Why Stories Are So Effective When It Comes to Teaching - Think Deep

Why Stories Are So Effective When It Comes to Teaching

If you ever find yourself in a position where you really want to teach something, whether you’re giving a speech, a presentation at work, or just plain old advice to a friend, stories are the way to do it. They’re one of the most effective tools when it comes to really “planting” our points in people’s minds. We may be tempted to just state the facts and the points that we want to get across, as well as the logic to back them up, and just repeat them again and again for emphasis, hoping that the good old strategy of attrition will do the trick, but we find that won’t be the case.

People forget. That strategy doesn’t “stick”. Stories have a much better “sticky” factor and it’s through stories that people remember the points. People remember the tortoise and the hare, and then they remember the point that slow and steady does indeed win the race.

So why are stories so effective when it comes to teaching?

One of the biggest advantages that stories have over just stating facts, logic, and reasoning is that it provides a big enough framework to allow people to see a bigger “experiment” going on so to speak. They can see how different types of actions interact with one another to create different results, and then how those actions can somehow result in a certain tangents being created, or attracting certain circumstances, etc. It’s taking a step back and seeing how the many variables interact with one another rather than just focusing on a fixed, narrow point of view of space that comes along with just stating the points and logic behind them.

Because of the “space” that stories provide, it’s big enough to show the results and outcomes and to prove the points effectively through the analysis of the actions that led to those results and outcomes. It also provides a forum where our own objections can be answered to remove any mental barriers we might have and to allow the story and its points to “sink” into our minds.

And last, but not least, people can relate to stories, especially if they come from the speaker’s own experiences. Don’t get me wrong, stories that don’t come from your own experiences are great too when trying to get across a point. Parables are great at doing just that. But there’s something about telling a story from your own experience that just doesn’t compare to telling a story outside of your own experience.

Your whole being goes into telling the story when it comes from your own experience. There’s a certain emotional X factor that injects itself into the story that the audience feels, an X factor that makes the message you’re trying to get across that much more “stickier”. The stories of our own experiences, when shared, help us to connect with each other on a deeper level because we find that we can always relate to it somehow, in some way, shape or form, and it helps to paint the picture of logic AND emotion, emotion that comes from telling your own story to help ingrain your message into the minds of others that much more and to really anchor it.

You’ll find that a lot of popular best selling self improvement and business books are popular and best selling, just because they incorporate this idea of telling a good story.

Let’s take a look at Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad. The main points of the entire book can be summed up in more or less these four sentences.

– Become financially literate by understanding the difference between assets and liabilities: Assets are things that put money INTO your pocket and liabilities are things that take money OUT of your pocket.

– Instead of spending your money and saving what’s left over, save your money FIRST and use it to buy assets that put money INTO your pocket and keep your liabilities to a minimum as well so you can build your assets quicker.

-You want to possess enough assets that can produce enough cash flow to exceed your liabilities: These assets include owning your own business, rental income from real estate, “paper” assets such as stocks, mutual funds, and bonds, etc.

– Know how to leverage the tax system in your favor.

Certainly one can go through the “hard logic” route to get these points across, but would the book have been that much of a success if it did go that route? Chances are, the answer is no. It would’ve just been another one of those “dry” financial books.

The story of how he grew up with a rich dad and a poor dad (which some say is just a made up story that Robert concocted), and how he weighed their two philosophies, and the experiences he went through putting them into action (working at the grocery store, starting his own comic book reading business, etc), it allowed the reader to see everything in the big picture and how the different types of actions he took resulted in different types of outcomes.

The reader is able to see the “sequence” of actions Robert took and all the tangents that resulted from it, as well as what Robert realized along the way. And the book relates to most people, especially those who feel that the educational system does absolutely nothing to help people make money, who feel that people don’t really “need” it, that it just serves to put them on the treadmill toward a job for life – a very sensitive and highly debated subject indeed.

The story was able to do all these things – it made people FULLY understand one of the biggest points that Robert was trying to get across – the difference between assets and liabilities, it showed all of Robert’s experiences in the “big picture”, and it helped relate to all those who felt that something was wrong with the educational system when it comes to helping people make money.

You’ll find that most bestselling books utilize the power of story and therefore are in the format of “story -> reasoning -> point”, like in the case of Rich Dad, Poor Dad or the reverse, “point -> reasoning -> story” in order to get their message across. Either way, both routes utilize the power of stories to drive home their respective points into the minds of readers.

Stories really help people to TRULY understand the point being given. Not just understand it in the sense that they can repeat it from memory, but to really, truly understand it from all angles and have it sink into their mind, enough to actually influence their behavior and actions in the future.

To illustrate, here’s one of the most popular points in self improvement that most people hear all the time, but just can’t “swallow” out of doubt and fear.

“Just start and everything else that you need will come to you along the way.”

Or if you want the longer and more eloquent version:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back– Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”

The point is made in order to disarm people’s fears and doubts of starting to go down the path of their dreams, whatever they may be.

At first, the point is met with hard resistance. It’s a tough pill to swallow. It almost sounds like “magic”, which further makes readers resist the point that if they just start, everything will come together.

Then logic is introduced to reinforce the point and to break down that mental resistance, the logic being that if you start, then you take some sort of action which will lead to another discovery of knowledge which helps you make a decision to take another sort of action, which leads you to find this person who can help you, which leads you to this idea, which leads you to that idea, which leads you to another person who can help and teach you, and soon momentum really starts to build toward the achievement of your goal, etc.

The picture is becoming a bit clearer now with the logic. But resistance is still there.

A story needs to be heard to bring all this logic to life and to tie it all together.

So the speaker relates of his own experience. His dream was to become a bodybuilding champion. So he started to work out at the gym, broke the windows of the gym on the weekends when it was closed just so he could sneak in and work out, built his own gym in his basement, lifted the lumber at his job to get more exercise in, refused to play soccer with his friends out of fear of losing muscle, found a role model to look up to, met a mentor at the gym he worked out at who introduced him to anabolic steroids, which helped him gain muscle even faster, got the money he needed to travel to compete from people he met along the way who he impressed with his burning desire, learned about the “show business” side to bodybuilding from other mentors he met along the way, which helped him to win even more competitions, got the army to support his goal to become a bodybuilding champion by getting them to give him all the food he could eat to put on even more muscle, learned to play “mental” guerrilla warfare with other contestants, and on and on and on and upon hearing the rest of the story, the reader finally begins to understand how things came together for the speaker, and gets excited at the possibilities of what might come to himself, if he just starts.

By listening and/or reading about the story, all the logic of that point comes to life and all it ties together and makes sense to him (the preceding was just the partial story of how the one and only Arnold Schwarzenegger got to achieve his goal of becoming a bodybuilding champion by winning the Mr. Universe competition).

This is just another reason why I recommend reading autobiographies of successful people because when you begin to read all their stories, you’ll see this point of “just starting and having everything come together” holds true in ALL their cases which helps make that point that much easier to swallow.


Not just great for entertainment, but for learning and more importantly, for truly understanding.

They are truly indeed, one of the most effective tools out there when it comes to teaching.

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