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Turning leaders into storytellers

Facts and data make people think, emotions make them act. Whilst information doesn’t stick to people’s minds, stories create sticky memories by attaching emotions and activating feelings of empathy.

Leaders who can create and share good stories to communicate a business’s strategy and vision enable employees to open up their minds to be receptive, feel empowered and understand the valuable part they can play in their organisation’s success. And fortunately, leaders can become better storytellers through understanding the principles of effective storytelling and putting it in practice.

Our brains are wired for stories

The human brain is not built to make sense of large data sets, because data is abstract until it’s put into context that people can understand. And people can understand people. Unlike the binary response typically produced by sharing data, stories activate several areas of the listener’s brain, releasing chemicals such as oxytocin and dopamine, heightening feelings of empathy and a sense of involvement, as if we are participating in the story ourselves. This emotional response can help leaders build trust with their teams and enhance the positive sense of shared ownership.

The way in which a story is told has an immediate effect on the limbic side of the brain, the area that controls emotions and memories. This results in listeners being more likely to remember what they heard and are more likely to be receptive to the proposed call to action. As humans, we crave meaning to help us make sense of the world. This meaning is produced through language, human interaction and connections between important events and circumstances that shape our perceptions. The human brain also pays attention to novelty – we react to turns and unexpected events as our brains perk up when we detect something that breaks a pattern. Good stories have the element of surprise and engaging storytellers have the ability to engage the audience with the unexpected.

Creating authentic connections through stories

A carefully constructed, authentic narrative can be highly effective in engaging, motivating, and inspiring employees and stakeholders. Because storytelling techniques don’t just engage audiences. Done well, stories allow the audience to see themselves aligned with the characters in the story in a way that facts can’t. A strong narrative is based on the integrity of both the story and the storyteller, and the audience will respond it they feel that both, the message and the storyteller are authentic.

The best storytellers look to their own memories and life experiences for ways to illustrate their message, yet they don’t make themselves the hero of their own story. Leaders can still be the central figure, but the ultimate focus should be on people they know, lessons they learnt and events they experience. Putting the audience or employees in the spotlight increases engagement and buy in to the leader’s message.Ultimately, a good business story is about shared ownership - one of the reasons why we listen to stories is to create a deeper belief in ourselves, however if the storyteller’s focus is self centered, audiences shut down.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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