I still vividly remember my first day as a freshman at the University of the Philippines. It was 6:30 in the morning. I was half an hour early for my Communications I class. With my old, red Jansport backpack serving as my security blanket, I anxiously walked along the empty hallway. After spending the last 12 years of my life in an all-boys school, I did not know how to feel or think about having female classmates in a very large campus. As fate would have it, I was the second student to arrive for class, the first being a petite girl. She was standing outside the classroom when I nervously approached the door. Nobody else was there. Obviously, I kept my distance. However, she did not. She asked me for the time.
“Why did I even wear a watch,” I told myself. “6:30,” I answered without making eye contact. Unconsciously, my legs took two steps back and my body turned away from her.
I can no longer remember the number of times I have told this story. Depending on why this story is being shared, it already has several iterations. If I want to provide context to my personality, particularly on how I interact with people, I focus on my response to the seemingly innocent what-time-is-it conversation starter. If I want to connect with an audience full of students, I focus on the emotions I was feeling as I walked the empty halls on my very first day in a new school.
Stories, no matter how they are being told, have been used for thousands of years as a means for people to connect with one another. People who share stories and who have found the right level of vulnerability through the details within the story, have better chances of capturing the attention of their listeners. Transparency in storytelling renders relatability. As human beings, we often find ourselves drawn to stories that, apart from being understandable, trigger an emotional response either because we went through the same experience or the story provided us with a different perspective.
Because of its effect on people, stories allow the storyteller to connect to the audience’s hearts and minds. With this level of connection, we can have a better chance of delivering a message in a more meaningful way. The lessons we want to convey are more likely to stick to an audience than simply reading through a bulleted list of “lessons learned.” Stories, which appeal more to our emotions, can make the reader or listener act. If a call to action is the objective of your message, you are a step closer to meeting such objective. I have heard of anecdotes wherein sales pitches were won, not because of technical expertise, but because the one who delivered the sales pitch was a great storyteller. The sales pitch became more compelling to the customer.
In whatever endeavor we are pursuing — may it be at home, at work or school, or on the streets — we have been incorporating stories in our presentations, lectures, and daily conversations. However, have we been purposeful with our use of stories?
Stories are a good way to keep the audience engaged or to inject humor; but, hopefully, stories serve a deeper purpose. Being mindful of how a story can support and elevate the message we are trying to convey is one way of making the story purposeful. There are no wasted words, and we can highlight parts of the story to support the message. Stories should not be mere embellishments—rather, they should be treated as an integral part of the entire message. The story can even be the framework to which we can anchor the entire message.
As published in The Manila Times, dated 11 December 2019