The Power of Good Storytelling

The Power of Good Storytelling

“We’re all made of stories. When they finally put us underground, the stories are what will go on. Not forever, perhaps, but for a time. It’s a kind of immortality, I suppose, bounded by limits, it’s true, but then so’s everything.”
― Charles de Lint
October 24th is a very special day for our family.

It’s the day my husband Jeremy and I started “going out” at the ripe old age of 13.

It’s the day we got married – exactly 10 years later.

And, because God has a pretty sweet sense of humor, it’s also the day we became parents two years ago, two and a half weeks before our baby boy (Bryson) was due.

This October 24th was particularly special because it began with a funeral Mass honoring the life of my sweet Noni. From sun up to sun down, we celebrated LIFE – birth, death, and all the crazy goodness in between. As I reflected on all the memories of and with my family, it hit me:

Life is a series of stories — happy ones, sad ones, funny ones, and bad ones. And, like life, stories mean the most when they’re shared. (Tweet that!)

In this post I’ll tell you exactly why storytelling is something you should do more often. Then I’ll spill some of my own favorites.

The Power of Good Storytelling: The Science

Before I jump into the personal benefit(s) of storytelling, let me tell you a really practical one.

As I’ve mentioned before, I studied communication at TCU – with some of my favorite people on the planet. Two of those people, my dear friend Katie Day and treasured professor and mentor, Dr. Paul King, published a very interesting study in the Spring 2014 issue of the International Journal of Listening.

In their experiment, they studied the cognitive impact of storytelling in the classroom. What they found was that we process and remember information better when it’s presented in narrative form – told in stories – as opposed to expository form – straight-up, super-organized, stick-it-in-a-PowerPoint-with-bullets form.

It’s not a surprise (literally – it’s what they hypothesized). We connect with stories. We can hold on to bits and pieces that help us process and remember information if we hear those bits and pieces in narrative form. This concept dates waaaay back to oral tradition – before we had the luxury of writing things down. People had to remember. And to remember, they had to share.

So what does this mean for those of us who communicate to educate and inspire? If we want our presentations to be more memorable, we need to tell more stories. (Tweet that!)

SIDENOTE: This is a PERFECT example of the communication studies goodness I’d like to share with you moving forward. If you like this, you’re going to LOVE what I’ve got in store!

The Power of Good Storytelling: The Experience

Now for the personal benefits. In the spirit of my bigger brand pants and this sentimental + celebratory week/end for my sweet fam, I figure this is a perfect to share some of my favorite stories with you.

The (current) digital home of many of these tales is my personal blog, titled “Stories from a Screensaver.” I started it in early 2012 to record our stories so we could look back and laugh at, learn from, and love our journey for what it is at the moment: life in a screensaver [Hawaii].

I knew from the start that I would make no apologies when I missed a few weeks. This blog was never intended to be a chronological diary of events. I wrote about all kinds of stuff – ranging from Bryson’s Up-themed 1st birthday extravaganza, an analysis of Park Ranger Barbie + “mom jeans,” and even the dramatic three-part tale of our stolen iPhone.

Didn’t matter if the posts were funny, sappy, or straight timeline style – I just wanted to get these memories down before they escaped our minds forever.

And I’m so glad I did.

You see, earlier today I sat down to write this post and made NO progress. I got caught up reading the four-part series that tells the story of the day we became parents, exactly 13 years after our story began.

What struck me most is that even though only two years have passed since “our best anniversary yet,” some of the precious details were already fading from memory.

Details like Jeremy’s first words when Bryson was born.  A PRICELESS video of my family seeing Bryson for the first time via Skype. The fact that the medical team sang along to “Don’t Stop Believin'” while I was on the operating table. (YES. That was as fantastic as it sounds.) Our first night as a family of three.

Seriously. What if I hadn’t written that stuff down? It would’ve been lost forever. Nobody would’ve remembered, and the details would’ve faded out of the family history like an old photograph.

Storytelling can be scary. Do it anyway.

I’ll be honest. Writing this post (and sharing these links) makes me a bit nervous. But I’m doing it anyway because:

  1. While I love communication, my FAMILY is the real “why” behind all of this business-business. These very stories are what sparked the encouragement that ultimately sparked the start of my business + this new platform. It seems only natural to share them with you!
  2. While I’m tempted to keep them all to myself, my guys are gonna be “out there” soon enough anyway. In the next month or two, you’ll see all three of us on an episode of a new reality TV show. (And I’d like to introduce you to the loves of my life before the Discovery network does.)
  3. At this point I see the potential benefits of sharing as greater than the potential risks of  any criticism, judgment, or negativity that may come as a result. Plus, I’ve got faith in a God that’s way bigger than any ick we could face down here. Talk about life insurance.
  4. Sure I want to give practical guidance, but I also want to tell stories. As recommended in Katie + Dr. King’s study, my best stuff will probably include both.

Let’s Talk

So that’s the story: We need to tell more stories! In the comments below, I’d love to know:

  • What’s one of the go-to stories YOU use (or will now use) to teach something valuable?
  • What’s a valuable story you NEED to document before the precious details fade away?
  • If you clicked to read any of my Stories from a Screensaver blog posts, which was your fave?

As always, if you liked this post, please SHARE it with your friends and fans. Makes my day when I log in and see your comments and shares! Thank you for that :)

Til next time!

To family, friends, and good stories.

nik

6

LET’S TALK ABOUT IT.

  1. Susan Droessler

    As you may know I’m the manager of a clinical music therapy department (MT-BC) at a not for profit hospice. Though I’m a medical professional, I have to be JUST as invested in marketing as my department (and the salaries of my dear 9 staff and interns) is funded completely by donations. The director of our Foundation (who came to us from our competitor) frequently uses the phrase “facts tell, stories sell.” Due to the sensitive nature of our work, this catch phrase first really irked me. It felt abrasive and, well, cheap. I always used some patient stories in my presentations (of course within HIPPA guidelines) but since he came along I’ve been challenged to leave more of my clinical mumbo jumbo behind and use the good stuff—stories. And, given what I do and that I’ve done it for 6 years I have AMAZING ones and LOTS of them. Stories of dementia patients who can’t speak who sing for most of each MT session. Others of patients with accelerated breathing rates who The music calmed enough to help them pass away peacefully. As I’ve started to use these stories more and more, guess what? That director was 100% right—my presentations have generated more $s and more direct admissions to our program. In our business dollars and admissions= amazing outcomes for people when it matters most. So if stories= dollars AND dollars= viability of our service And that =good patient care that leads to peace at the end of life THEN stories= peace for my sweet patients at the end of life. Thanks for reinforcing this idea and sharing your stories. Blessings to the Browns!

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Oh, Susan. So near and dear to my heart right now – the music therapy AND the hospice piece. Thank you for doing what you do!

  2. Shanna

    Hey Nikki,
    I wrote an entire book that, per the traditional way of delivering this type of information should have been in a “how-to” format, in story format based on my personal experiences (mainly because that’s how it flowed through me). When I realized how counter it was to the traditional method for writing books of this nature, I had a small freak-out. But I stuck to the way it flowed through me trusting that that’s how it was meant to be shared and now that it’s in the hands of readers, the response has been fantastic! I always hear how the stories made what I was sharing/teaching so relatable. Stories rock and they’re more fun! =)
    Shanna

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Love that, Shanna!

      There’s definitely a time and place for the “expository” form…usually for more in-depth topics when folks are already familiar with the basics. For most of what we cover though, it’s the stories that make it “stick.”

      Congrats on a great response…and for being wise enough to trust your instincts!

  3. Cathy

    Inspiring as usual, Nikki.

    Having taught practical material for a couple of years in an expository format (read DRY), I have relearn how to present practical tips when it comes to my blog, and presentations I give. Don’t get me wrong, I’m writing from a place of passion & heart, it’s just that the content can end up being too detaily…or maybe that’s just my perception if my work.

    The challenge for me now, is to trust that my stories are enough, that there is something in there to inspire & connect with the women I want to work with. As one of my business mentors keeps telling me: “Put more of YOU into it!”

    1. Nikki Elledge Brown

      Absolutely, Cathy!

      I’m guilty of that too. When I get too expository, I can feel it. Which is why I figured I’d call myself out and revisit my roots on this one.

      As with all things, it’s about balance. Testing a constantly evolving recipe ;)

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