Of all the values taught to me as a young officer in the United States military, effective communication turned out to be the one that benefitted me most later in life. As I grew into my various roles as an attorney, entrepreneur, and father, communicating well with the people around me only grew in importance. Our vast ability to communicate separates us from all the other creatures of earth – it is our unique ability to create communication which makes us human.
In dealing with people from all manner of backgrounds and diverse array of expertise, I’ve also learned that you can communicate a lot without saying much at all. In other words, good communication is a skill, not something to be taken for granted.
However, that doesn’t mean there’s only one way to accomplish it. As for me, I like to tell stories to get my point across. Here’s why you might want to leverage the same technique for your own benefit:
How to communicate with stories
Storytelling is flat-out one of the best ways to engage an audience — maybe the best way. It doesn’t matter whether the story is true, made-up, or has anything to do with the people listening, because a good story allows the listener to increase full understanding both emotionally and spiritually. As a result, when we read or listen to stories, we mentally and emotionally engage with them as if they’re happening to us.
Speaking of emotion, creating it in your listeners is the ultimate strategy for effective communication. Why? People invest more in listening when they fully understand the purposes behind what you are trying to say and when they can find agreement with the human elements in it – the speaker is just more real when listeners feel emotionally connected to the story behind it.
You can accomplish this by talking about a struggle you’ve had to face. That’s usually not too hard, given that there always is one, whether we’re talking about business, family, or our personal lives.
The “KISS” of storytelling
The simplest way to tell a story is in three parts; a beginning, middle, and end. If it’s helpful, you can think of it in other terms; for instance, the starting point (usually some kind of problem), the journey (a process of discovery), and the consequence (this could be a solution or a realization). Keeping it simple allows your listener to relate but still follow along easily — you’re not competing for a Nobel prize in literature, you’re just making a point.
The goal of incorporating a story into your conversation with someone is to get them to identify with your perspective. A story takes what is otherwise an abstract idea, and makes it into a human experience that can be visualized in the mind and even experienced vicariously. It also lends authority to what you’re saying, proving it’s not just something you’ve pulled out of thin air.
The final word
The best part of storytelling as a communication technique is that once you get into the habit of it, you can apply it just about anywhere. It can help you land a new client, prove your mettle in an interview, or help your kids understand why they shouldn’t try to climb onto the living room bookcase.
The fact is, almost all of the world’s best communicators do it with stories. If you have a favorite TED talk, for instance, it’s all but guaranteed that the speaker used a story to make his or her point. So whether it’s in a weekly meeting, a courtroom, appearance, or a one-on-one with someone you care about, use this powerful tactic to make sure your key message is being received.