Why Should We Tell Stories?

By Jeff Serenius

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Have you ever wondered why we tell stories?

Stories have been the centerpiece of our communication for thousands of years. Story has kept history alive, taught values and principles to entire civilizations, and held the attention of many a child trying to fight off sleep for a moment more.

Why should we tell stories?

Story is the superhero of communication. It is the most powerful influencing tools ever created. Its power comes from its ability to communicate meaning beyond the actual words we say and allows the listener to engage in the communication process—without saying a word.

Using story turns the brain’s inference engine on. When listeners hear a story, the brain “infers” untold details, emotions, and experiences into the message. The brain cannot help it. It’s wired to fill in the pieces it cannot explicitly determine from the words alone, so it “infers” the other parts in order to create a complete message.

The power of inference

Brains love a complete message. Its in that inferencing where the magic happens. The more the listener infers about your story the more they (mentally) participate in the communication, connect with the communicator, and more deeply retain the message. As a communicator, how could you ask for more than that?

What is story anyway?

Story is not always a long draw-out “once upon a time” account of some event. Story can be an analogy, metaphor, or short story-bite. What’s most import about story is that it be specific rather than general in nature. Here’s why.

The brain does not ‘infer’ very well with general statements, but will really rev-up when it has something specific to wrap it self around. For example…

Q: If I say “My business offers world class customer service”, what can you infer about my company? [pause to infer]

A: Not much. This general statement does not kick start the inference engine. Its too general, and as such, not a great use of story.

However, If I say something very specific like “A lady purchased a gift at another store. She brought it to our store and we gift wrapped it for free because that’s our policy.”

Q: What can you infer about my store from that story? My employees? Our belief about customer service? [pause to infer]

A: A TON! I bet your brain inferred that we care deeply about our customers. We are about creating long term relationships with them. We see them as individuals and not some collective mass. We put their best interests first, and on, and on, and on.


Story allows the listener to actively participate in the communication

That is the super-hero power of story. Story allows the listener to infer meaning and actively participate in the communication.

When that happens, your ability to influence goes through the roof.

That’s why we should tell stories.

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