The Story of Story-telling

Jeff is a great guy. He has a knack of making others get his point. He is an excellent communicator. He engages others. He is convincing and persuasive. He generously quotes stories, anecdotes, historical events, personal experiences and real world examples. He uses these examples to get his point across. His narratives are realistic rather than abstract. People get him better because they can immediately become part of his stories.

Jeff is a great example of an effective communicator and teacher. He uses stories. Real or fictitious stories. He narrates them in a way that the listener can relate to with the events and characters inside them. He takes listeners for a ride through his narrations. When they reach the end, they have lived an experience and have learnt something. The objective is the learning and derivation at the end, not the joyride. The joyride is just the vehicle, an enjoyable one though.


Stories are Jeff’s most effective tool to communicate, persuade and teach.

What Jeff is doing is neither novel nor unique. Using stories to teach and communicate has been done for ages. It is one of the most effective tools ever. A story is relayed, in a manner that engages the listener or reader, and then lessons derived at the end. Sometimes the lesson derivation is explicit (e.g. in formal education), sometimes it is implicit (e.g. in kids movies or books). Either way, the path to a lesson or message is through an entertaining journey of an environment, characters, events and emotions. Whether they are real or fictitious sometimes becomes irrelevant from a learning perspective.

Isn’t this what I did at the start of this post? I made you a part of Jeff’s daily life to convey you a message.

The examples are abound.

Pick up a Time, National Geographic, Fortune or a Wall Street Journal. Any report that is not a live coverage of an event will typically start with a story and then expand to generalize and communicate the key idea. Kids learn their first life lessons through story telling. Historical novels and movies convey their message and learning through stories of people living through those times. A BBC documentary would run through lives or experiences of one or more people to convey its key messages. Motivational speakers and writers use real world stories to motivate – most of the times their own. Most of the TED talks you would hear are ideas wrapped in a story.

Harvard’s ‘Case Studies’ model is an example of an entire formal educational program learning pivoted on stories. A Harvard MBA student would go through a tonnage of case studies in her coursework. A typical class session would consist of a series of case studies – a narration of an event or experience – that the class goes through together, followed by discussion and then the derivation and interpretation of ideas, models and principles. That is obviously a model that is no more just restricted to Harvard anymore.

Stories are even the best way to transport history and culture through generations. That is what grandparents did. This is what happens in museums and historical sites. There were even professional story tellers that use drama and emotion to captivate their audience and relay the message. Even the religious scriptures and books use stories of past times to teach and learn. Stories are even a currency of exchange of messages and ideas across cultures and societies. Everyone can understand stories (That is why foreign language movies just need to be translated and they are good to go!).

Communication is what the listener does. And a listener works better with stories!