Why Storytelling is Powerful

We all love a good story and appreciate a good storyteller. Powerful stories evoke emotion and have the ability to motivate and inspire us. A story that always resonates with me is one about Pat Tillman. Pat was a former professional football player for the Arizona Cardinals who enlisted in the United States Army after the 9-11 attacks. Tragically, he died in combat due to friendly fire. When you listen to his story, you feel many emotions, and those feelings are powerful motivators.

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson said, “The art of storytelling can be used to drive change.”1 I agree and will add that the way we succeed in driving change is by motivating and inspiring people.  Do we inspire and motivate change with a data dump of facts and figures on a PowerPoint slide? No. That type of presentation just creates a lullaby that too often puts the audience asleep. “If people aren’t entertained, they stop listening and go to sleep not unlike what happens in millions of business presentations given every day.”2

Princeton University neuroscientist, Uri Hanson states, “Those who have mastered the skill of storytelling can have an outsized influence over others.”  He goes on to say that “a person who tells compelling stories can actually plant ideas, thoughts, and emotions into a listener’s brain.  The art of storytelling is your most powerful weapon in the war of ideas.” 3

The only way to understand the power of this weapon is to understand how the brain functions when hearing a story.  Hearing a moving story releases the chemical dopamine in our system. That’s right, the same chemical that can get us addicted to drugs, alcohol, and gambling.  According to John Medina, author of Brain Rules, “When your brain detects emotion, your amygdala, located in your frontal lobe that helps create and maintain emotions, releases the dopamine. Dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing. You can think of it like a Post-it note® that reads “remember this.”4

In Simon Sinek’s Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire,” he describes the golden circle: Which, Why, How, What.  We all know what we do and how we do it, but do we know why we are doing it?  He ties this concept back to the brain, and explains the brain slightly differently than John Medina although the message remains the same.

Simon states, “If you look at a cross-section of the human brain, from the top down, the human brain is actually broken into three major components that correlate perfectly with the golden circle. In our newest brain, the Homo sapiens brain, our neocortex, corresponds with the “what” level. The neocortex is responsible for all of our rational and analytical thought, and language. The middle two sections make up our limbic brains, and our limbic brains are responsible for all of our feelings, like trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for all human behavior, all decision-making, although it has no capacity for language.”5

He goes on to say, “In other words, when we communicate from the outside in, yes, people can understand vast amounts of complicated information like features and benefits and facts and figures. It just doesn’t drive behavior. When we can communicate from the inside out, we’re talking directly to the part of the brain that controls behavior, and then we allow people to rationalize it with the tangible things we say and do.”6

In other words, “emotion trumps logic”7 every time. This is why stories are so powerful.  They evoke emotion, and emotion drives behavior.  Marketing executives understand this and if you don’t believe me, watch most commercials. The Budweiser beer commercials are a case in point. Each holiday season they feature darling, warm, cuddly puppies, and everyone loves puppies. That emotion, love, connects us to the story the company is telling in a deep and meaningful way.

Once we accept the fact that “emotion trumps logic” and begin to craft our business presentations in the same manner, the more likely we will be able to inspire and motive people to action.  That is exactly what great leaders and organizations do.

 

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  1. Gallo, Carmine, The Storyteller’s Secret: From TED Speakers to Business Legends, Why Some Ideas Catch On and Others Don’t, (St. Martins Press, New York, 2016) 1
  2. Gallo, Carmine, The Storyteller’s Secret, (St. Martins Press, New York, 2016) 3
  3. Ibid, 4
  4. Medina, John, Brain Rules: 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home and School, (Pear Press, Seattle, WA, 2014) 112
  5. Simon Sinek Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire”, 2009, https://www.ted.com/talks/simon_sinek_how_great_leaders_inspire_action/transcript#t-399040, (accessed August 2, 2017)
  6. Simon Sinek Ted Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire”, 2009
  7. Gallo, Carmine, The Storyteller’s Secret, (St. Martins Press, New York, 2016) 4

Three Tips to Increase Audience Retention

Have you noticed that many business presentations are boring, mind-numbing, and bullet-ridden with speakers reading from a script? When you see the PowerPoint presentation come up, you know you are in for a snooze-fest. It does not have to be that way. When used correctly, presentation tools can be useful in getting your message across to your audience. Rather than use your presentation tool as a crutch, I have three tip to improve your audience’s retention of the materials presented and keep them engaged with you as a speaker.

  1. Less Is More: You were asked to present because you are the subject matter expert, and you know your material. Do not need to put everything you know, every word you will say, on presentation slides. Too much data and information on slides puts the audience in decision-making mode: listen to the speaker, read the slide or maybe just read email. Instead, highlight key words or phrases that will guide you through your presentation. Connect with your audience by looking at them, not the slides or script, and create a two-way conversation.
  2. Eliminate Bullet Points by 90%: Presentation slides riddled with bullet points look like a mob hit rather than a learning experience. Your audience tunes-out and minds wander to other, more interesting, places. Does your employer add funds to your 401K for every slide and every bullet point you incorporate in your presentation? Didn’t think so. Use only one key message or bullet point per slide so your audience can focus on one thing – what you are saying. While there are some situations where multiple bullet points are useful, keep them to five or less. In this case use animation to bring those lines into play rather than a static presentation of all bullet point.
  3. Let Pictures Tell The Story: Pairing words with pictures can help your audience retain the information you are sharing. In his book Brain Rules, John Media says that we remember pictures at a higher rate than we recall words. According to him, after three days we will remember only 10% of information presented, but 65% of images or pictures seen will be recalled. Images help bring your story to life, and keep them alive.

Where you place images is important, too. We read from left to right so naturally our eyes gravitate to the left side of any page or slide. By placing an image on the left side of the slide and the supporting text on the right, you have a greater chance of your audience seeing and remembering that important picture.

By using fewer words, reducing or even eliminating bullet points, and properly placing pictures and images on each presentation slide you will increase your audience engagement and their retention of the material. It’s that simple!

Want to learn more. Visit my website at http://petermargaritis.com

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 9: The YES AND Mindset with John Barlow

I’m very happy to introduce my friend John Barlow today. He is a brilliant thinker, an empathetic automotive engineer and a masterful practitioner of the “Yes, and,” mindset.

John is an accidental engineer. He started his career as a principle engineer at Honda 22 years ago, while pursuing a career as an acoustic engineer. He doesn’t exactly fit the stereotype of an engineer, and he brings an empathetic perspective to the engineering and design process. “I think you can train your brain to use both sides of the brain simultaneously, but if you try to do two tasks with one side at the same time, I don’t know it works so well.”

John shares the different aspects of his unique perspective on engineering:

  • Have a wider viewpoint – Learn the different ways people want to use a vehicle (or any product), even if they can’t tell you how they want to use it
  • Be empathetic to other people – Be empathetic to how people do things, use things and want to use things.

John has tactics for imparting empathic processes upon his fellow engineers: Build a logical storyboard and try to show a trend. Try to imagine the future by considering the past – some things that sound unrealistic might happen

John’s position involves imagining how people will use products and technology in the future. Part of this is attempting to establish the relationship between human and machines, because the more of a relationship you can build there, the more trust there is in the technology. “As technology is starting to provide services to people, you don’t want it to come across as a machine. You want it to be more personal than that.”

“Because people are so busy with their lives these days, I think part of that forces the, ‘Yes, but,’ culture.” John sees how the mindset can impact every part of your life and the people you are around. However, if you can take a step back and look at things from a different perspective, you will realize that it is more effective, and more empathetic, to use a “Yes, and,” approach.

I’m extremely grateful to John for taking the time to talk today. He is one of the most empathetic people I have ever talked to, and he really understands the benefit of a “Yes, and,” mindset. I can’t wait to have him back on the show again.

Click here to listen to the episode

Pete & Mr. IRS Agent: Sketch Comedy Writing

In 2015, I took an online sketch comedy writing course from Second City. I was looking for ways to become a better writer, and I learned a lot from this course. What I learned was developing characters to help build the emotional attachment with the audience. When writing, we need to create the emotional attachment with our reader to they will continue reading. I still have a long way to go, but this course helped me to keep this concept in the forefront of my mind. I hope you enjoy.

Cast

Pete – 40’s.

Mr. IRS Agent – 50’s

(Scene: conference room at CPA firm)

PETE

Welcome Mr. IRS Agent.  It is good to finally meet you after all of these years.

MR. IRS AGENT

Same here and thanks for agreeing to meet at your office.

PETE

Please excuse my attire but it is “let’s dress crazy day” here at our firm.

MR. IRS AGENT

Not one bit!  You might be the only person to pull off wearing an orange sport coat, white dress shirt, purple bow tie, white dress slacks and black Chuck Taylor shoes. Either way, lets get started.

PETE

I will take that as a compliment.  Ready to get down to work Mr. IRS Agent or would you like a tour of our office.

MR. IRS AGENT

Let’s get to work.

PETE

Would you like something to drink?  We have coffee, espresso, or water.

MR. IRS AGENT

A glass of room temperature water would be fine.

PETE

Would you like some ice with your water?

MR. IRS AGENT

No, ice water.

PETE

One glass of ice water coming up.

MR. IRS AGENT

Pete, sorry for the confusion. I would like a glass of room temperature water, not a glass of ice water.

PETE

Oh! Okay, coming right up.

Here you go.

MR. IRS AGENT

Thank you.  Are you ready to start?

 PETE

Yes Mr. IRS Agent! What questions do you want to ask?

MR. IRS AGENT

Your client is claiming $515,732 in airfare expenses for 2013 but in 2012 they claimed only 32,869.  Can you explain this?

PETE

Hey Bill!  How are you today and thanks for dinner last night.  Mr. IRS Agent, have you ever been to Delmonico’s restaurant?  Bill and I went last night for dinner and the steaks were outstanding…

MR. IRS AGENT

No, I am a vegetarian. Let’s get back to my question.

PETE

Before we start back, I have a question for you. Why did you want to come down and meet at our offices?

MR. IRS AGENT

The reason is that I am finding our conference calls have not been productive these last couple of years. And…

PETE

And what?

MR. IRS AGENT

And I am considering leaving the IRS, moving to Los Angeles, chasing my dream of being a stand-up comic and I wanted to meet you face-to-face.

PETE

WHAT?! Mr. IRS Agent wants to be a stand-up comic. Now that is funny!

MR. IRS AGENT

Yea, I know but this has been my dream. I even did some stand-up my freshman and sophomore year in college.

PETE

Excuse me for saying this but you are a stereotypical IRS agent – lack of any humor.

MR. IRS AGENT

Pete, I use to be really funny, outgoing, “fun to hang out with” kind of guy.

PETE

What happened?

MR. IRS AGENT

I changed my major from theater to accounting. At first, I noticed a slight change in my personality. But when I went to work for a Big 4 accounting firm, the “fun Kevin” began to get slowly sucked right out of me.

PETE

Your real name is Kevin?

MR. IRS AGENT

Yes it is!  When I moved to the IRS my fun meter immediately went to zero. So I decided the only way to get through this job was to have people call me Mr. IRS Agent.  But you can call me Kevin.

PETE

Okay, Kevin

MR. IRS AGENT

Did you always wanted to be an accountant?

PETE

Does anyone really WANT to be an accountant? Everyone I know in this profession kind of fell into it.

PETE

Should we get back to work?

MR. IRS AGENT

It can wait. I am going to allow the deduction anyhow! How did you fall into becoming an accountant.  Did you lose a bet?

PETE

HA HA!  That’s funny BUT true.

MR. IRS AGENT

TRUE?

PETE

I was in love and my wife wanted us to move from Ft. Myers, Fl to Cleveland, OH so she could be closer to her parents. So, I told her I would but under one condition. That Case Western Reserve University accepts me into their Master’s of Accountancy Program.

MR. IRS AGENT

And the rest is history!

PETE

I never thought I would get accepted.  I had taken the GMAT but my scores were under acceptance limit of 500.  They were so low that even if the person who transferred my score to an excel spreadsheet had dyslexia, they still would not reach 500.

MR. IRS AGENT

Now that is really funny!  Have you ever done stand-up?

PETE

Actually, I have. Similar to your story.  And yes, most of my funny has been sucked out by this accounting firm that I have been with for 10 years.  It actually cost me my marriage.

MR. IRS AGENT

This is getting really freaky.  I just signed my divorce papers just before I came to your office.  My attorney is on the floor above you.

PETE

Shut the front door. That firm also handled my divorce.  Is your attorney Nouno?

MR. IRS AGENT

OMG with a shocked emoji! Yes he is.

PETE

Who knew after all of these years that we share the love for stand-up comedy.  You know the difference between stand-up comedy and heroine?

MR. IRS AGENT

Of course I do.  You can quit heroine!

PETE

Kevin, I have got a crazy idea.

MR. IRS AGENT

I know what you are thinking.  We both quit our jobs today, move to LA and chase our dreams of being a stand-up comic.

PETE

Kevin, not quite.  My idea was to meet for drinks and dinner tonight and discuss quitting our jobs and becoming stand-up comics.

MR. IRS AGENT

Great idea!  Dinner at Delmonico’s.  I really love their steaks!

(fade out)

Improv Is No Joke Podcast Episode 8: Pam Devine Show Notes

Pam Devine has graced her presence as the guest on today’s show. She is from New England but now has her life in Baltimore. Her favorite quote is from Tom Hood that is, “L is greater than or equal to C.”

She has been part of the Business Learning Institute, an affiliate of the Maryland Association of CPAs. This organization focuses on leadership, strategy and communication, the skills that make better business professionals. Learning is what give the organization a competitive advantage and has the saying “The learning curve is truly the earning curve.” The organization gives the team within an opportunity to grow by attending various conferences. The organization is also redesigning their office environment in a way wherein it can promote a more collaborative open learning environment expose to different levels from CEO to junior members.

One of the important conferences in topic was the Bersin Conference, which talked about leadership. It talked about learning architecture and how learning has changed from more than just education. In order for an organization to have a truly competitive learning environment, the conference introduced the Four E’s:

  • Education
  • Exposure
  • Environment
  • Experience

It discussed also the way to think about a systematic approach to learning encompassing all of the Four E’s. Pam gave the CPA Day in Annapolis event as an example. Here, CPAs get to have a new environment outside the office to learn. CPAs can be exposed to meet various people and legislators and have the opportunity to understand what is going on in the legislative environment. Lastly, CPAs gain the experience at the end of event.

It mentioned also the importance of making the architectural learning environment work, which is composed of curious employee, network employee, holistic employee, agile employee and innovative employee.

Pam would like to share to the listeners of this podcast the quote “Train your people and they are 92% more likely to stay and be loyal.” It is better to invest in one’s future and gain loyalty.

Click here to listen to this episode