In the same way as I did with my daughter, I now enjoy reading to my grandchildren. It is wonderful to see the awe on their faces in response to simple pictures and messages. Admittedly this often leads to them wanting to hear the same story several times in a row, but it is an important part of how they learn and understand things.
Storytelling is a skill and, when done well, people have the ability to educate, influence and motivate others. After all, if good storytelling can have such a positive effect on children, why not adults? Some of the most famous names in history owe their prominence to their ability to tell a story and bring people along with them.
Good storytelling also tells an audience as much about the messenger as it does the message. Done well, it not only demonstrates that the person knows their subject; it shows they have taken the time to think about their audience – what their needs are, what is most likely to resonate with them as a result and how, in a commercial sense, the person telling the story can meet those requirements.
One of the best presentations I attended over the course of my career was a discussion on liability-driven investment (LDI) around 20 years ago. As an investment approach, LDI was in its relative infancy and it would have been all too easy for the presenter to explain the concept at length using a lot of technical terms. Instead, that person focused on the challenges asset owners faced and the client problem that LDI solved. It was a well-told story that showed understanding of and addressed the needs of that audience. As a result, the audience went away wanting to hear more and so were much more likely to engage with that business in future.
Today, however, good storytelling feels like something of a lost art. As we get older, we have a tendency to want to make things more complicated – to make ourselves look clever; to believe we have knowledge (and hence power) that others don’t; to cover up the fact we actually have less knowledge than it might appear; or because it is just too hard to keep things simple. The result is often something overly technical, complicated and laden with jargon or language that others don’t understand.
Today, we are bombarded by information from endless different sources and channels. There have also been numerous studies showing that our ability to retain information has decreased. In this context, the art of storytelling is more important than ever. Yet it is something that too many people either overthink or overcomplicate.
We have to remember that people won’t necessarily take on board or retain everything we say. They are much more likely, however, to respond to how we make them feel. They are much more likely to respond positively if things are kept simple and are made to feel special by messages which demonstrate an understanding of their needs (rather than get lost in complex language and jargon).
With that, I am going back to my storytelling and am looking forward to reading the Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury classic, “We’re going on a bear hunt” – a simple story with a clear direction and simple message.