Powerful “Stories of Unlimited”

This morning, I was rereading the chapter on storytelling in one of my favourite books, Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Health. (To see the seven-part series that I wrote on the book, you can find all the posts here.)

Our brains are wired for stories. Stories add meaning, contain wisdom, are effective teaching tools and are memorable. As the Heaths write:

Stories illustrate causal relationships that people hadn’t recognized before and highlight unexpected, resourceful ways in which people have solved problems. …

The story’s power, then, is twofold: It provides simulation (knowledge about how to act) and inspiration (motivation to act). Note that both benefits—simulation and inspiration—are geared to generating action. [W]e’ve seen that a credible idea makes people believe. An emotional idea makes people care. [T]he right stories make people act.

By coincidence, I also came across a brilliant advertising campaign by Western Sydney University called “Stories of Unlimited“. It features 90-second videos of alumni and shares the powerful stories of their background, challenges, passions and current status. Each video is beautifully crafted and inspirational. The university’s messages to prospective students:

“We believe in a world of unlimited opportunity for those with talent, drive, confidence and ambition. It’s about what’s inside you, not where you’ve come from. Your future success starts here.

Kudos to Western Sydney University for tapping into these powerful stories to encourage prospective students to apply. What stories can you tap into for your next presentation?

For now, please enjoy the following “stories of unlimited”.


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
This entry was posted in Making it Stick, Stories and Storytelling and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Powerful “Stories of Unlimited”

  1. Pingback: Quotes for Public Speakers (No. 317) - Richard PowersManner of Speaking

  2. Rashid says:

    Thanks John. I just read your post on the Stanton TED talk. Excellent!

    Not surprisingly, we have drawn many identical / similar conclusions. You enumerated them in your blog. I uncovered the same points in a chapter. I jokingly think of my chapter on storytelling as the most neurotically rational pitch for storytelling out there : )

    Please feel free to use my story as you see beneficial, specially if you are directing it towards engineers. It will be identical to their experience. There are way too many excellent STEM professionals who really need to step up their Public Speaking & Storytelling (PS&ST) game. To watch them stall or stumble in mid-career, for want of these elementary skills is wrenching.

    I addressed this in a short blog after the 2015 WCPS, with an observation that only an engineer would catch. Please feel free to cajole your trainees with this thinking. http://bit.ly/1RmIfrh

    • John Zimmer says:

      Thank you, Rashid. Will do! It is important that scientific professionals understand that they too can become good at presenting and storytelling. In fact, some of the best storytellers I know have scientific backgrounds.


  3. Rashid says:

    Splendid work! Beautiful video examples. Thanks for unearthing and sharing.

    Given my engineering background, I came to appreciate and acknowledged the power of storytelling too late in life. But embrace it I have. I encourage all your readers, specially engineers and other STEM professionals, to challenge any lingering skepticism they may still harbor about the power of storytelling.

    I was probably educated into this skepticism. It was a theme throughout my educational voyage.
    An educated and wise person was not to be guided or persuaded by mere emotions, nor be naïve enough to be fooled by stories. The correct and optimal way to make decisions, especially important ones, was to be guided by reasoned argument, facts, and data only.
    I had similar experiences after I started working.
    In the world of business, storytelling was not a skill that was particularly envied—the expression had pejorative undertones, and suggested tall tales and fiction rather than fact.

    As a consequence of this, for too long I failed to recognize that stories and narratives are at the heart of human evolution, including engineering evolution.

    Here are some clips that guided me through my transformation. They were truly educational for me. They may help your readers too.

    TEDxHogeschoolUtrecht—Steve Denning: Leadership storytelling

    TEDxVancouver — Greg Power: The power of story

    These clips showed me the formulas beneath the stories. As an engineer, I love (almost need) this too.
    Dave Lieber TED Talk, “The dog of my nightmares”

    Kurt Vonnegut talk, “The shapes of stories”
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oP3c1h8v2ZQ&list =PL991B74289AE23E10

    Nancy Duarte TED talk, “The secret structure of great talks” http://www.ted.com/talks/nancy_duarte_the_secret_structure_of_great_talks

    I found page– storytelling tips from the experts at Moth–to be educational too

    Keep up your good work & GOOD LUCK!

    • John Zimmer says:

      Dear Rashid,

      Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a comprehensive comment. I may well use your personal story in my trainings as it eloquently and succinctly captures the importance of storytelling.

      Thank you also for all the links. In fact, I am familiar with several of them and have even written a post on Andrew Stanton’s TED Talk. (The Kurt Vonnegut video is an old favourite and is in the pipeline for a post.) I look forward to watching the clips that I have not yet seen. I know that my readers will appreciate your efforts as well.

      Thanks again.


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