When a good story is being told, listeners are not only engaged, they’re also involved — both in head and heart.
If you were to think back to the most recent conflict you had, whether personal or professional, significant or trivial — what role did communication play in solving the conflict? Maybe you found yourself thinking that the conflict could have been avoided altogether with better communication.
Just as one of the main reasons that couples split up is due to poor communication, companies change vendors because of poor service delivery and misaligned expectations, both of which can be remedied with better communication. In fact, 65% of recruiters hiring at an entry-level say that an applicant’s communication skills are more important than their college major, highlighting the importance of communication in the workplace.
Successful leaders from Abraham Lincoln to Bill Gates have proven that communication is the key to success and indeed all human relationships. But effective communication is an art, and more so a skill that must be practiced over time.
The Key to Mastering the Art of Communication
As an agency providing professional services, our job at WillowTree is not only to help our clients build a digital product, but also effectively communicate about what to build, when to build it, and why.
To master the art of communication, we start with some basics of human psychology. The human brain is inundated with information at every moment in the day, and we are only capable of retaining so much of it. To continually free up space in our brains for new information that will help us learn and evolve, we subconsciously look for ways to automate and organize incoming information.
It’s why when you wake up in the morning, you stand in front of the sink and brush your teeth without having to think consciously about picking up the toothbrush, squeezing toothpaste onto it, and opening your mouth — your brain has automated this process into a habit, so that you don’t need to waste energy and brain space remembering how to brush your teeth everyday.
Our brains’ evolutionary tendency to free up space and conserve energy is the reason that storytelling is a highly effective tool for human communication. Storytelling parallels the ways that our brains organize and process: facts and information enter as data points, and stories help us quickly connect these points.
It is much easier for us to conceptualize meaning in something we are familiar with. If we have experienced it, we already have a “schema” build for it. This info can then fit nicely into our pre-existing schema and takes no extra effort to store in our brains.
Data and numbers can’t always resonate with a certain experience or understanding, so turning those into a narrative transforms the overall message into a digestible story, secured safely away in our memory.
Leo Widrich, author of The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story Is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains, wrote: “We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation.”
Storytelling not only helps us quickly absorb and understand information, it also helps us communicate new ideas, adding context to facts in a way that evokes emotion. When our creative team members are presenting a new concept, design, or idea to each other, to a client, or to other stakeholders, storytelling plays a key role in this communication.
As an organization that takes pride in our craft, almost any WillowTree team member can relate to the pressure of unveiling a new design or a new idea. We spend so much time everyday communicating and sharing with each other and with clients, and one of the most important things that we’ve learned is that storytelling is a critical part of the creative communication process.
When we are rolling out new design ideas to a client-partner, oftentimes the “why” matters much more than the design itself. A crucial aspect of strong client communication is taking the time to explain “why,” and to tell the story behind the design.
An Example of Creative Storytelling
We are constantly looking for great examples of storytelling. In other words, we want to tell great stories about how to tell great stories.
We just came across an incredible illustration of how compelling and indeed mind-altering a great story can be. A few weeks ago, the University of Virginia revealed a series of new logos that will update the brand identity of UVA Athletics. The renowned university in our hometown of Charlottesville, VA has a broad alumni base and passionate athletic following (and are of course the reigning National NCAA Champions in Men’s Basketball), many of whom voiced harsh and mixed reactions to the new logo designs. Many of WillowTree’s team members initially shared the distaste and confusion about the new logo designs. As you read the postings on the above link, observe how your mind thinks and more importantly feels about these new logos. For most of us, we have deeply negative feelings and tend to agree with many of the critical posts.
As part of the unveiling, UVA Athletics released this video to tell a more in-depth story of the inspiration behind the design. If you watch the video, you will likely have a completely different view of the logos, informed by the context of the story and the emotion evoked.
The use of storytelling transforms the question from whether the design is good or bad to how the presentation of the designs made us feel within the context of the story.
This example is not about the quality of the design of the UVA logos — that can be debated endlessly — it is about how the designs were communicated. There is a clear lesson here: when communicating a new idea or a new design, telling the story and conveying the context is as important, if not more important, than the output itself.
Good communication cannot exist without a deep understanding of human behavior and interaction; a story enables us to create a connection between points of information that goes beyond the design itself. Effective client communication is a key element of producing the best outcomes for our clients, and telling the stories behind our craft helps us enhance this communication.