The Power of Storytelling


By: Sam Swaminathan

Here is a quick question for you: What has influenced your thinking the most in your life?

In response to a survey I sent out to some three thousand senior executives which had the above question, the overwhelming majority responded back by replying that the stories they heard [from parents, grandparents, friends, community leaders, etc.] influenced their thinking more than anything else.

Come to think of it, isn’t that what we do with our own children? We tell our children stories before they go to bed, when there is a celebration at home, when we want them to learn about the great people who lived before us… the list is endless.

Stories are powerful influencers, perhaps more than any other influencer. Imagine yourself at a meeting with a venture capitalist.  You need a few million dollars to develop new technology that will make clean water available at practically no cost. It’s one thing to present a few dozen slides showing revenues, costs, discounted cash flows, and projected profitability. Imagine that you present the slides and then relate a story about a trip you made to Bangladesh, where you found millions of people suffering from inadequate and polluted water supply, and how one family in this little village lost three children as a result of polluted water. Then, you conjure a scene where this new technology has been implemented in that village, and the entire village has an inexhaustible source of inexpensive, safe water. There are no more deaths due to water pollution. The villagers have been liberated!

While the former presentation would appeal to all the rational instincts of people, the latter is likely to appeal to the rational and emotional instincts of the listeners. And there lies the power of storytelling. A good story memorably narrated can influence thinking profoundly, as it absorbs and engages the listener.

There is another powerful item at play. The world is being driven more and more by knowledge. Knowledge workers are very different from industrial age workers. They think more holistically, and are therefore more likely to be influenced by a combination of reason and emotion. As someone said about Powerpoint presentations – hey, we have lots of points, but where’s the power?

While not everyone is a natural storyteller, all of us can learn to become better at it. It is also a very liberating experience to tell a good story and watch the audience “get” the point. 

Good stories cut across age, geography, gender, religion and culture. In a globalized world, well articulated stories are a vital and necessary part of the leader’s arsenal.

A well told story is almost always more powerful than a logical argument.    

By: Sam Swaminathan

2015 Alliance Training and Consulting, Inc.



 Related Training topics include: Presentation Skills Courses, Train the Trainer Courses and Sales Training