Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Importance of Storytelling

I spend a lot of time discussing the importance of storytelling for both non-profit and for-profit communications on this blog.

[photo credit: luiginter]

Storytelling has also been a popular topic in the advertising industry lately. Today's Ad Age ran a piece entitled: (Author)ity: The Importance of Storytelling, in which they quoted Avenue A's recently published "Digital Outlook Report" which had this to say about the subject:
'Narrative is the experience. As the Web becomes the preferred destination for brand exploration, digital experiences must become richer, deeper, and more able to tell compelling stories. If your brand experience depends entirely on pages and clicks, it's time to wonder, 'What is my story?'
The thing that continues to strike me through all of these efforts to examine the role of storytelling within the worlds of business and philanthropy, is the sense that we need to justify the use of storytelling as a mechanism.

Culturally, we associate stories with children. We relegate them to the realm of fantasy and of entertainment. We don't consider them a tool. We don't take them seriously.

In fact, though, stories are the interface to the human brain. They provide the method by which we transfer data from one person to another. They are the keyboard plugged directly into our mental CPU.

Skilled storytelling allows us to take advantage of culturally-defined shortcuts on the keyboard - making data transfer that much more efficient and effective.

When we, as communicators, use familiar storylines (like the "fish out of water" tale, or the "journey to a distant land" tale) we can skip over known quantities, simply fill in a few bits and pieces of new information, and still effectively present a complex point. More importantly, because the end of these familiar stories are essentially pre-determined, our audience is more likely to accept our story's outcome as credible if it follows a familiar pattern.

Our culture's stories create the filing system that allow us to quickly access information. They provide the tools we use to distinguish good from evil, and fact from fiction. In fact, when we encounter cultures that don't share our stories, we are often entirely unable to communicate.

Stories are not limited to childhood. They define our everyday lives. Individuals, organizations and corporations that discount their value run the risk of failing to communicate altogether.


Vincent Ng said...

I agree with what you're saying. I think storytelling is an amazing tool and many people aren't using it enough to convey their message. Thank you for the post, I enjoyed it a lot.

Leyla Farah said...

Vincent - I'm so glad you enjoyed the post. Since I wrote this, I've run across another post by Greg Verdino ( that I also think is a great read on the topic of storytelling - enjoy!