Great storytellers inspire the world – great story seekers change the world

The power of storytelling and emotional connection to influence the change

One day in the marketplace, which was swamped by crowds of people, a blind man was sitting. He had a hat for donations, which was placed on a piece of cardboard with the inscription: "I am blind, please support". A passing man noticed that the hat was almost empty, with just few cents in it. He threw a few coins into the hat, then – without asking the blind man for permission – he took a cardboard box, turned it over and wrote something on it. In the afternoon, the same man passed by once more and noticed that this time the hat was full of coins. The blind man recognised the stranger's steps and asked him what he had written on the cardboard box. The man replied: "Nothing that would not be true. I wrote almost the same as you, but a little differently.” He walked away. On the box were the words: "It's spring ... and I cannot see it."

How long did it take you to read this story? Half a minute? Forty seconds? What conclusions can be drawn from it for you? Will you remember it?

Imagine that when you read this story (attributed to David Ogilvy, guru of modern advertising), there were 102 million e-mails sent, Google was checked two million times, 60 hours of movies were uploaded on YouTube. We are flooded by number of information, data, and overwhelmed by decisions to be made. Researchers recently discovered that the average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000, or around the time the mobile revolution began, to eight seconds – that’s goldfish attention span!

This is the world we live in – the world of data overload, most of which is only noise information, irrelevant and a blur. Therefore, many of us have developed a noise immunization system. 

There is a challenge for communication experts to reach an audience, to create messages that are not only understood and remembered, but most importantly create an impact and emotional reaction.

There is a solution! A solution known to people since the dawn of time – storytelling. Thanks to storytelling, civilizations passed their experience and wisdom from generation to generation, great leaders led their nations and religions, great managers motivated and inspired people to act, and marketeers provided insights into customers and new solutions.

There are some guidelines to creating stories that move people, engage people and influence people to act:

  • Emotions – great narratives are not chronological sequence of action, they are cocktails of emotions that make us feel what characters feel. These feeling are remembered. Is has been proven by brain science that listening to emotional stories elicits certain hormones - cortisol, oxytocin, dopamine – that make us concentrate and embrace the story.  Some argue that people will forget what you said or did, but will never forget how you made them feel
  • The hero – great stories feature a hero that we can identify with. It is not about creating a superman, a star or an idealistic character, but rather somebody authentic, whom we can empathise with their failures and celebrate victories
  • The story structure – the story is a journey, the plot filled with challenges and complications, turning points and finally a resolution (not always a happy ending). The story makes us pay attention and feel engaged and transformed. There are different systems to building a story. Here, at Story Seekers® we use a story board that’s made of five steps, each of them with an essential role:
    • Setting
    • Complication
    • Turning point
    • Resolution
    • The why (morale)

It makes it easy to think of a story as an arc and it is very powerful when used consciously. / Copyright Mike Bosworth Leadership 2016

  • The why – what is the message that you want people to stay with, why is it important and why should people care? In a world full of rough data we need to create higher meaning and a mission that people can identify with and follow.
  • Authenticity – stories work best when told witha passion and care that displays your character, build trust and build connection between people.

Storytelling is about influencing people to change – change their behaviors, change their point of view and empowering them to act.

I want to leave youp with some questions:

  • Who do you want do impact and what beliefs and behaviours do you want to create ?
  • What do you want talent and millennials to feel about your company ?
  • What do you want investors and other stakeholders to feel about your company?
  • How would you like employees to feel and communicate about the company?
  • What do your customers feel about your company/brand and why they buy your products and services?
  • How do leaders of your organization communicative the vision, the strategy?

There are different types of stories that you can build and circulate in the above situations.

  • The founder’s story explaining the idea, the vision and the cause (why we do what we do)
  • The current leader's story explaining the idea, the vision and the cause
  • The organisation's story (what is our present strategy and mission, what is our aim)
  • The brand story (what values do we represent and what needs do we fulfill)
  • Employees’ stories showing the organisational culture
  • Clients’ stories showing how we help our clients to grow and outperform
  • Leaders’ stories showing real, authentic people behind the wheels of the organization and creating  human connection
  • And many more

It is important to incorporate stories into our culture and to use stories to authentically communicate important messages to internal and external parties. Stories are a part of a larger vision of what we do and the impact we want to make. At Story Seekers® we help organisations to use storytelling and story tending (emphatic listening)  as a process to lead change, to open conversations with new clients, to attract talent, to build team effectiveness and to lead.

Magdalena was a guest speaker at a regional event held by the European Association of Communication Directors (EACD) in Warsaw in February this year. To find out more about similar events held by the EACD across Europe, visit the online EACD calendar here.



Image: Thinkstock

Magdalena Petryniak

Magdalena is CEO of Story Seekers Poland and managing partner of Story Seekers Poland. She has led projects and workshops for companies in countries including USA, Singapore, Czech Republic and Poland. She has implemented over 50 marketing and PR campaigns for companies and institutions and was head of special programmes and conferences at Harvard Business Review Polska.