The Art of Storytelling, by Cirrus

The Art of Storytelling

What makes storytelling an art, and how it can drive innovation and creativity?

When leaders need to engage employees across organisations, storytelling can be a very powerful tool, says Jenny Perkins, Head of Engagement at Cirrus.

In our fast-moving and unpredictable digital world, storytelling may seem rather old-fashioned. However it’s a tool that advertisers have long been aware of, and one they still make the most of today. We can all learn a lot from them. Facts and figures may be persuasive, but a great story can engage us at an emotional level.

According to research from Johns Hopkins University, the most successful US Super Bowl commercials rely heavily on plot development. The more compelling the story, the more people recall it, talk about it, share it on social media, and ultimately buy the product. Here in the UK, John Lewis has been successfully embracing this principle with its much-anticipated Christmas TV ads for a few years now – and last Christmas, it felt like almost every other major retailer was following suit.

So, what makes storytelling an art? As well as developing a strong narrative, a skilled storyteller knows how to judge the audience, hold their interest, and enthral them. In the world of business, leaders who can talk with passion about how the company values came about or how an innovative new product was developed will always engage others more effectively than any formal presentation ever will. Just think back to Steve Jobs and his legendary product launches at Apple. Jobs wasn’t one for detailed PowerPoint presentations. When he talked about the iPhone, he presented it as a hero – a hero which had overcome adversity and was now leading a revolution. And this hero was going to make everyone’s lives better. It’s fair to say that quite a few of us were utterly captivated by this.

Like many art forms, the art of storytelling is backed up by actual science. Effective storytelling creates a strong neurological response. Berkley Professor Paul Zak‘s 2013 research indicates that during tense moments, our brains produce the stress hormone cortisol, which aids focus. Stories of success and overcoming adversity release oxytocin. This encourages us to connect and engage. A happy ending activates our brain’s reward centre. This releases dopamine which makes us feel positive and optimistic.

These responses can also encourage innovation and creativity – attributes that pretty much every organisation I talk to is keen to develop. Oxytocin has been shown to make us more open to new ideas and more willing to collaborate. So if you are trying to get lots of people excited about a new initiative, tell them a story rather than talking through a set of facts of figures. You’re much more likely to spark lots of innovative ideas.

Next week is National Storytelling Week in the UK, and I’ll share some top tips for developing your storytelling skills. If you’d like to know more about how Cirrus can help you develop these skills, or have some stories of your own to share, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

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