Why is storytelling important? Overview, benefits, and examples

We can trace the origins of storytelling back over 30,000 years. It’s one of humanity’s oldest and most beloved traditions that has shaped our understanding of the world.

Storytelling is an ancient and powerful tool that we all possess and practice regularly. It has endured for a reason. There’s something innately human about the right story. It draws a listener in and provides a way for a storyteller to captivate their audience and touch people’s hearts. As we can all remember from childhood, a compelling story motivates and inspires us, even when all else fails.

Read on to find out why storytelling is so important and how you can use it to gain your audience’s trust, teach them what you want them to know and leave a lasting impression.

What is storytelling?

Storytelling is so much more than just entertainment. It’s fundamental to the human experience and an intrinsic part of how we learn and teach.

Today more than ever, stories come to us in numerous media. There’s an endless variety of styles and formats. Attention depends on novelty, and storytelling endures as one of the most novel forms of conveying experience.

With our non-stop emphasis on sharing information, people long for something more authentic than just exchanging dry data. For all its value, on its own, even the best information loses the wow factor that makes sharing memorable and drives performance.

Consider how meaningful stories, not data, help you cope with challenges and motivate your behavior. Even with information-rich stories (“infotainment” galore), the purpose behind the details is what compels you to adopt new solutions to your problems.

Storytelling is also a potent motivator of empathy. Done skillfully, it inspires true sympathetic resonance.

The science behind storytelling and memory

Modern science is only just beginning to catch on to the power communication holds over the human mind. Research into speech and brain entrainment reveals that our brains function much like resonant instruments. In other words, during communication, the listener’s brain responses are coupled with the speaker’s sound waves. As neuroscientist Uri Hasson explains, “We can communicate because we have a common code that presents meaning.”

We now have conclusive evidence showing that storytelling synchronizes our brains. Just as blades of grass track the sun’s movement across the sky, a good story captures our attention so fully we can’t help but become engrossed. These faculties are hardwired. They are a natural part of the human experience.

The seven points of storytelling

There are many schools of thought on crafting a captivating story. In terms of pure structure, though, most storytelling camps depend on these seven essential elements:

  1. Setting: a story’s setting serves as the backdrop for the story’s events. It’s a playground of scenery where the storyteller’s and audience’s imaginations can unfold.
  2. Characters: these include protagonists around whom the story revolves. Of course, not every character plays a starring role. There’s usually one hero and many supporting characters. A key task when crafting most stories is developing one or several standout figures and making them relatable.
  3. Plot: this is the major sequence of events that drives a story forward.
  4. Conflict: conflict compels a response from the story’s main character(s) and drives them into action.
  5. Resolution: this is the antidote or end to the conflict. While some stories end on “cliffhangers,” this is simply a continuation of an unresolved story. Other stories, such as sagas or epics, feature a series of conflicts and resolutions.
  6. Message: also known as the moral, the message encapsulates the overarching theme that makes the story valuable and the primary motive that drove the storyteller to develop their tale.
  7. Craft: this refers to the style, rhythm and prose that breathe life into a story. Arguably, craft is the most vague but important element of making a story relatable. It’s the driving aesthetic that makes it attractive.

Why is storytelling so important today?

From a business perspective, it’s tempting to assign storytelling to the same category as “soft skills.” We might even say it’s the mother of all soft skills.

Just as storytelling permeates history and world cultures, a story’s imprint weaves its way into our personal, scholastic and professional lives. It can provide reassurance for our trials and validate our tribulations. More importantly, telling relevant stories guides our decision-making.

Like nothing else, a good story woven into bite-sized pieces allows the right details to emerge almost spontaneously. It reminds us that we’re already in the right place at the right time; it’s only a matter of perspective.

The benefits of storytelling

Stories are possibly the most organic yet cohesive way to convey a message. They provide structure to a potentially weighty idea or concept.

When told with utmost care and tact, storytelling leaves something for the audience to unfold with their own imaginations. This keeps them wondering and interested in what happens next. It also demonstrates respect for their ability to derive meaning in ways best suited to them.

A story can also deliver a life philosophy or brand value in ways some audiences might not otherwise hear.

Storytelling offers numerous benefits. Here are just a few of them:

  • building trust and rapport with your audience,
  • differentiating your brand from competitors,
  • creating memorable, sharable content,
  • discovering and attracting your audience,
  • building engagement,
  • deepening audience loyalty, and
  • converting experiences into sales or other desired outcomes.

Why is storytelling important in teaching?

Teachers have long used storytelling as a teaching device.

Have you ever wondered why you remember some of your teachers but not others? As nearly any modern student can attest, there’s something “in one ear and out the other” about excessively dry, prescriptive data.

If information seems to lack meaning, we seek that missing ingredient to truly capture what we hear in a memorable way. Teachers who use storytelling make it easier for students to remember the material.

Unlike other mediums, listening to a story asks something of you. In return, you learn of latent faculties you may not have realized you had. If not, it can spark a passion for acquiring certain talents you might not have but wish you did. Above all, it reveals what’s possible.

Storytelling also tells us more about the world you have or could have, whether through metaphor or in a more straightforward and literal form. Stories sometimes seem to play on the liminal edge between what you consider real and surreal. It can bring latent aspects of your mind to the surface.

Of course, not every form of storytelling is equally effective. As a teaching device, unique stories streamline lessons by harnessing your attention. It uses the familiar to expand what you already know. Like the great teachers of antiquity, stories reveal knowledge you might already have and remind you that there’s always much more to learn.

Seven reasons why storytelling is important for learning

So, why is storytelling important for teaching and learning? Quite possibly, storytelling is the very essence of learning. It’s where knowledge converges with context and meaning.

The following are just seven ways in which storytelling bolsters teaching:

  1. Very dry content suddenly becomes exciting and memorable. Because what child or adult will truly remember long volumes of text without context?
  2. It instills respect for the risk and responsibility of certain forms of knowledge.
  3. In group environments, success depends on your ability to agree to certain fundamentals. By telling a real-life story prompting a safety regulation, for example, you can earn group buy-in more effectively.
  4. Stories can strengthen bonds between partners and enhance future learning experiences as they allow you to tell aspects of your personal story.
  5. Storytelling humanizes social dynamics better than almost any other form of communication.
  6. A good narrative activates the creative and analytical parts of the mind.
  7. Stories invite an interdisciplinary approach to problem-solving, especially when multiple people share storytelling functions.

Why is storytelling important in business?

Businesses are beginning to catch on to the power of storytelling, devoting serious resources to harnessing stories for their goals.

Marketing is an obvious and effective role for stories, but they are also incredibly useful for internal company dynamics.

Here are seven essential benefits of internal and external storytelling in business:

  1. engaging your audience, especially where other forms of media don’t,
  2. creating authentic connections, which is crucial for sales and support services,
  3. leaving lasting impressions, as a good story is much more memorable than numbers,
  4. deriving emotional connections, both for team-building and building brand loyalty,
  5. humanizing an organization to improve profits and customer satisfaction,
  6. gaining a competitive advantage over industry rivals with a less stirring narrative, and
  7. developing more compelling marketing campaigns that capture your audience’s attention.

The impact of storytelling

There are as many stories as lives lived. Yet only certain stories endure.

Here are some of the core ways in which storytelling can bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be:

Stories engage

Simply telling other people what you want shows a lack of appreciation for their subjective experience. The ability to envelop audiences in entire worlds (think of the achievements of Tolkein and Homer) shows storytellers’ incredible power. It also demonstrates the power of your own imagination.

This also applies to artfully crafted real-world stories that grip your attention and deepen rapport, even long after you first hear them.

Stories teach

Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to pass on information that sticks in the audience’s minds. 

Told effectively, stories are memorable and inspiring. In the workplace, they help align employees with the company’s vision, explain expectations and tasks and communicate challenges and how to overcome them.

A relatable story with a lesson attached makes it easy for the audience to remember it, connect to it and learn from it.

Stories inspire

Tales of heroism inspire future generations. They also remind you of what’s possible while inviting you to explore and push the thresholds of your own limitations.

Stories make it real

Even the most alarming statistics can fail to convey gravity and seriousness. Putting a face and name to an experience means you not only learn about a given topic but actually feel something about it.

Human interest stories have long driven greater sales, and for good reason. Marketing campaigns with relatable people and compelling events are also more effective. In many ways, audiences depend on stories to detect authenticity. It’s disappointing and problematic when a story turns out to be false or exaggerated.

Stories heal

Therapy and survivor groups thrive on sharing the narratives that brought them together. Hearing a teaching figure’s own journey into the knowledge they share also promotes greater trust.

The same bonding effects can work wonders for any organization. Telling the stories that made your product, service or personal victories possible can galvanize your team and breathe life into your company’s culture.

Become a better storyteller with Pip Decks

Becoming a better storyteller is a talent, like any other, which you can develop with effort. Like the motive to tell a compelling story, it all starts with deciding what effect you want to have on your audience.

Unlock your storytelling superpower and captivate your audiences with the Pip Decks Storytelling Tactics Card Deck. This high-quality card deck is packed with expert knowledge, clear step-by-step instructions and tips that will help you harness the value of storytelling, whatever your goals.

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