As the weather has been changing in different parts of the world, the virus that causes COVID-19 has been multiplying. This is one of those times that reminds me of my study days and learning about viruses, with benefit of hindsight, should I have become a virologist? Who knows, I could be the one to find the kill gene for this particular organism?
Having said that, nope. I would rather be the storytelling engineer that I am today. Why? I know the power hidden within stories. You see this week, a friend reached out to me asking if I would be willing to do a storytelling training for his team. Or more appropriately, if I can do the training for his successor. This is interesting because he was asked what to recommend for his successor and all he could think about was teach him how to tell stories. Don’t ask me how I will find time to do the training, that’s a different matter.
I realize that you read this blog because you are already interested in storytelling but I decided to share some reasons why we should tell tales. I sure hope you enjoy this tale and it helps you decide to stay the course on becoming a master storyteller yourself.
Think back to the tribal fire some thousands of years ago, you would have either the village chief or a shaman who collects the tribal stories. When you have such a personality, they have developed an ability to not only collect these stories but also use these to instruct and as such lead their people. Let me give an example – “We don’t enter the great evil forest since that dreadful day when the great warrior hunter – Spartacus lost his life there. He had gone out to hunt the white tailed dragon which had been harassing the people for years.”
By using this example, with of course a lot more detail about what happened on that day, the chief will teach the next generation about avoiding certain death in this forest. This chief is a source of authority in the village and he is there to guide his people by sharing his ‘wisdom’.
Well, Ikenna, how does that apply to me today? I have no plans of going to become a village chief.
You don’t need to become a village chief, I can already assure you that regardless of what you do, you are already a leader. As a minimum, you are leading yourself. But aside from that, there are people around you that are led by you whether consciously or unconsciously. How are you going about using your stories to inspire or instruct them? You see, as a leader, stories are your secret power to transform dreams into results, to bring about actions and make things happen.
Paul Zak (who endorsed The Storyteller’s Student) is well known for his research into a hormone – oxytocin. He actually calls it the trust hormone, if you haven’t, you should check out his TED talk. Like he said, either you follow the prescriptions on storytelling or …!
As part of his research, he realized that oxytocin is a powerful hormone which is released in the brain and can affect our attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. The best part is that he found out that this hormone can be released when people hear stories, it all started with him from a movie that made him very sad, that he started crying in a plane.
Do you want people to take specific actions? Buy a product, take your advice, believe you, work with you? These are a number of things which you could desire that makes you speak to people. All you need to do is give them a dose of oxytocin and that is sufficient to make them trust you. This hormone simply connects you to your audience, making them see you as someone who is credible. Take our example of the shaman above – by sharing these stories, he shows the villagers that his desire is to protect them and keep them safe from the white tailed dragon.
I can still remember some of the songs from the movie Sound of music which I watched as a young lad – when you sing, you begin with doh reh mi (I should just have recorded myself singing for you, but that will reduce the number of people reading my emails). I bet there are also movies or stories which you heard as a child that will always be at the back of your mind.
In the same way, stories make you memorable with people remembering not only what you said but more how you made them feel (as Maya Angelou so wonderfully put it). I followed a webinar recently and one of the things which I remember is she asked us, ‘how do you want people to feel around you?’. Speaking for myself, I may yet forget some parts of the movie above, however, the feelings I had watching the youngest daughter sing ‘the sun has gone to bed and so must I’ can never change. I will always remember what it felt like.
The question therefore is what are you doing with your stories? Have you started to showcase your leadership of your life and of influencing others using your stories?
Returning to my friend’s request to give a training on storytelling – that is just someone giving me an opportunity to tell a story. Of course I said YES! I embrace every opportunity to create a warm fuzzy feeling in others, you should too.