My story begins a long time ago, in a decade far, far, away…when I was running for student council position at the end of my junior year in high school. My campaign slogan was “HELL YES! Vote for Norm!” At the end of campaign week, we had to give speeches. I gave a speech and told a story that brought the house down and had people up on their feet at the end of the speech yelling “HELL YES!” I ended up winning the election by a landslide and having a Hell Yes senior year.
Flash forward 25 years. Those two words— HELL YES! —were still ringing in my ears, and I knew I had to do something with them. So in 2017, I launched the Hell Yes Life podcast, which has since been downloaded thousands of times by listeners in over 100 countries.
The podcast gave me the opportunity to interview dozens of purpose-driven entrepreneurs, founders, authors and speakers—including New York Times bestselling author Gary John Bishop, top podcaster John Lee Dumas, rocket scientist and TEDx speaker Olympia LePoint, and Chicken Soup for the Soul co-creator Mark Victor Hanson—who were out there doing impactful work and living their Hell Yes Lives.
When I was doing the podcast, I couldn’t help but notice that what really stuck with me months—even years—after I did the interviews were my guests’ inspiring stories. As I started to do research about for my book, The Story Powered Speaker, I started to understand why storytelling was so impactful and powerful. Here are three key reasons why storytelling works:
When speakers primarily use facts, figures, data and bullet points in their presentations, they often find themselves getting blank stares from their audience. Why? Because facts, figures, data and bullet points are processed by the prefrontal cortex, a comparatively newer part of the brain.
Stories, on the other hand, access a much older part of the brain called the limbic brain. The limbic brain, which includes the amygdala, is responsible for emotions, including trust and loyalty. It is also responsible for decision making.
Note that it’s not in the logical part of the brain where decisions are made. It’s in the emotional, and sometimes irrational, part of the brain. Then, oftentimes, your logical brain is left with the task of rationalizing why you made the decision.
This is how you end up buying that expensive pair of shoes even though it doesn’t “make sense” and then have to explain to your partner why you spent the money. To access this emotional part of the brain, you need story.
As Simon Sinek points out in his classic TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” leaders and organizations with the capacity to inspire think, act, and communicate from the inside out. They start with their Why.
But how do you find your why? One place we can find it is in our story. Uncovering your origin story can help you articulate your mission and purpose. It can help you understand the “golden thread” that connects the past, present, and future of you and your business.
When Howard Schultz, founder of global coffee giant Starbucks, tells the story of his childhood, when he was living with his family in a public housing project in Brooklyn, it helps customers understand that his intentions are greater than just to serve up a good cup of coffee.
“The most indelible image I have of my dad is of him lying on our couch in a cast, distraught,” Schultz says. “I was about seven years old. It was winter, and he had a job delivering cloth diapers. He’d fallen on a patch of ice and broken his hip and ankle. He was fired from his job and had no health insurance, no workers’ compensation, and no savings. The image of my father on the couch, helpless, stuck with me.”
In 1988, Starbucks became one of the first companies in the United States to give health insurance to all its employees, including part-time workers. Through hearing Schultz’s story, we understand why.
Another reason you’ll want to brush up on your storytelling skills is that stories can make you rich. You might think that the return on investment of storytelling would be hard to calculate, but it’s been done.
According to Harvard Business Review, companies that tell stories experience annual revenue growth rates that are 70% higher than companies that don’t. Meanwhile, John Koer and James Jaskett of Corporate Culture and Performance found that revenues grew four times faster for companies that have cultures based on their story and values.
It may seem like storytelling is too “soft” to have this kind of an effect on your speech or your business, but it’s one of the keys to boosting your bottom line.
Those are just three of the many reasons you should prioritize mastering the art and craft of storytelling as a means of attracting your ideals clients and growing your business. If you really want to connect with the people you’re here to serve, there’s truly no better way to do so than to tell your story.
To learn more about using the magical power of storytelling to grow your business, check out Norman’s book, The Story Powered Speaker, as well as his online courses and one-on-one coaching programs for leaders and entrepreneurs.