If you want my four-and-a-half year old’s attention, just open up a book with a great story in it. It doesn’t matter what she’s doing – drawing, fighting with her big sister, playing house with her American Girl Doll. The minute that book gets opened, you have her undivided attention. She WANTS to hear your story.
Kindergarten teachers really understand this. At a recent volunteer day at my daughter’s school, fifteen minutes before recess, there was complete pandemonium in the kindergarten cubbies. Picture it: backpacks flying, indoor shoes being switched for outdoor shoes, and the dreaded two-piece snowsuit. (For those of you living in warmer climates than Ottawa please understand that a four year old with a two-piece snowsuit represents a complete wildcard: It could take up to a half an hour for that child to get dressed).
So where was I? Oh yes – the power of a story, says Ellie. Amidst this pandemonium, the wise kindergarten teacher said “Now boys and girls, I have picked a special story for us to read together before recess. Let’s get our outside clothes on quickly and sit down on the carpet so we can read the story together.”
The first thing I noticed after this statement was the change in the room’s noise level. There was much less talking, and a lot more focus on buttons, hats and mittens. Kids were coming out of the cubbies and sitting down on the carpet with their clothes on with their backpacks securely fastened on their backs – on their own! The teacher opened up the storybook and voila – the kids stopped fidgeting, stopped talking, and started listening.
Is it human nature to want to listen to a good story? Ellie says “Of course it is.” Does it apply to grownups? Of course it does.
Are you Telling Good Stories?
For your next meeting or presentation, ditch the organizational-speak formal introduction and instead, share your favourite story about the organization. You could talk about one of your favourite program participants, or describe something that made you realize why your work with your organization is so important to you. Maybe it’s appropriate to share why a major gifts donor to your organization decided that he or she wanted to make a meaningful gift to the organization.
Make it personal, and really tell it like a story – no script, and from the heart. Your audience will be more inclined to listen to what you have to say: studies have shown that humans are programmed to retain stories better than data and facts.
What happens when people tell each other powerful stories? Ellie says that miracles can happen. I believe her. What do you think?
Photo Credit: Flikr user Mark Van Der Chijs’