After a presentation loaded with a large number of slides containing a lot of statistics, figures and other information, how much do you remember? Hardly a line or a graph. That’s exactly what happened when I recently presented my experience in the first six months of the fellowship with the help of slides. I could see the tired uninterested faces who might wanted the presentation to finish off. Nobody could take anything from the long monotonous presentation.
From the audience, a comment came up saying, “Maybe, you are using an ill-defined method. Instead, you could try storytelling.” For a moment, I paused and started connecting a few dots. So far, nobody had mentioned storytelling to me in a formal setting. Everything I had heard so far were things like, “Maximum 5 slides”, “Less content on the slide”, “Keep it concise”. The idea of telling a story through a formal presentation captivated me. I researched a bit, read articles and watched a few TED talks.
Finally, to test its effect, I applied the learning to my students, with whom I am working as a fellow. We converted a history class to a storytelling session and I was amazed when the students were able to talk about ‘The Emperor Akbar’ fluently with minute detail. Until now, they have not forgotten that class.
If you want people to remember you or create an impact through your work, it better not be a boring mix of charts and data. Everyone has a story. It may be long or short, comic or tragic, captivating or motivating, inspiring or long-lasting. As professor Gardner said, “Stories constitute the single most powerful weapon in a leader’s arsenal.” Stories may not require as much concentration or attention span as data needs. Even today, I can recall a specific scene of a movie I watched in 2003, a tale my grandmother told me in a dimly lit room.
Emotions trigger the brain. While sitting in a corner, we travel to new spaces, cry, laugh and resonate with the characters. In excellent stories, we, as listeners, build a connection and sometimes, get transported to a subconscious level. It becomes magical.
Watch: How storytelling saved me
We all are storytellers. Every day, we tell well-crafted stories embedded with personal experiences. Biologically, our brain is hardwired to tell and listen to stories. With stories, we are able to build a bond of trust and empathy. Our brain responds to emotions and hence, stories form a link between the teller and the listener.
My father, who is a teacher, painter, composer and director, being physically disabled, told me a story that I realized I tell to myself all the time.
“Dr. Ravi was restless. Since quite a few days, patients were not coming to his clinic. It was his only source of income. One day, with an idea, he jumped off and rushed to the nearby park. He spread a few stones there and took a deep breath. On coming back to his clinic, when he heard the door open, his face lit up with a smirk as if a ray of sunshine appeared on a cloudy day. The kids playing in the park and the riders on bicycles could not see the stones. They had gotten hurt.”
In just a few lines, my father had taught one of the biggest lesson of life. “If opportunity does not come to you, go and grab it.” The story may not be the best example in moral values but I still remember it.
Sometimes, we also become blind with certain stories, to an extent that they become a part of life and we can’t then see things from a different lens. One of my friends told me that she did not know what happened in the World War II after Hitler died. She got so connected to Hitler that she could not go beyond and read about the war with Japan.
It was recent when I rediscovered the existence of stories around me and now, I try to use it as a mode of communications, expression of thoughts and ideas, teaching kids, motivating people. Because now I know that everyone loves good stories.