Got Meaning? The World Wide Power of Story

By Lorie Corcuera

“Let me tell you a story…” is a phrase that still makes my eyes open wide and  ears perk up. I still remember how as a child my parents would read me stories or later in life being in a friend’s kitchen at a party listening to someone sharing a story.  We all love stories. More importantly, we all know when we hear a good story.

Storytelling is a form of communication that has been used for millennia, vastly predating the written word. It’s a natural way for human beings to understand and share information and knowledge. When we connect through stories, our brains activate and start to work on translating the words, emotions, and experiences into what stories truly convey—meaning. The brain loves to recognize patterns and make connections in order to predict what will happen next.

How the Brain Works with Stories
Moreover, there is a science to storytelling which begins with our brain’s two hemispheres: the left and the right. The left side of our brain focuses on logic, words, grammar, and the literal meaning. Meanwhile, the right hemisphere is all about the delivery of the speech as in word emphasis, tone and rhythm.

The corpus callosum, a large band that joins the two hemispheres, creates a lateralization function of the brain, which we refer to as the human language. As a result, when we share a story, both parts of our brain light up and we become engaged.

To further understand how the brain works and how we show up in the world, I completed the Emergenetics assessment, which represents a clear framework of seven easily recognizable and useful factors that apply to work, communication, and interpersonal relationships.

The Emergenetics model reveals that our brain has four common thinking preferences: analytical, structural, conceptual and social, as well as three behaviour attributes: expressiveness, assertiveness and flexibility. Every brain has a unique blueprint and combination of these preferences and attributes. Therefore, storytelling to all seven preferences will ensure you are connecting to the various types of audiences.

Creating Meaningful Stories
In the workplace, we often communicate through stories and presentations. Unfortunately, if we stick to the the standard PowerPoint slides with lots of text, we can easily lose the attention of the participants; this is because we are simply speaking to the left side of their brains.

However, when we add stories to the mix, we activate the whole brain. As a result, we are more likely to successfully recall the essence of the presentation when storytelling is invoked.

Baring the Bones of Storytelling
A quick example helps illustrate: to prepare for my first Pecha Kucha style speak on “The Power of LOVE in the Workplace”, a short and quick presentation (20 slides, 15 seconds per slide) for the second DisruptHR Vancouver—an information exchange designed to energize, inform and empower people in the HR field—I completed five simple stages to prepare for my five minute story.

Stage One: Defining the Heart of the Story
Stage Two: Visualizing the Summit
Stage Three: Setting a Clear Intention
Stage Four: Walking the Talk
Stage Five: Letting Go and Trusting the Moment

These same stages can serve as steps for any organization or individual seeking to connect in a meaningful, enduring manner.

Stage Two: Defining the Heart of the Story
The process of defining the heart of the story is about connection. When that connection happens, the words of the story becomes real and I am speaking my truth. This first stage starts with answering the following questions:

  • What is the purpose? (Why)
  • What is the key message? (What)
  • What core values will I demonstrate? (How)

For every experience we create, it always serves to start with defining the “why.” Clarifying the purpose brings us to a place of inspiration and excitement. It also creates a contagious energy that is shared through the storytelling.

Clarifying the key message comes next with the creation of a single statement that can be repeated at the beginning, the middle and the end of the presentation. The intensity and delivery of this statement brings continuity and consistency throughout the story.

To bring it all together, determine which of your core values you will embody when delivering the story. Core values are a reflection of who you are and therefore, create a human connection between the presenter, the story, and the audience.

Stage Two: Visualizing the Summit
To imagine yourself in the seat of the audience is the focus of Stage Two. When we envision what others will want to feel, hear, or see, we ensure the presentation covers as many perspectives as possible. It is also helpful to factor the seven common thinking and  behaviour preferences from the Emergenetics research while visualizing how listeners might best receive the story.

Stage Three: Setting a Clear Intention
Before the start of the presentation, set a clear intention on how you want to be received and what kind of experience you want to co-create with the audience. My own intentions for the DisruptHR presentation included affirmations of my core values and getting grounded with the purpose of the story.

Stage Four: Walking the Talk
Leading up to the presentation, recite the talk out loud so that your entire body can feel the story from the inside out. Also, whenever possible, practice in the space you will present. Prior to my own presentation, I was able to walk on the stage so that my entire being could embody the movement of the presentation. By walking the talk—quite literally in this case—you minimize any uncertainty that generally caused fear and anxiety.

Stage Five: Letting Go and Trusting the Moment
After all the preparation and practice, there is a moment just before the storytelling that you need to let go and trust that everything will be okay. It’s during that pause just before the words leave my mouth that I take a deep breathe in and allow myself to be present with the experience. To truly tell a story, own it, let go of your thoughts and simply be in the moment.

The Power of Story
At work, we have the opportunity to inspire greatness within our teams through sharing our personal stories. Storytelling as a means of information transfer is uniquely human, insofar as it allows, and in many cases demands, that we reveal our vulnerability, compassion and passion alike. It is a communication style that can effectively connect to the human spirit and strengthen trust and collaboration. As such, empathy is not an end result, but a enduring bond built in the process of both telling and experiencing stories.

We are all craving for meaningful experiences. We are hungry to grow and learn as human beings. The power of story will continue to inspire and create meaning in all areas of our life.  How can you seize the power of storytelling?

Lorie Corcuera is the co-founder and CEO of SPARK Creations & Company Inc., a training and development organization that inspires people and companies to create meaningful cultures and workplaces.

(PeopleTalk Summer 2016)

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