Oped

Power of stories

  • Nepali civil society organisations should use storytelling as a new technique for communication
- ANURAG DEVKOTA

Jun 18, 2017-

The technique of communication is a subtle art that everyone can use yet few have mastered. There are different ways to communicate efficiently and deliver intended messages to the audience. This technique is an essential component for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs). 

Communication aimed at creating awareness, implanting ideas or empowering the target audience or the general public requires careful development, with relevant content and good delivery. This is why CSOs often rely on experts to design and deliver the messages they want to convey. In the present context, however, techniques commonly used by CSOs such as trainings, seminars, workshops, campaigns, and power point presentations are steadily losing their charm and failing to produce the desired impact. 

My personal experience as a trainer and human rights activist has led me to believe that the conventional approach of communication is saturated and the functionality of the CSOs is now in question. The traditional form of communication is losing its grip. 

Neurological responses In this context, redefining how we impart information and knowledge to the audience is essential. To this end, what comes to our rescue is the simplest and most efficient form of communication: storytelling. 

Reliance on storytelling to impart information and knowledge is an idea backed by science and personalised human experience. Neuro-economist Paul Zak discovered the neurological responses and chemicals that the brain produces while listening to stories. The way we attach ourselves to stories has something to do with the hormones that our brain produces while listening to them. This explains why we remember our bedtime stories, why we are moved by movies based on true stories and why we respond better as an audience when we hear stories that we relate to or have an interest in. 

Uri Hasson, a neuroscientist from Princeton, observes that a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. The science behind the idea of storytelling is one of the most effective methods to transfer ideas into other people’s minds. Thus, a good story is all about catching the right emotions of the audiences.

Boring training

As one of the most effective ways of communication now, we need to determine how storytelling best fits in with CSOs and how to use it to accomplish goals. 

My personal experience tells me that plain old power point presentations and stereotyped training modules haven’t been very fruitful in the Nepali context. There is intense criticism, and the public allege that trainings and awareness campaigns are nothing more than fruitless strategies and publicity stunts of (I)NGOs with vested interests. 

Would the audience react in the same way if the content of trainings and campaigns was imparted to them through stories they could relate to? Even better, what if the storyteller was someone the audience could relate to? Perhaps this would have worked well for both organisations and stakeholders. Many organisations in Nepal and around the globe realise the potential of storytelling and have started using it as a replacement for old communication techniques. Isn’t it high time the CSOs started using the scientifically sound and practically successful approach of storytelling as a means to achieve desired ends? 

Learn from other fields

Also, the stories being shared or facilitated by someone who speaks the same language and shares a similar culture have larger advantages in terms of imparting information and generating awareness. This approach is already being used by actors in various fields. The CSOs should embrace the idea of storytelling as a desired communication technique. 

The idea of storytelling is gaining its rightful place in the communication sphere as a reliable technique. Nothing transfers information, knowledge, wisdom and ideas better than a well-told story. This is what CSOs in Nepal are in dire need of right now: an effective way to impart desired messages. 

From my experience, I can see that storytelling has not been accorded the significance it deserves. It is high time that CSOs working for public welfare shifted the communication paradigm towards storytelling. They need to learn lessons from other communication fields such as marketing and movies, which impart desired ideas to the audience in the form of a story they love. 

The stories we hear and relate to influence us more than we think they do, and that’s what CSOs need to focus on if they are to have a real impact. Storytelling may not be the easiest and fastest approach, but it is definitely the most efficient one.

- Devkota is a law graduate from Loyola University, Chicago

Published: 18-06-2017 09:39

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