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Most communicators believe in the power of a good story – but why do they work so well?


The current edition of InsideOut (the free monthly magazine for IoIC members) has dedicated the whole of May's edition to finding out. We talk to award-winning writers, leading comms agencies, a culture expert, a film-maker and more - including a Game of Thrones expert on what the TV blockbuster can do for comms.

One of those featured is business psychologist Andy Gibson, who says storytelling works because it’s a matter of memory. Or lack of it.

“Essentially we have limited slots in our working memories,” he explains. “Whenever we’re trying to take in new information, if we’re hit with too many things to remember simultaneously, we can’t remember it all.

“Stories are a way of ‘chunking’ that information. They’re a way of joining together different elements into one single chunk or sequence so we can remember the whole thing.”

However, simply listing facts in a single sequence is not enough, there has to be meaning – a story.

“If it’s just a sequence of joined facts it probably won’t work,” says Andy. “But if the story is different, there’s a moral and a beginning, middle and end, we remember it.

“Our brains try and make sense of everything that happens to us, we re-organise everything. But our memories are quite slippery, we forget the bits that don’t make sense. In fact, the world makes more sense to us than it should because we force it to make sense.

“When you tell a story, you’re forcing the world to make sense so that people will remember.”

Stories have been described as ‘an interrupted routine’ and Andy says that’s how they work.

“Most of the time we go through life automatically, we don’t remember it,” he explains. “We drive to work and can’t remember it. We’re very habitual in the way we do things but occasionally something happens that breaks our routine and that’s what we tell people about – that’s the story.

“Every day I get the tube to Chancery Lane, I walk to the office, I do my work, I walk back to the station and get the tube home. If one day there’s a lobster on the tube and everybody was scared, that’s the bit I tell a story about…’

Andy Gibson is the author of A Mind For Business (Pearson), and founder and ‘head gardener’ at Mindapples, whose purpose is to change the culture around mental health and our attitude and behaviour around our minds. He has worked with global businesses including Bupa, News UK, L’Oreal, PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Wellcome Trust to help them get the best from their staff.

IoIC members can read the rest of the interviews in May’s InsideOut, the Institute’s free monthly magazine. Members should log in at the top right of this screen. You’ll then find InsideOut in ‘IoIC Knows’ – simply click on ‘Publications’ in the drop-down menu.

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