Children are told stories to entertain them and help them learn about the world. We remember the things we are told in those stories. We learn about right and wrong and about how lives are lived through them. And they help form ideas in our minds.

This continues throughout our lives. We continue to learn through stories and remember things from the stories we are told. This is throughout our education, through books, films, advertising and so on. Leaders use stories to help their teams and their audience to learn. And we see speakers at conferences who use stories to tell us things so that we remember them.

Now think about hearing and seeing those stories, but never seeing anyone who looks like you, or lives life like you in them. Can you imagine that? It might be tough to do that if you have never had to do that. Well, that’s the world many people grow up in and live in.

Why we learn from stories

When people are told things or taught things using stories, they retain 65% to 70 % of that information.

Only 5% to10% of information is retained through dry presentation of data, statistics, lists and, facts.

If you’re giving a presentation, a way to ensure people remember what you talk about is to use data, but focus on the story that the data tells. If you think about the memorable speakers you have heard, perhaps a good TedX speaker, they use powerful stories when they talk.

Why is that?

Well stories connect us to the subject that is being discussed. They help us relate the experience to our own lives. They help us to remember what is being talked about. A good story makes us think and feel, and speaks to us in ways that numbers, data, and presentation slides simply can’t.

This is why stories are used to help people to learn, to influence people and to persuade them. Stories also connect us to things, help us make sense of the world, and communicate our values and beliefs.

Telling stories is one of the most powerful means that leaders have to influence, teach, and inspire. If you think about leaders who have influenced you, they are usually the people who told you the most memorable stories that inspired you.

There’s a perfect example of this in a speech by Barack Obama in 2012. It’s an example of using storytelling to inspire and influence people. He starts with a simple story which ends with an entire stadium chanting by the end of the speech. He unites the crowd through that story and provides a brilliant example of how to use storytelling to lead people.

Story time

So when I train sales people and leaders, I always talk to people about why they should use stories. Good sales people know how to create a story to convince people. And it’s the same with great leaders of people, they know how to use stories to connect with people and influence them.

To use them effectively, you need to think about some different factors.

  • People – who are the characters in your story that will resonate with your audience? Is it a story from your own experiences? It will be more authentic and believable if it is.
  • Message – what do you want people to remember from your story? Make sure your story really reflects that.
  • Place – think about where your story is, people will need to be able to imagine it to believe in the story.
  • Plot – the structure or plot, needs to follow a narrative, where the story starts with setting the scene, introducing the people, then into a conflict or truth that emerges, and onto the final message
  • Purpose – and that final message should connect to the purpose, the thing you want people to feel at the end of the story.

You can simplify this even further by thinking about 3 things you want when you have told the story.

  • What do you want people to know?
  • What do you want people to feel?
  • What do you want people to do?

Mirror Mirror?

Now think about the stories we are told to teach us things, the world around us and the stories we are told. Picture this, a child is looking through story books, and everyone is fair-skinned and blonde. In those stories women are rescued by princes and they do all of the housework. A young woman watches films where women work for male bosses. A young man watches the latest box sets on TV and sees that all the police are men and they’re white, all the bosses are white, and the only people he sees who look anything like him are the people cleaning the streets. A child never finds his name on any badges or toys in shops. A woman never sees anyone who looks like her in the jobs she wants to do.

I could have picked out so many examples to show that many people grow up and live their lives without seeing themselves represented anywhere. Without seeing anyone who looks like them doing the things they might want to do. And then when they start working, they may never see people who are like them in leadership roles. They are likely to see that most leaders look the same.

Then when those people tell stories, do they use examples, and connections which relate to different types of people? We need to see examples around us to inspire us, but most importantly to help us to connect to the stories we hear.

If you’re a leader, or a business founder or you’re working in a role where you need to convince, inspire and persuade people, then take some time to think about how to use stories. Create compelling stories that people will connect with. And remember to think about the wide range of people you are talking to. Use examples people will relate to. Don’t use examples that might offend people or exclude them. And think about how you can help people to feel represented in the stories you tell in your marketing, sales and leadership communications.

It is by thinking about these things and working with people that we help people to be inclusive leaders and to create inclusive marketing messages and values. If you want to talk more about this, email