A few weeks ago I was contacted by a girl from New York who’s started a storytelling night in Mexico City. Apparently she came across my blog, assumed I must be a writer, and asked me to join the group as a writer/storyteller. I was first flattered, then scared. But I agreed to join. So for the past few Tuesday evenings, I have been attending this little international gathering of people who listen and read true, personal, self-authored stories. It has forced me to start thinking more about the art of writing and learn how to tell a captivating story, which is actually a vital part of any communication. It is important in business just as in personal life and social interactions.

In fact, I just came across this little experiment done to prove just how powerful a captivating story can be, even in a business presentation, in a blog on research by Joel Rubinson: “At the ARF Industry Leader Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday … we had a live biometric experiment courtesy of Innerscopewho measured 4 biometric functions from 20 volunteer attendees wearing a lightweight vest that transmits wirelessly. The highest attentiveness and arousal readings of the whole morning occurred during storytelling moments!” Proof that storytelling, even in a business setting, is imperative for captivating audiences.

Why do we love stories so much?  In the article,  storytellingthatmovespeople, famous screenwriting coach Robert McKee explains that, “stories  fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living — not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.”

“A story expresses how and why life changes,” beginning “with a situation in which life is relatively balanced” … “but then there’s an event that throws life out of balance.” He says all great storytellers in history and today deal with “this fundamental conflict between subjective expectation and cruel reality.” Because as we all know, life is not always rosy. Nor should it be, he argues, claiming, “the great irony of existence is that what makes life worth living does not come from the rosy side … The energy to live comes from the dark side. As we struggle against these negative powers, we’re forced to live more deeply, more fully.” Fascinating! I think this is really true.

When you think of the best stories and movies, they all involve characters trying to overcome great obstacles. And that is what makes them interesting. The same is true for life. Think of your personal life stories … they probably involve some sort of “cruel reality” that you had to overcome, right? Perhaps some negative event in your childhood? In fact, Robert McKee believes that childhood traumas play an important [positive] role in our creative lives. “The art of storytelling takes intelligence, but it also demands a life experience that I’ve noted in gifted film directors: the pain of childhood.”  So you see, we should thank our parents for giving us difficult childhoods … they were really just trying to give us material for creative storytelling!

Blog bonus: Here are a great clip on storytelling from one of my favorite modern storytellers, Ira Glass from my favorite radio show, This American Life. Enjoy!