new ways, to do something new and creative, and also to find a way to express the power of storytelling—because storytelling is wildly powerful.
So powerful, we often don’t even realize it. Storytelling is a part of our humanness and in my experience, it’s a far better tool for learning than a list of tips.
Storytelling and the brain
If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”– Rudyard Kipling, English short-story writer, poet and novelist
Before books and the internet, the best way to share information was through stories. Humans evolved as storytellers, starting out with cave paintings and later written language. We developed elaborate tales about gods and deities which helped to teach people things like morals and also to inspire them.
Stories are easier to remember and, unlike facts, light up seven parts of the brain. It makes me crazy to think why a blog post with 125 ways to sell your stuff is popular. For most people, this much information is simply too overwhelming. You’d need to cherry pick your favourites and ignore the rest.
Cognitive Load Theory explains that the complexity of how information’s presented can determine how much you absorb. Stories use schema—think of your brain as a web constantly categorizing information and connecting pieces together—to help you understand things based on information you already know. Ever heard someone call their new startup, The Uber of XX? You can more easily understand peer-to-peer networks this way.
Storytelling also releases chemicals, a combination David JP Phillips calls the Angel Cocktail, such as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. The emotional responses to stories help us remember them because we feel them. Watch David’s TedX talk, in which he cleverly demonstrates this through story.
Three reasons why storytelling works
- People’s trust in experts is declining—we feel separated from their expertise and we long authentic human interaction. And I totally get it. Everyone can call themselves an expert now, which dilutes the importance of work by actual experts (people who have considerable knowledge and experience about something). A bigger reason for the trust decline is the politicization of facts, the view that everything is a too-well-thought-out message framed to persuade the public, while everything else is swept under the rug. Our bullshit meters are getting smarter. The Edelman Trust Barometer, which has been surveying tens of thousands of people for 17 years, shows we’re in a “trust crisis.” Storytelling works because you’re sharing an authentic human experience—or at least you seem to.
- Stories elicit emotions and prioritize those feelings over critical thought. In David JP Phillip’s video above he explains that telling stories about products helped to sell those products well above the asking price (a $1 product sold for over $62). We buy stories, not stuff.
- Stories are just more interesting. I’m a big proponent of change and living life on your own terms. To tell that story, I could write hundreds of blogs about the top 10 things you can do to change your life…but that just seems boring. Wouldn’t it be more compelling if I instead showed you how other people have changed their lives. You could read or hear or watch their story and, based on your own values and beliefs, decide if that life path is something you’d like to try too. When I shared this idea with people in my local network, their eyes lit up. I hope this will strike a chord with you.
While up until now, you’ve mostly read instructional content on this blog, things are about to get a whole lot more interesting. This is my first foray into fiction in a very long time and I’m really excited about it. I’ll be sharing stories with email subscribers only (I save the best stuff for you guys), so sign up now if you want in on this.