Why Stories Work: Rehearsals for Life

Ever wonder why we tell stories? Without even trying, we find ourselves telling little stories all day long. We tell a story about our business, about our crazy aunt, about some celebrity or another.

Ever notice that when people don’t quite get what we mean, we tell them a story to explain it? Stories help us convey messages and meaning.

Why Stories work

The power of stories  to convince and inform is not news. The related fact that we remember things much better when they’re part of a narrative isn’t quite as obvious, but still pretty well known. What hasn’t been explained is why? Why do our minds gravitate to stories?

Think about it – more often than not, you get hooked by stories, even not very good ones. You’re a natural storyteller and avid story-consumer. Why should this be?

In her book “Wired for Story,” author Lisa Cron gives us as good an answer as I’ve found: stories are how our minds prepare for life. This view, put forth by a growing number of evolutionary psychologists and supported by an equally impressive body of evidence, holds that stories -- Southportwhen we listen to, watch, or even tell stories, we ‘live them’ to a degree. Our minds get to flesh out what it would be like to act and experience situations without the expense of having to actually go through them.

The evolutionary value of this is clear – Humans are the only animal that gets to try out what we might do in different situations before we have to risk anything in the real world. And stories are the mind’s way of borrowing other people’s experience to learn how it went for them, and ‘try it out’ mentally without doing much physically.

Over time, the theory goes, our minds have become more and more hungry for stories. Our ancestors survived at a higher rate because they were better at listening and imagining the stories of others. It is difficult to think of Dr. Suess, or gossip columns, as the stuff of survival, but they come from the same motivation as stories about hunting, poisonous plants, and dangerous caves.

Stories work for us because our minds are ‘wired’ to love them.

How Good Stories Work

Ever find yourself listening to a story, and fading out halfway through? Sometimes the story just isn’t working for us, it feels flat, fake, boring.

Ever pitch someone else’s idea and fail miserably to connect with the audience? You’re not all the way sure what went wrong, but it just never came together.

Stories are the mind’s way to rehearse life, and this means we need to see ourselves in your story. The mental simulation that gives stories their power absolutely requires that we feel like you’re living your story as well, and this is usually hard for people to do when they don’t own the story.

Said another way, if the telling of your story doesn’t feel authentic, people don’t get into it, they don’t see themselves in the story – because you’re not in the story either. Authenticity is a word that gets used a lot, and oftentimes a little loosely. Here we mean something specific:

Your stories are authentic when you believe in them.

Believing in your stories is half the battle, of course. You need to convey that you believe in them, and this is not always an obvious skill. In fact, by learning to convey stories authentically, you learn vital storytelling skills that transfer to all the stories you tell, because you learn to find yourself in others’ stories.

Learn to Tell Authentic Stories

Ivy Eisenberg tells a lot of stories. We know her at the innovation center because she’s been telling us stories for years. Some of them funny, some just interesting, but all of them captivating. In fact, Ivy is so passionate about the telling of stories that she has an amazing event series, called “pros(e) of pie” – where storytellers get together, share their stories with an audience, while everyone stays happy with pies brought by Ivy, her partner, and clever audience members who barter food for tickets.

We thought this was such a good idea, we’ve got one coming up on November 14th  2015 at the Innovation Center. Personally I’d like to see some cinnamon apple pies, but we’d like to see you come pie or no.

We also asked Ivy if she does any coaching, and she offered to teach a course in storytelling. It turns out that good storytelling can be learned through some simple lessons, thoughtful practice, and apparently, liberal consumption of pie.

Ivy starts you out with exercises that ‘mine’ your own life for authentic stories. Stories that you already own, that you believe completely because you were there, and of course stories that show you what it feels like, and looks like, to tell a story with all your heart. Once you’ve really done that, you will always have a fantastic experience of storytelling to use as a guide.

We’re very proud of this course, and would like to see you there. If you’re a public speaker, an entrepreneur looking to pitch, a mom looking to entertain, a job-seeker hoping to interview well, or just someone that likes to change peoples’ hearts, come join us for Pros(e) of Pie!

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