How Anyone Can Tell a Story like J.K. Rowling
What we all can learn about changing beliefs and behaviors
Posted Sep 17, 2018
Top business schools ranging from Columbia to Wharton teach storytelling as a way to prepare leaders to deliver compelling, persuasive messages that appeal to both heads and hearts. Firms ranging from KMPG to Deloitte now couple candidate recruitment with storytelling, and companies like Nike and Disney include “storytelling skills” among other qualifications for open jobs.
Why so much focus on storytelling?
Because, according to research in neuroscience and psychology, stories are more memorable than numbers, data, facts and statistics. When we hear facts and data, two parts of our brain are working—Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area. We are basically just decoding language. When we listen to a story, however, those same two parts are engaged, plus our sensory and motor cortexes —which are activated when we have an experience—so we actually feel the story as if we are a part of it. This increase in brain activity dramatically increases our retention.
As molecular biologist John Medina, author of “Brain Rules” explains “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event… you could say it creates a Post It note that reads, ‘Remember this.’”
As Ludmila Mladkova of the University of Economics in Prague found, stories engage our emotional mind, not our rational mind. As a result, stories help people overcome the barriers we all build against new knowledge – especially new knowledge that might be contrary to beliefs we currently hold. Stories decrease our resistance to new ideas.
But with so much focus on stories and storytelling, how can presenters and communicators find a way to tell a story that cuts through the noise? By following the wisdom of billionaire Harry Potter creator J.K. Rowling who said, “There's always room for a story that can transport people to another place.”
Stories can help you get people from where they are to where they have not been. Stories can “transport” people to another place—another way of feeling, another way of thinking and another way of acting. Stories create shifts.
Think about Harry Potter himself. He was transported from unwanted to beloved, from sad to joyful, from victim to victor—and much more. He went on multiple transformational journeys and brought us along with him to think, feel and root for him all along the way.
Wouldn’t you like your listeners and followers to do the same for you?
In order to use the wisdom of Harry Potter to make your next pitch, presentation or communique engage and inspire, think about the beliefs and behaviors your listener or listeners hold now – and what you’d like those beliefs and behaviors to be in the near future.
Here are 30 classic storytelling shifts to get you started:
1. From Complexity to Simplicity
2. From Barriers to Bridges
3. From What’s Expected to Something Surprising
4. From Murky to Clear
5. From The Past to The Future
6. From Traditional to Unconventional
7. From Conformity to Rule-breaking
8. From Scarcity to Abundance
9. From Conventional to Original
10. From Cautious to Daring
11. From Exhausting to Energizing
12. From Hopeless to Hopeful
13. From Passive to Active
14. From Following to Leading
15. From Pushing to Pulling
16. From Rocky to Smooth
17. From Concerning to Calming
18. From Vulnerable to Secure
19. From Lopsided to Balanced
20. From Cynical to Optimistic
21. From Trailing behind to Getting out in Front
22. From Reluctant to Ready
23. From Fearful to Brave
24. From Impulsive to Planned
25. From Gloomy to Uplifting
26. From Impractical to Practical
27. From Scattered to Focused
28. From Rigid to Flexible
29. From Ambiguous to Explicit
30. From Failure to Success
You don’t have to be a wizard to make your listeners want to engage with you. But it does take a little bit of storytelling magic.