Everyone loves stories. Whether it’s your children listening during story time, your mom reading a mystery novel, your dad reading the morning newspaper, or your friend telling you about their crazy weekend, stories grab our attention, help us relate to others, and transport us into new situations.
Stories can help convey your message in a way that a simple relation of facts cannot. Listening to Ira Glass, of This American Life, deliver a keynote speech this year at the ACRL National Conference made me realize how powerful stories can be. The way he works is that he relates a narrative with a certain direction and breaks it up every now and then with a bit of insight or something with emotional meaning. The story doesn’t even have to have a specific point or moral, just a direction.
Narrative is powerful because that is what our life is—a giant story. It goes in a specific direction but we’re never sure what is going to happen next. There is also (hopefully) some meaning and insight thrown in along the way. This is why everyone easily relates to stories and they’re a large part of any culture.
I listened to business consultant Stephen Shephard talked about something similar last week at a conference called Leadership in a Connected Age. He said that to be an effective leader one needs to create a vision for the future of your organization so remarkable that people can’t help but ask “what can I do to make this a reality?”
This is very similar to telling a story. You’re crafting a vision of a possible future that people can relate to. Rational arguments are important, but they don’t have the power of a well fashioned story. Whether it’s a vision of the future or a spy thriller, their power lies in that we put ourselves in those situations. That is why our heart races a little at horror movies. You identify with the person getting chased by zombies.
Therefore, the story should not be overlooked. It should consciously be used as a tool in your personal in professional life. You can use it to lead as in Shephard’s idea of a vision for the future. You can also use it to market your services to users. Tell the story of what you are doing. Make a video, use social media, relate what you or your institution is accomplishing by using narrative. Your users will feel that much closer and be able to relate better with you and what you’re trying to achieve.