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Telling stories: a powerful communication tool

“A picture’s worth a thousand words.” “As like as two peas in a pod.” Carefully chosen phrases tell a whole story in a few words.

The right description can strike a chord with the listener or reader that communicates something of real importance. Maybe that’s why our language is stuffed full of metaphors: descriptions that convey one thing in terms of another.

According to “Phantoms in the Brain” by Ramachandran and Blakeslee, storytelling is one of the most important ways you can make sense of all the information that comes at you, every day.

Even children use stories to learn about life. Hearing the tale of Little Red Riding Hood warns your child about the dangers out there in the world, while he remains safe at home with you.

Storytelling can help people change the way they think and act, suggests Milton Erikson. As a hypnotherapist, he used stories to bring about real change in his client’s lives. In her book “NLP at Work,” Sue Knight describes a simple Erickson story of how a stranger returned a lost horse to his owner. He simply guided the horse along the road it wanted to take. The owner asked how he knew where the horse came from. He answered, “The horse knew.”

A story lets you fit the information into your own understanding of the world. It avoids telling you what you should do, and allows you to make your own decisions. Each person, hearing or reading Erickson’s fable, is likely to find something different, maybe even life-changing.

This, according to Erickson, is because most of life is “unconsciously determined.” Much of what you do is the result of activity in parts of your brain that operate without your knowledge. That’s why you keep breathing, whether you think about it or not. It’s why you may suddenly wake in the night, remembering something important you had forgotten.

Stories can tap into your real hopes, fears and desires, at an unconscious level. They can also be great fun and hugely entertaining.

Telling stories is easy. Anyone can do it, though some feel reluctant to try at first. Talk about something you’ve seen, or heard; tasted or smelt.

Try this exercise: in a group of three or four people, take turns to tell a short tale. Any topic will do. Remember to keep it short. After all the stories, every member must tell each of the others what he enjoyed most about their story. You’ll be amazed at the different meanings each simple story will hold.

Avoid trying to explain what you meant by your own story. It may mean something else to the listener, and your explanation may be confusing. Let your stories speak for themselves.