2016 AC Day 2: Kindra Hall On Why Storytelling Matters – And How We Can Tell Compelling Stories

By Ari Pinkus posted 02-27-2016 02:53 AM


Kindra Hall’s love of storytelling began in the fifth grade. She wasn’t having a particularly pleasant year while her best friend was super popular. Then, her teacher assigned her class to choose a story and tell it to classmates. From the time she shared her chosen story, Good Giants Big Toe, she got hooked on storytelling — and her world started opening up.

During her school days, Kindra continued to grab and keep people’s attention with her stories. She kept telling stories beyond childhood. In her graduate school program in organizational socialization, she would start long research reports with a story, provide a ton of information, and wrap in a story at the end, she said.

When Kindra became VP of sales for a multinational corporation, she was still telling stories. “I thought I would leave it behind because it’s kind of fluffy. Then I realized I was at my best when I was telling my story,” Kindra said. She studied under the world’s best storytellers, including Donald Davis, whom her son is named after. And in 2014, she won a Storytelling World Award. She released her first book, Otherwise Untold: A Collection of Stories Most People Would Keep to Themselves.

In her presentation to the packed room of educators, Kindra answered three questions:

  1. Why is storytelling so effective?
  2. What is and isn’t a story? (Some companies think they’re telling stories, but they really aren’t.)
  3. What tools do you need to put your story to work?

How a Good Story Raises Value

Storytelling makes price irrelevant, Kindra said, as she relayed a study on significant objects. Researchers put 200 little knickknacks on eBay and paired them with a compelling story to see how much they would sell for. As an example they put a No. 4 tile on the auction site, which is available for $6 from The Home Depot. They paired that tile with a story of a couple moving into their first home. The tile sold for $88. In another example, they posted a cute little pony, which they purchased for $1. They paired it with a story of a woman whose daughter’s favorite toy was that pony. She said she hoped that someone would enjoy it as much as her daughter did. The selling price: $104.54.

“If you’re facing the challenge of value, you’re not telling the right stories. People will pay a lot of money for a good story,” Kindra said. “I’m not telling you to lie; I think the truth is much more interesting.” You can raise the value of something by 3,200 percent with a story, she added.

In Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind, he notes the way stories place facts in context and deliver emotional impact.

Stories can also affect cortisol and oxytocin levels, studies show. Cortisol is responsible for increased focus and attention while oxytocin helps in building trusting relationships. “If you want to fast track relationships, share one story about yourself. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable because the brain will respond,” Kindra said.

Making an emotional connection is a vital element for a story. Think about your school’s print brochure. Does it tell the stories of the girls or give the statistics of the graduates? Remember that your story will outperform statistics and information any day — even when the stakes are high.

Why Are Stories So Powerful?

Stories are memorable because we co-create them. In fact, this is the unique advantage of storytelling that no other strategy can match. As someone tells you a story, you are creating images of your own. For example, when Kindra was describing her fifth grade experience, we were imagining the hallways we walked through in school. We could see them, and smell them, she said. “Because we participated in that experience together and because we created it together, it will stay with you longer.”

As Rudyard Kipling said, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

What Isn’t a Story

A story is not a

  • tagline,
  • slogan,
  • mission statement,
  • history lesson,
  • date on a calendar (If the first line on your website is the year you were founded, you’re missing the point, she said.)
  • statistics,
  • impressive results,
  • vague high-level principled talk, or
  • theory.

Kindra worked with a construction builder who would only talk about integrity so she asked him to share a story that illustrated the value.

He found his story: He was sitting across the table from a really big client. And the client said that $1 million in cash was in his briefcase under the table. The client then asked the builder if that changes anything. The builder replied, “I’m sorry; that’s not how we work here.”

Later, the client called and said, “ ‘You’re exactly the builder we want to work with.’ They’ve been working together for 30 years. That’s a story about integrity,” Kindra said. That’s principle grounded in real life.

A story happens in a moment, in a single interaction, in the classroom, she said. It happens in a particular place and time. Story requires talking about emotions. It has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In a story, there are characters to care about and something at stake.

Many times organizations allude to their story but don’t actually tell it. It’s the biggest mistake they make, Kindra said.

The Art and Science of Storytelling

Kindra’s three key steps to storytelling:

  • Finding the story (not easy)
  • Crafting the story (not easy)
  • Telling the story (easiest part)

On Finding the Story

Keep in mind that stories attach themselves to the nouns in our life: people, places, things, and events.

She directed us to make a list of every place we’ve ever lived. “Even as you think of the name of the house, don’t stories start coming back to you about the things that happened in that house?” she said.

Kindra described working with a magazine that was covering the big theme of innovation when the publisher wanted to start a publisher’s letter. To go beyond merely talking about innovation, she instructed him to make a list of all the pieces of innovation that he had seen over his lifetime. He relayed the first time he used his dad’s cellphone that came in a big suitcase. He used it to make a call at the gas station that ended up costing $300. That’s a great story that conveys the significance of innovation, Kindra said.

To ferret out your own story:

  1. Make a list of values (What story involves people and values?)
  2. Make a list of objections (Why don’t people choose you?)
  3. Make a list of proudest moments (These usually involve challenges and students.)
  4. Happiest students/parents
  5. Describe when your why was born (Why do you do this? It’s not for the fame and fortune; tell the story to your students so they know that they are loved.)

On Crafting the Story

A story has a beginning, middle, and end. Think of the three parts this way: normal (beginning), explosion (middle), and new normal (end).

Typically, we only hear about the explosion, or the happening, not what came before it. In other words, people haven’t started with the normal, Kindra said.

Begin your story by describing one of your students before he or she began attending your school. Then, move to how he or she met you. Finally, talk about the graduation or transformation to the new normal. Remember that the family is in the normal part, and they’re looking for opportunities for  transformation.

When crafting the story, set the scene, use emotions, and be strategic about the details. “I’m not asking you to write the great American novel here,” she said. Don’t be afraid to offer a directive in your story, she added.

On Telling the Story

Finally, adhere to the No. 1 rule of storytelling: “What do I want them to think, feel, know, or do as a result of hearing this story?”

Places to tell your school’s stories:

  • School walls
  • Online via blogs, video, social media
  • Campus tours
  • Printed material – brochures, pamphlets
  • PR pieces, have stories ready
  • In your classroom

A Good Story Lives On

In Kindra's case, her school woes have a happy ending. Kindra's fifth grade teacher gifted her the story she loved at her graduation. As Kindra noted, the present was both a celebration of her achievement and the continuation of her teacher’s legacy – and a reminder that a good story lives on in our hearts.  

Now, it’s time for us to get out there and tell our own stories!