Engagement Leads to Storytelling

Engagement Leads to Storytelling


Why does a story, decades old, stay in our minds, whereas last evening’s PowerPoint gets washed down with last evening’s cappuccino?

Turns out it’s because stories are more than entertainment. Neuroscience tells us the human brain is wired for story. Story is weaved in the tale of our humanness so as to speak; our brains understand narratives far better than they understand a deluge of facts. The more vivid a story, the greater its impact.

Stories are also powerful because they plug into the empathy that links us to others. “People are attracted to stories,” says Keith Quesenberry in a Harvard Business Review article, “because we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.”

Now let’s take a jump cut to a masterclass in storytelling by one of history’s greatest popular leaders. Dr Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is a virtuoso feat of storytelling, with its switch between the past, the present and the future and its use of picture-words and metaphors.

When stories talk, people listen.

“A good leader is a good storyteller,” sums up Alexander Mackenzie at the Cranfield University School of Management. This is why experts suggest storytelling as a powerful management tool. Crucially, a good leader can use storytelling to engage her employees and make them feel happy to come to work every day.

So how to tell a good story?

We’ll turn to German novelist Gustav Freytag’s storytelling pyramid for a graphic of what makes a good narrative. According to Freytag, be it a Grimm’s Brother fairy tale to a Shakespeare play, good storytelling follows an essential path. A good story begins with a situation. Action rises throughout the story to reach a climax. And finally, resolution is found—results are achieved.

Now imagine complimenting a team-member via a Great Work story. Because everyone loves a good story, we end with an example using Freytag’s situation-action-resolution format.

“Brian, we had only a couple of days to submit our project, and you still pushed us to explore something new—to be more creative and innovative in our approach. Thank you. Because you insisted that we try one more time, we generated some great new ideas.”

Consider the impact of this story on employee morale Vis a Vis a generic complement on the lines of “Good job.”

Then consider the fact that a 10-year, 100,000-person study conducted throughout the U.S. and Canada by the O.C. Tanner Institute and Health Stream says 79% of employees who quit their jobs cite a lack of appreciation as a key reason for leaving. And of the people who report the highest morale at work, 94.4% agree their managers are effective at recognizing them—telling a story about the great work they’ve done.

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