Do You Use the Power of the Present Tense in Storytelling?
Grow Your Business, Not Your Inbox
Storytelling is not new. However, most entrepreneurs are not aware of a small change they can make while pitching and using stories. The secret is simple: Tell it in the present tense, even if it happened 20 years ago. And perhaps the best way to help you feel the power of the present tense is to demonstrate it.
I had a memorable encounter on December 2012 In Palo Alto, California. Imagine now the picture I saw at the heart of Silicon Valley. She’s a musician, and the way she holds her violin is magical. The way she plays reminds me of Pearlman. But there she stands in front of a famous coffee shop on University Street. Her music soothes the hearts and minds of those who walk around her.
A simple hat is laid upside down next to her feet with several dollar bills in it. I approached her and said: “Felix Mendelssohn, huh?”
“It’s my favorite concert,” she said and stopped playing.
“Why do you stand and play here, of all places?” I asked.
“The people here have a lot of money,” she said.
“Do you want a tip that is worth much more than a couple of bucks?" I asked, smiling. "Just like in music, sometimes a small change can make a big difference."
“I’d love to," she said politely.
“You should move to the sidewalk on the other side of the street and play there.”
“What’s the difference?” she asked.
“Over there is the Apple Store," I explained. "People who go there undergo an experience. You’ll see what happens.”
Two weeks after that, she played close to the Apple Store entrance, and her hat was filled with many bills. She saw me watching her again, smiling.
As an entrepreneur, If you want to succeed, help other people find their success. Sometimes a small adjustment they make due to your advice can lead them to a substantial, positive change. And the next time you tell a story, consider telling it in the present tense.
Today, when most of your communication is virtual with Zoom, Teams, Webex et al, it’s even more critical, because it helps you effectively engage your audience.
An experiment done by researchers at Princeton University showed neural coupling between storyteller and listener, and when you present it in the present tense, you get the best effect and impact.
You don’t want them to wander off, multitask and pay attention to other things while delivering your message. If you want them to be fully present, tell your stories using the present tense.
That brings me to another advantage of telling your stories in the present tense: You often animate, act, play and better use your non-verbal communication while speaking in the present tense. Now, it’s not only storytelling; it’s like “story playing. A small change makes a big impact.
Now, what’s the main reason you want to use stories? To lead, make an impact, influence, sell. That will happen only if the audience members remember your key message. Molecular biologist John Medina wrote in his classic book, Brain Rules: “When the brain detects an emotionally charged event, the Amygdala releases dopamine into the system. Because dopamine greatly aids memory and information processing, you could say it creates a ‘Post-It’ note that reads, ‘Remember this.’” And when you tell a good story in the present tense, you create an emotionally charged event, which helps your story stick to their minds.
What’s your story?