I’m in the final year of my economics degree. So, you could consider being lectured to part of my day job. Of course, it’s far more than just sitting there passively – you’ve got to work hard at being present, focused, constantly making connections and thinking about what you’re listening to. But, the speaker also plays an enormous role. You can be the most attentive student of all time, but if the presentation itself is dry, dull and boring, you’ve got no hope.

My lecturers run the gambit: from shy academics barely making eye contact to enthusiastic Brian Cox like figures, eagerly guiding you through the thrilling world of econometrics or microeconomics… There’s one lecturer, in particular, I always look forward to seeing. Whenever he finishes a lecture, it all seems to click somehow: I come out feeling satisfied, like what I’ve learned fits a part of a larger narrative. As soon as I realised this, I found myself asking why.

Now of course, there’s lots of potential reasons – I can’t, in good faith, boil it down to just one. But there’s a noticeable feature that crops up time and time again: something lacking from the duller lectures. I thought I’d take the Occam’s Razor approach and go with the simplest option. In every single one of his lectures, there is some form of storytelling. It could be in the form of anecdotes from his colourful life as a former trader who skirted on the fringes of scandal, or perhaps a convenient analogy. Often, he’s tied his ideas into the larger global stories we’re all a part of, like controversial elections, the rise (and fall) of certain crypotcurrencies or perhaps how Brexit is unfolding day by day.

He kicked one lecture off talking about one of his former colleagues, who he worked with on a busy trading desk in Japan. The scene was set: their office overlooked Mt. Fuji. On a clear day, you could see every crag, every snow-crested cap. If it was cloudy, his vision was obscured. This highly trained, logical, disciplined banker held a completely irrational belief: he would only trade when he could see the mountain. Anything else was bad luck. And somehow, he was a pretty good trader.

That lecture was about behavioural heuristics (such as anchoring and overconfidence), and ultimately related to the efficiency of the stock market. But that story hooked me: it was so evocative, I could clearly see how irrational it was to let something like the clouds descending to determine your decision to buy or sell shares in a South African mining corporation. The image in my mind’s eye allowed me (and my fellow students) to grasp the concepts of the lecture quickly and easily.

“Sometimes reality is to complex. Stories give it form.” – Jean Luc Godard

This works because we think in stories. If you ask someone how their day has been, you don’t want to hear: “First, I woke up, then I went to the toilet, then I brushed my teeth, and after that I showered, using shower gel to wash my body and shampoo for my hair, because it’s been a few days since washing my hair. After that, I poured a bowl of Cheerios…” Hearing that, you feel like screaming and slamming your head into a brick wall. The correct response would be to summarise the key events of your day into a brief story. It doesn’t need to convey every single detail, but rather the overall image or message you’re intending to deliver.

The more engaging, powerful and skilled a speaker, the better they are at telling good stories. The radical success of series like Harry Potter or Star Wars, and even iconic songs like ‘In the Ghetto’, speaks to our longing for satisfying, enduring narratives. In this incredibly fast moving, complex world, stories are a powerful tool to can slice through the unnecessary information and straight to the heart of the matter.

So: how can you use stories to weave threads throughout your speech for the audience to cling onto? How is this relevant in your life and career?

1. First, consider the context​. Who’s your audience? What do you have in common with them? Could you utilise humour? Or is it a more grave occasion? Think about how what you’re going to say will be perceived.

2. Hack away at the unessential. ​Discard all the non-critical information. If you had to reduce your whole presentation, or sales pitch, or lecture in a single sentence, what would it be? Ensure your story builds around this central idea. Don’t distract from your message with stray thoughts.

3. Use them sparingly. ​Stories are immensely powerful when used to reinforce a point, and backed up with sufficient evidence, or perhaps to introduce a new concept in non-technical language. Kipling said: “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” He’s right. But, hearing story after story, with no connective tissue like facts, analysis and explanation, can be tiresome and will quickly lose potency.

4. Be curious. ​Go out into the world, ​read widely, watch new movies, visit new places, and try new things. By taking more of what life has to offer, you’ll be more able to relate to broader and broader audiences. You’ll learn new stories. Over time, these develop significance and meaning – and personal stories are always the most powerful. But nothing insightful or interesting is going to happen to you sitting in your room.

Below is a great video from David JP Phillips on how powerful storytelling can be. You’ve got to check this out, it’ll really make you think…..