We humans like to think of ourselves as logical, rational creatures. But the reality is that facts will never move the human heart like storytelling can.
Highly creative people, especially artists, know this. We weave stories into everything we do.
Why? Because stories are the way we make sense of the world.
The Storytelling Tradition
The oral tradition of storytelling in human history is powerful. This is the primary way our ancestors communicated information long before there was a printing press, typewriters, or computers.
The ancient Greeks were masters of storytelling. Today you can pull down a copy of The Iliad or The Odyssey off your shelf or read them on your tablet, but that wasn’t the case in the 8th century B.C.
Those texts were created orally for performance, and then written down later. Both of those epic poems are long, which is a testament to the level of skill those creators and storytellers brought to the listening experience.
The same is true of the complex mythology they developed over time to explain natural phenomena. They used stories to make sense of the world. If you didn’t understand something like lighting or ocean waves, you made to make sense of it by creating characters such as Zeus or Poseidon.
Greeks weren’t the only ancient people to use stories to develop culture and religion. For example, the Jewish and Christian traditions relied on oral tradition to pass on values and ideas through stories.
In the Old Testament, the book of Psalms encourages the hearer to listen and tell stories: “My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old—things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us” (Psalm 78:1-3, New International Version).
In our modern world, we can access stories in every way you can imagine: books, movies, TV shows, comics, theater, live and recorded music, and much more.
Storytelling in Stand-Up Comedy
However, the best form of oral storytelling you’ll see these days is stand-up comedy. If you begin to study stand-up, you’ll pick up on various well-established comedy writing techniques. At the same time, you’ll also see each comic following a different approach.
Sometimes these are radically obvious differences, and sometimes more subtle. But each one maximizes their own unique personality and strengths on stage.
If you watch a Netflix special of any well-known comic, take some time to watch one of their earlier sets on YouTube. You’ll hear many of the same jokes told in different styles and iterations.
Sometimes the joke is shorter or longer, or it involves someone from the audience or doesn’t. It’s fascinating to see an artist constantly refining their work.
Harness the Power of Storytelling
This line of thinking goes against current data and conformity-driven trends in business. My whole life, I’ve been told that brevity, word count, and the number of slides matters, as if there is a magic formula for a compelling sales presentation.
But if it lacks a good story, it doesn’t matter.
On the other hand, if it has a story that draws the listener in, slides don’t matter. A great story doesn’t need to be communicated with slides to engage the audience. Think about your slide presentations as story arcs that connect to the next story arc. You’ll quickly learn the material faster and be able to animate it with authenticity.
In fact, this principle of storytelling applies to almost any type of communication in a business setting. Stories hold the most power–they influence people better than anything else.
You can have the greatest whiz-bang technology, but at the end of the day, we listen best when there’s a great story involved. That’s why we must harness the incredible power of storytelling, just like our ancestors from thousands of years ago.