Why Tell Stories?

Why tell stories?  My grandmother, when she was 90, told me that although she was 100 years old (she was a bit confused), she felt as she did in her twenties.  Now that I’m significantly closer to her age at that time, I know what she means.

Someone said that at the age of 60, it feels like you’re eating breakfast every 15 minutes.  Aging is not so much becoming a different person, as finding new perspectives.  Personal development is still important but I’m no longer doing it to set myself up for a lifetime’s work. 

It is easy for the young to mock the old, at least in modern Western culture.  I don’t find wisdom comes with age, I still make the same mistakes.  But older people are survivors – to put it bluntly I’ve had 60+ years, will you?

Why Tell Stories?

Was that a story?  Or polemic?  Did it make you smile?  Were you moved?  Did you want to argue the points I made?

The first three paragraphs are copy.  They open with an anecdote and then expand on the theme of aging, something currently buzzing around my mind. If I developed this as a story, I would seek more to further illustrate these points.  Ideally, I’d replace these paragraphs with a story, moving into teaching towards the end.

Would a story about aging work better than the opening of this post?  Why should a story be more effective than reasoned argument?


Sharing stories helps connect with others at a deeper level.  We all tell stories.  Enter a business network meeting 10 minutes before it starts.  What are the chances you tell someone a story in that 10 minutes?  Or someone tells you a story?

Pretty high!  We do it to connect with others and it works formally too.  For people to know like and trust you, they must hear your stories.  We know this instinctively, although we are not necessarily good at it.  Asking someone what they do is safe but unlikely to trigger a compelling story.

It doesn’t matter what your story is about.  Inveighing at the traffic driving in, may find common ground.  Or your experience of teenage boredom in a rural setting.  Your first kiss or loss of a parent may be riskier.  They’re all common ground and maybe someone needs to hear those stories.


Connection means someone knows you and wants to know more.  You have their attention.  Stories capture attention because you want to know what happens next.  If you capture and hold attention, in speech or writing, your audience will understand what you do and may help you towards your goals.

Stories sell!  Sometimes the right story told to the right audience in the right way leads to sales, even before you say what you’re selling!  Sales sometimes feel as if you’re being hit by a rubber mallet.  Your choices are to run away or buy in order to stop the mallet.  Hear the right story and you’ll buy the mallet!


Stories communicate information.  If someone remembers a story, they remember the lessons within it.  Speakers’ notes help, so long as someone remembers to look at them or remembers enough of your talk to interpret them.  A story with key points is far easier to remember.

Imagine you project a graph that supports your argument, onto a screen.  You must interpret the graph.  Don’t project a graph and leave it to your audience to interpret it.  They will, if they are awake but not necessarily how you want them to! Offer a story they can use to explain the graph.


Stories have emotional impact.  They move audiences to tears or laughter or amazement or enthusiasm. 

None of this matters if emotional change is not matched by action.  The call to action at the end of a story specifies what you want your audience to do.  They do it if they are moved by your story.

So, that’s why we tell stories but what is a story? This is the first post in the sequence, “The Art of Telling”, wherein I share ideas about how to craft a good story

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About the Author

I've been a community development worker since the early 1980s in Tyneside, Teesside and South Yorkshire. I've also worked nationally for the Methodist Church for eight years supporting community projects through the church's grants programme. These days I am developing an online community development practice combining non-directive consultancy, strategic management, participatory methods and development work online and offline. If you're interested contact me for a free consultation.

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