Storytelling: Words That Change Minds

Once upon a time…..

Once upon a time…..

Our brains are hard-wired to respond to images.  The ability to recall is greater through images than the spoken word, especially if we have an emotional response to an image.  

It is often said that:
• We remember 20% of what we hear

• We remember 80% of what we hear and see

• When those images are vivid, we remember 95%

But doing something still beats them all.

History is rich with examples, from the caveman wall paintings depicting the stages of a hunt to the memorable tales from Homer’s Illiad, the Ramayana, Greek Mythology, Native American tribal lore and the tales of both Aesop and Grimm.  

The image created by Shakespeare’s description of love being like a red, red rose has spawned a massive industry.  Religions use images to support their meaning and power; politicians manipulate the voters with images of a brighter future.  Have you ever seen a car commercial without a squeaky-clean car in it? 

Storytelling long preceded writing. Desert pathways are described in Aboriginal song. As  part of their initiation journey the clan elder men will sing “song lines” to young boys; the elder women will sing them to young girls. The paths are described through song as information is traditionally passed on through words rather than writing.This is part of their initiation journeys. 

Ancient languages have one thing in common; the anchoring use of imagery. 

Which of the two statements below would you likely remember best if I were to say:

  • “Under your seat is a life-jacket. Please remove it if instructed by the crew.”

  • “In the event this flight suddenly becomes a cruise, you’ll find your life jacket under your seat.”

The second statement creates more of a visual image of a plane floating in water. Wouldn’t you agree that the airline traveller is far more likely to remember these safety instructions? So much easier to recall.

Thirty years ago or so I bought a board game in Australia that encouraged storytelling. It involved someone starting a story using words written on a card.  The story is carried on by the next person again using specific words and phrases on the card each player drew. The speaker continues it’s gone around the group a few times.  What I recall most was that the children were far more creative in their contribution than the adults.

These days we play a game called Inspiration.  Described as “A game where everyone knows the answer”, it starts with an answer being read out.  The challenge is for the players to come up with their own alternative question and have it chosen by the other as the correct question for that answer.  

For example one answer given is ‘Four Thousand, Five Hundred’.  The question I come up with might be something like “How many of Napoleon’s troops were killed at Waterloo?” If someone chooses my question as being correct I get a point.  The correct board game question? “How many crocus bulbs does it take to make 1 oz of saffron?”  

By the way the number of poor souls who died fighting for Napoleon at Waterloo was closer to seventeen thousand poor souls.

Recently I came across a modern-day storyteller on social media. He conveys his stories using metaphor which stick firmly in the mind of his audience.  That’s the key to conveying a message.

Here’s what I mean.  At over 35million views (it was 28 million when I first looked!) this still needs to be seen and the message absorbed by more and more people.  His reference to $86,400 creates an intriguing buildup before he reveals the message. You’ll see.

Click to listen:  Time Is Free But It’s Priceless (4:53)

You can find more intriguing stories here

Graeme Dinnen