Why storytelling matters

A few weeks back I went to see an optometrist to update my contact lens prescription and switch from two-weeks to dailies. After trying a couple of disposable lenses that didn’t do much to improve the dryness I felt at the end of the day, I asked my doctor about Acuvue TruEye, which seemed to be the most comfortable line by that brand. He told me the office didn’t carry them so I asked what the equivalent in other brands would be.

Doctor: “What do you mean?”

Me: “I guess I’m wondering what the most breathable dailies are for the other brands?”

Doctor: “Oh, you can’t compare the lenses like that. [Insert a bunch of technical optometrist speak about the chemical makeup of different contact lenses]”

Me: “?”

I’m in no position to argue with years of medical training; asking for the “most breathable” lenses was a major oversimplification, sure. But my doctor didn’t have much success getting buy-in for the lenses he recommended by speaking jargon. As a patient, I’m expecting him to recognize the spirit of my question and the underlying concerns motivating it, and respond in kind. I’m expecting, in essence, for him to tell me a story.

Storytelling is traditionally viewed as the domain of marketing departments, journalists, and recluse novelists holed up in cabins. The truth is that it touches every aspect of our personal and professional lives. You tell a story about yourself every day through the clothes you wear, the food you eat, the entertainment you consume, and the people with whom you choose to spend your free time.

On the job, storytelling is the skill of pulling back from the details of your day-to-day activities to help people understand why any of it matters.

Designers translate pixels and typefaces (among other things) into a visual identity.

Marketers translate specs and features into a product’s value prop and associated emotional benefits.

Doctors translate symptoms and medical histories into a diagnosis and treatment plan.

Lawyers translate precedents and statutes into a compelling case.

Bankers translate interest rate movements and investor sentiment into a capital raising strategy.

Whether it’s stated in your job description or not, storytelling is one of those intangibles that distinguishes out-performers across the board. Everyone can benefit from becoming a better storyteller and there are an endless number of mediums through which to develop the skills—writing, speaking, visual arts, movement, sound, physical design, etc. Find one that inspires you and practice, practice, practice, until you excel at it. (And then practice some more.)

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