Story telling is a fundamental part of human interaction.  From early on, humans communicated through stories.  They taught lessons through stories, and they experienced life through stories.  Take a look at all religious books — The Bible, the Bhagvad Gita, etc — and they are all stories with a purpose.

Behavioral psychologist Susan M. Weinschenk Ph.D. notes: Research shows that stories create images in the mind that may also trigger mirror neurons. Use stories if you want to get people to take an action.

Stories can also help forge connections and allow people to understand abstract concepts through the medium of the story.  The story of the tortoise and hare teach the abstract principle that a person doesn’t have to be the quickest of the mark to succeed, but that patience and perseverance can succeed over instant speed.  It also teaches that one person’s skill in the sprint may be his disadvantage in the marathon.

In mediation, stories too have their place.  Stories can help to demonstrate a problem that a party is having without having to tell them about the specific problem.  Some concerns with stories, however, are that they go to long or that they are not relevant.  Many people complain that the stories of some mediators are old war stories, or worse, conversations about the mediator’s children or personal life.

It is important for anybody trying to tell a story in mediation that it have immediate relevance to the subject.  At the end of the story, there must be an aha moment.  The person hearing must think to themselves — I want to be like the person in the story or I don’t want to have that experience in my life.

Second, the story must be short.  According to the website the Copyblogger, if you are lucky you have a minute and a half to get your story across.  According to a study done by the internet video service provider wistia, a video that is under 30 seconds is viewed fully through by 85% of the viewers who watch the video, whereas a video in excess of 2 minutes is only watched half way.  Wistia suggests that you should have your main content within 20 seconds.  (article by Amit Agarwal).  This research confirms that you message and story must be short. In today’s time challenged world, if you don’t get to the point quickly, you are wasting time and worse not communicating effectively.

Finally, your story has to be compelling.  It has to peek the interest of the audience.

Too many people make those three mistakes:  Irrelevant, long and boring story.

By Steven G. Mehta