Stories make it memorable

storytelling-around-the-campfireThrough most of human history, we told each other stories. Stories set standards of behavior, warned us against danger, comforted us, gave us hope, and generally contributed to our tribal wisdom.

Then, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, business schools came into being. Those who attended business schools learned about the value of hard, quantitative data. They were taught that data provided the only reliable path to success, that all good business decisions were based on data.

Now, that was not a bad thing, for we need data to find our way to the truth of the matter. The problem was that in this world devoted exclusively to data, storytelling fell by the wayside. Any student who included a story in a paper was advised that this was less than professional. Storytelling may have had its point around the campfire, but it had no place in a presentation to the board. Business decisions had to be hard-headed.

But listen: storytelling has been rediscovered. About 1990, academic articles began appearing that pointed out how effective a story could be when it came to motivating an audience, driving home an important point, and reaching a decision.

Today if you Google “business storytelling” you’ll see a series of articles with titles like, “The Irresistible Power of Storytelling as a Strategic Business Tool” (Harvard Business Review), “Storytelling: The New Strategic Imperative of Business” (Forbes), and “From Bedtime to the Boardroom: Why Storytelling Matters in Business” (Entrepreneur).

Those who have studied the neurology of storytelling say that when we hear or see data, we light up only that part of the brain devoted to language processing. When we hear a story, though, we light up every part of the brain that involves us in the story—imagined sights, sounds, emotions . . . everything. That’s why we remember stories long after we would have forgotten the simple data points. Jennifer Aaker, professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, estimates that your data becomes 22 times more memorable if it’s embedded in a story. Thus, business has come around to storytelling. It’s memorable and it motivates.