Humans have used stories and storytelling since we developed the ability to communicate. It continues to be a primary means for helping people listen and remember important messages. Listening to carefully crafted stories has been shown to create changes in the listener’s brain chemistry, increasing both cortisol (which focuses attention) and oxytocin (which improves the ability to empathize and create feelings of care).
Excellent stories have advantages for communicating ideas because they have a clear narrative and so are easy to follow, they are concrete, they are credible, they contain a sur- prising element, and they pack an emotional jolt. Even mediocre stories that have just some of these elements help people retain key, simple points that help them act in desired ways. Stories are seen to be more captivating, conversational, outwardly focused on the audience, entertaining, compelling, textured, and real than typical organiza- tional communications.
Different types of stories exist for different purposes. Simmons describes many types of stories that are useful to achieve different types of goals. We look at four here. The first, “Who I am,” is useful when you want to get across your values and the kind of leader or person you are. You open yourself up a bit to allow those around you to see who you are. This type of story is important in job interviews, for example, when interviewers might ask you to describe a time when you overcame an obstacle, or approached a new situation. Political candidates have a well-rehearsed story of “Who I am” so they can connect with the electorate, particularly as they start wooing new sets of voters.