Personal is Universal

How engaged do you feel when a speaker is reading off a 150-slide PowerPoint deck? What about if someone is telling a long story about this one time that they had to return a lamp to a retail store? Nothing out of the ordinary happens; they’re just telling you what they did in excruciating detail. Even though you’re trying to look interested, you’re desperately hoping for an escape.

Why do some conversations bore us to tears, but others leave us hanging onto every word? Humans listen to stories autobiographically, meaning that we put ourselves into the story. But the only way that this works effectively is if the story captures our attention.

Making the Story Personal

Paul Zak, neuroscientist and author of an article titled, How Stories Change the Brain, writes, “Once a story has sustained our attention long enough, we may begin to emotionally resonate with story’s characters.”

This is why we feel so pumped up after watching an action movie, or why we’re sometimes brought to tears when the protagonist suffers a great loss; the story held our attention. The reason this happens is because the hero’s struggle is usually very personal, and what is personal to the hero is universal to everyone else.

Zak confirms this phenomenon stating, “Stories that are personal and emotionally compelling engage more of the brain, and thus are better remembered, than simply stating a set of facts.”

The Hero’s Journey

One of the most compelling story models in history is known as “the hero’s journey”. It is the basis for most of our films and novels. It goes like this: the hero hears a call, reluctantly answers, goes on a quest, struggles against internal and external struggles, possibly meets a mentor on the way, overcomes the struggles, returns home changed, and shares her lessons on the home shore.

What makes this so personal? Struggle. We all identify with struggle. It doesn’t matter how unrealistic the story may be. You don’t have to diffuse a bomb with one second left on the timer, to feel the relief of succeeding at the last second. And you don’t have to give your life to save the world from an alien invasion to identify with sacrificing part of yourself for the good of others.

We find ourselves immersed in these stories, not because the hero constantly wins, but because she gets scuffed up and, as a result, grows beyond what she previously thought possible.

Lead with your scars

This is what we do at The Heroes Journey. We show veterans and their families how to lead with their scars. We show them how to turn their pain into powerful narratives that captivate everyone in the room.

The hard times that veterans have been through doesn’t make them victims, it makes them valuable leaders with the potential to become the most relevant and relatable people in the community during this time of crisis.

So, how can you use this information? Integrate this storytelling rule into how you communicate in your business arena. Think about your upcoming sales presentation or leadership conference. Even if it’s over video, how can you make the presentation a bit more personal, in the beginning, to establish a universal connection? The reward is your audience choosing you, deeply, before they even choose your idea.

That’s narrative in action, and that’s the power of story.

Author: Chris Vetzel