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If your storytelling ignores the senses, is it really storytelling?

On the 14th of October 2012 Austrian daredevil Felix Baumgartner became the first skydiver to complete a free fall jump from the stratosphere back to earth.

He used a helium balloon to ascend to an incredible 39km above the earth. On his descent he reached an estimated top speed of 1,357 km/h (Mach 1.25) and in the process, became the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power. He hung on to the skydiving height record for two years until Google engineer Alan Eustace broke it on 24 October 2014 when he jumped from 41.42km above the earth.

When I read about Felix Baumgartner’s amazing feat, one comment that he made really intrigued me. He said that even though he was travelling faster than the speed of sound he still couldn’t feel the effect of the wind rushing past him on his body. That’s because he was wearing a pressurised space suit. So many powerful forces at play and such physical intensity and yet he didn’t feel a thing. Wow.

I think this is a useful analogy for storytelling in business.

So many business stories are like Felix Baumgartner’s experience. There’s drama, intensity and adventure, but the intended audience simply doesn’t feel anything. For business storytelling to be effective, they must first make the intended audience “feel something” and engage their minds and emotions through their senses. Why? Because we remember what we feel, and emotions are the key to inciting action. Logic leads to conclusions, but it’s emotion that leads to action.

If you want to inspire change, improve staff engagement and win new customers through powerful stories, you must first move people. How do you do that in business storytelling? Actually, the same way you would in a novel. Use sensory language.

The most powerful stories activate at least two of our five senses: hear, see, smell, taste, and touch.

Storytelling guru Karen Dietz puts it beautifully.

“Storytelling has its own kind of language. And it’s definitely not the language of acronyms, definitions, science, data, and information. What is it? Simply put, it’s using LOTS: the language of the senses. Stories go far beyond the sharing of experience. They need to be communicated in a conversational manner, such that people can re-imagine in their own minds what you saw, smelled, felt, tasted, heard, and intuited. When you use sensory language or lots of LOTS, people’s brains, emotions, and senses all become immediately engaged. And what could be more powerful than that?”