Storytelling has become extremely popular among speakers, teachers, preachers and business leaders. According to an advertisement for yet another book on story telling, “Today, many of the most successful companies use storytelling as a leadership tool…. Some forward-thinking business schools have even added storytelling courses to their management curriculum. The reason is simple: stories have the ability to engage an audience the way logic and bullet points alone never could. Whether you are trying to communicate a vision, sell an idea, or inspire commitment, storytelling is a powerful tool…. Whether in a speech or a memo, communicated to one person or a thousand, storytelling is an essential skill for success.”
I see the value of good story telling but good communication involves more than stories. As in past years, last week I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit. The speakers were excellent but one told a number of stories and lost the audience in the process. When I found my attention wandering I noticed that four people in the row ahead of me and the people on either side had pulled out their cell phones to check their messages or do texting. In themselves the stories had not been strong enough to pull attention away from the cellular devices that constantly tug even for the attention of professionals at a leadership conference. Stories with no clear purpose are entertaining but not always captivating.
Leslie Leyland Fields is a professor of creative writing who this month published a thought-provoking article in Christianity Today. She is positive about story-telling with its ability to “restore the value of the personal in the face of impersonal science and technology, as well as the gods of our age which privilege reason and fact over the personal and experiential.” But Fields decries, for example, how our efforts to reduce the Bible to a concise story can strip away the richness of God’s narratives with its laments, poetry, proclamations, exhortation, cries of despair or hope, praise and prophesy. Bullet point slides may be out of date but some things cannot be put into story form.
I want to be a great communicator, even in blog writing. But to what extent does this involve or go beyond story? Please comment.