When I graduated from college at age 22, I took a job teaching in a private secondary school. Among my functions there was coaching in the basketball program. During my third year at the school, I was named head basketball coach.
In the subsequent three years, I was fortunate to have a number of opportunities to attend the practice sessions of some of the most successful university coaches in America. As a young teacher, each chance to watch these veteran team managers in their work environments provided an exceptional learning experience.
Whenever I was able to interact with such accomplished coaches, I was struck by how many of them emphasized the importance of repeating the same fundamental drills and patterns, over and over. Even those who had some of the best players in America on their quads often did exercises that were no different than those I was busy learning to use at a far lower level, with my high school students.
What I discovered was that the best coaches did not do many unique or innovative sorts of activities. What they did do was demand extreme focus and attention to detail, as the players performed their daily routine drills.
Though I left the world of sports coaching many years ago, this mode of behavior—attention to detail and continuous repetition—is one of the lessons that has stayed with me throughout my career. In fact, I have often found myself recommending to my business clients—entrepreneurs in particular—that we return to our basic concepts and exercises.
As such, I am not surprised to find myself today in this familiar territory with one of my New York start-up enterprises. As I mentioned in some previous posts, we are working together intensively again after several months of somewhat less frequent contact. As often happens in such situations, I have noted that some old habits have crept back into the CEO’s speeches and presentations.
In my practice sessions with this individual, for example, he has returned to using logic and rational argument in places where narrative discourse would add power and panache to his discourse. And so, we are busy reminding ourselves of our fundamental lessons about the power of story.
While the rhetorical arguments he uses can indeed be effective, I nonetheless contend that it is difficult to convince potential investors by using logic alone. To understand why I say this, we should reflect on what happens when a speaker seeks to persuade any type of audience with facts, statistics, logic and reason.
As listeners, we are constantly making judgements about what is being said, even arguing with the speaker in our minds. We use all our sources of information, both our own ideas and whatever we might have read or heard elsewhere. This is a normal dynamic, since we are taught in school to be critical when we hear the arguments of others.
We experience rational discourse as outsiders looking in: With rhetorical argumentation—or numbers, charts and statistics—we as listeners remain outside, looking on and criticizing, searching for flaws in the logic. We keep our distance from the teller, and even generate our own counter-arguments. And, when a very good presenter does manage to convince us, it is still often not enough to move us to action. Human beings are simply not inspired to act by reason alone.
Story touches us in a far more holistic way than rhetoric. It is only through narrative that we can touch the entire brain—the left (feeling) hemisphere as well as the right (logical and rational) hemisphere, the subconscious as well as the conscious. Since stories reach both our emotional and our rational sides, they allow us to see and feel information, as opposed to merely understanding it.
When we listen to a story, we share the space with the teller, and we experience it in an entirely different way than argumentation. We are not sitting outside, arguing in our minds with the teller. There is nothing to argue with; we are simply in the story with the speaker, imagining what it must have felt like to be there in that moment.
As such, the great advantage of narrative is that it invites us in. If a story is well told, we experience it from the inside; it touches our hearts as well as our heads. And, when a speaker arouses our emotion, not just our intellect, we are more readily moved to action.
Image: Flickr user Toncay