Storytelling is still the most effective way to teach and coach. Here’s why.
Once upon a time…
A Zen story, to begin with.
One day, two monks were travelling together. While cutting a pathway through the woods, they came to a river with a strong current. By the bank of the stream, stood a beautiful young maiden dressed in silk. She was clearly at a loss as to how to cross without getting muddy and wet.
The young woman asked if they could help her cross to the other side. The two monks glanced at one another because they had taken vows not to touch a woman.
Without thinking twice, the elder monk gestured to pick her up. He put her over his shoulder and waded across to the other side. The younger monk, distressed and uneasy at what he had witnessed, followed them.
Upon reaching the other side of the bank, the elder monk put the maiden down gently. The maiden paid her respects and walked on. The monks then continued on their way to the temple.
The younger monk couldn’t believe what had just happened. After rejoining his companion, he was speechless, and an hour passed without a word between them. Two more hours passed and finally the younger monk found the courage to speak up: “How could you do that? We aren’t even supposed to make eye contact with women, let alone pick them up and carry them!”
Without a thought, the elder monk turned to the younger monk and said, “Oh, are you still carrying her? I put her down three hours ago”
What is your lesson from this story?
I’ll tell you my takeaways at the end of the article. Stay tuned!
The Power of Storytelling
What’s easier to remember?
An abstract, conceptual theory or an inspiring plot, possibly a real one?
The answer is easy. Everyone knows that a story is a much more powerful and effective tool to deliver a message, even to teach a lesson.
It’s simpler to articulate for the speaker.
For the audience, it’s easier to understand and to remember.
That’s why many spiritual masters taught through parables and tales, and philosophers used allegories and fables to convey their deepest thoughts.
That’s why the most inspiring public speakers and leaders often use personal anecdotes to get their message through to the audience.
Storytelling is the glue of human connections.
Storytelling is the message carrier that makes the lesson stick into the student’s mind.
Storytelling is the movie-like representation of our lives.
As a leader, writer and public speaker, I’ve come to realize that an enjoyable and effective story, for the purposes of teaching and coaching, has these characteristics:
- It’s short: 1–2 written pages or a 4–6 minutes long talk. This minimizes the risk of losing the audience’s attention, as we all tend to get distracted very easily. It’s not an accident that Toastmasters require speeches to stay in the 5–7 minutes range.
- It’s easy to understand, for everyone. It’s told with everyday words and little or no jargon. The takeaway might be practical or philosophical, but the narrative is simple, plain and clear.
- It’s factual. It is presented through events and has little or no ‘raw’, abstract theory, although the lesson is broader and deeper than the bare facts.
- It has emotional content. It touches you, and it has a meaning for you, in the first place. Your aim is to touch the audience too.
- It has a final twist. The very last line makes the lesson clear.
- It’s compelling… it keeps people focused because they want to hear the grand finale.
What’s your takeaway?
I have a predilection for Zen stories: they have an aura of mysticism and peacefulness that speaks to my heart.
In my eyes, the story of the two monks and the maiden epitomizes the ability to let-go of the mental chatter around guilt and remorse (elder monk). On the contrary, the typical habit we have is to linger on those negative thoughts for long periods (from hours up to many years… younger monk).
Interestingly enough, as I googled this story, not only I found small variations of the plot, but also slightly different takeaways.
Someone’s interpretation was more around the importance of living in the present moment and take on any challenge that life presents us; somebody else highlights how the compassion of the elder monk was stronger than the vow he had taken.
Different eyes, different interpretations, different lessons.
The beauty of Storytelling.
What are your thoughts?
More stories from Vale:
- How great Leaders inspire through Story Telling
- The Art of balancing Waiting and Action
- The rare trait that Highly Inspirational Leaders have in common.