Why Storytelling for Business Matters
March 13, 2023 • 9 min read
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Storytelling – even just hearing or reading that word is enough to make us sink deeper into ourselves, into cherished childhood memories, and into the vast reservoir of ancestral remembrance – of the earth and of our greater culture. Folklore is fundamental to the human experience, and using storytelling for business is how you can create a lasting and meaningful relationship with your community, in a way that feels so authentic, grounded, and purposeful.
The Science Behind It:
While storytelling isn’t always considered when sketching out business and marketing plans, the science behind it might have you thinking otherwise, enticing you to start weaving it into your future communications.
Without a doubt, storytelling is what lies at the heart of human existence. Oral folklore and spoken words are how most cultures passed down tradition, wisdom and knowledge, with this practice dating back to more than 30,000 years ago.
There’s a reason why oral tradition has been so well-maintained, with far easier recall than information from books and scriptures. There is evidence to show that stories not only captivate our imaginations, but they cement themselves into our memories in ways that data and hard facts cannot. There is a Native American Proverb that depicts this well: “Tell me the facts, and I’ll learn. Tell me the truth, and I’ll believe. But tell me a story, and it will live in my heart forever.”
There’s more to storytelling than just a cleverly woven tale. Stories bring us closer to one another on an emotional and physical level, transporting the reader (or listener) to a fictional world that sparks feeling and imagination, while also giving them the tools and space to identify with the characters on a deep level. This shift in perspective and scope increases our level of empathy and compassion towards others.
In fact, when we listen to or read stories, watch plays or movies, the same parts of our brains are activated that would be if we were actually engaging in the activity ourselves. Keith Oatley, a retired professor at the University of Toronto, suggests that reading stories produces a simulation of reality which can be so vivid that we feel as if we are right there, inside it.
A study at Princeton University used brain imaging to discover how the brains of a listener and a storyteller synchronized. The more the listener understood, the closer their brain waves mirrored those of the speaker. When you listen to a story, there’s a reason why you feel enchanted – you step away from your thinking self, and drop into a state of resonance and coherence with those around you, especially the speaker.
Oatley has carried out other studies that show that people who read a lot of fiction seem to be better able to understand other people, empathize with them, and imagine the world from their perspective.
Stories, even the simpler ones, go beyond words and, as Sharon Blackie says, “are laced with fragments of hope, yearnings and dreams, moving something deep within us. And that is the essential power of story: it breathes life into our thoughts and dreams; it illuminates who we are, and shows us how we might possibly play our own unique part in the ongoing becoming of the world.”
Why This Matters in Business:
As marketers and business-owners operating in a capitalist society that often values extraction, transaction, and urgency above all else, we are primed to see those who buy from us as “consumers”, forgetting that first and foremost they are humans. When we market to the faceless “consumer” it’s easy to get caught in the game of conversions, sales, and numbers. But when we market to human beings, our businesses take on a consciousness, where we prioritize values like sustainability, ethics, reciprocity, etc., that wouldn’t necessarily have been top of mind otherwise.
Storytelling in business makes all the difference in creating a memorable brand. When people connect with your products, services, words, ideas, and ethos on a deep, physiological level, they’ll naturally want to buy from you, support you, tell their friends and family about you, and will champion your success as enthusiastically as if it were their own endeavour. This, alongside a strong and impactful mission, is how we can begin to shift the way the world does business, and how we can connect with our communities in a far more meaningful way.
With our obsession with productivity these days – goal-tracking, self-help, betterment, rapid advancement, life hacks, hustle mentality – fewer entrepreneurs are reading fiction. Most entrepreneurs read only non-fiction business books that might offer some sort of actionable takeaway to be used and employed in their own lives.
Not only is there a growing reluctance to engage with the imaginative genre, but people seem to be genuinely embarrassed when they admit to reading fiction. It’s as though it conveys slacking off or prioritizing frivolity over something “productive”. Or, we’ve lost course and are constantly searching for answers outside of ourselves, believing that all the business books we can read will be the compass that points us in the “right” direction.
Once again, our society has conditioned us to believe that only those who hustle are the ones who end up on top. It seems as though we’ve lost the plot here (no pun intended). Imagination and fantasy don’t get the cred that other “hard” skills do in the business world, yet the very thing that makes entrepreneurs soar is their creative problem solving and ability to think outside-of-the-box. Isn’t this then at odds with how we’re exercising (or rather not exercising) our creative thought? Wild imaginations, thinking the impossible, and creatively finding solutions to problems is almost exactly what being a visionary is.
The Power of Storytelling and Brain Synchronization:
The power of storytelling is no secret – just ask the media, politicians, and news outlets! Synchronizing our brain waves is not new or cutting-edge discovery, and it is powerful to say the least. While it can be used for ill-gotten gains, it also has the power to bring people together in the most incredible ways, when applied ethically and for the betterment of all. Use storytelling in your business (and life) to infuse magic into the every day, and use it to uplift humanity. We need more mysticism, lore, myth and magic in our lives, and you, as an entrepreneur with a platform, absolutely have the power to captivate your audience, while creating change.
We often forget that small business-owners like ourselves are change-makers and visionaries too. We have the ability to shift culture, amend the way the world does business, and create meaningful change. Stories are the medicine our souls need right now, and when you bring a touch of enchantment to your work, your community will respond resoundingly.
“…one of the problems we have is we’ve fallen out of story. And I mean the stories that carry people, the stories that connect people. We don’t have enough shared mythic imagination to hold us together. You could even say it is the lack of meaningful in-depth shared imagination that causes the polarization in the culture… So, somehow we have to find stories or versions of stories that bring us closer back together.” – Michael Mead, For the Wild Podcast
How You Can Get Started:
If you’re unsure as to how to get started with weaving storytelling into your business, here are a few ideas of what to do, and how it will help:
- Start by reading more fiction. Maybe make an intention to read at least one fiction book this month (if you’re new to fiction). Here is a list of my own book recommendations, but make sure you pick a book in a genre that is of interest to you, otherwise it will be harder to stay the course. You can also find a storytelling podcast that interests you. Reading non-fiction is great, but it doesn’t do much to develop our deeper sense of community.
- Infuse new words into your vocabulary. We’ve gotten pretty stagnant and redundant as a society, using the same descriptive language over and over again (everything is “exciting” and “amazing”). There is a plethora of words at your disposal – try describing things differently and use the wide breadth of the English language in even the smallest communications. Play around with the wellspring of words that exists (a quick thesaurus search for an overused word is a great place to start).
- Write! Start by creatively writing more – maybe one sentence or paragraph a day describing something in an imaginative way – the bird you saw at the window, the way the trees swayed in the wind, the colours in the painting in your dining room. This will help you reinvigorate your monthly newsletters that you dread writing.
- Bring out your inner child – children are natural born storytellers. They constantly live in their own land of make-belief, having the ability to seamlessly blend reality with wild inventions. Let your mind run free and find a story that brings you enjoyment and pleasure. Let yourself speculate, dream, and imagine beyond what seems possible. If you have children in your life, spend intentional time with them – dress up in outlandish costumes, put on a finger puppet play with a bizarre storyline, go into the backyard and let yourselves get carried away by the landscape – is the grass hot lava that you can’t touch? Stretch your mind!
Check out our digital course: How to Create a Newsletter You Actually Enjoy Writing and That Your Community Actually Enjoys Reading. You will learn how to share real value with your readers, and how to engage with them in ways that go way beyond selling and pushing products, so that they develop a deeper and more genuine relationship with you. You will learn how to weave storytelling and meaning back into the work you do!
You can also book a 1:1 session with me to chat about how you can entwine storytelling into your business and marketing, making your brand more alluring and resonant.
If you’re looking to sink deeper into the adult world of storytelling, here are some great places to spend some time in. Soak in their vibe, their way of communicating and of sharing information, and pay close attention to how story is such a seamless part of their branding and marketing.
- Forage and Sustain’s monthly newsletter Aether, and business newsletter the Dreamscape
- The Medicine Stories Podcast
- For the Wild Podcast
- Stories that Stick – book
- Friction – book
- Emergence Magazine
- The Retreat at Pacifica – courses you can take
- The Art of Gathering – book and course on tangible storytelling
- Alyson Simply Grows – visual storytelling
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