Giving the Audience Something that Will Change Them: Harnessing the Power of Stories to Move People

“A dancer, if she is great, can give to the person something that they can carry with them forever. They can never forget it, and it has changed them, though they may never know it.”

-Isadora Duncan[i]

Great dancing tells a story. Bodies moving together in synchronicity, connecting emotionally to each other and to the music, communicate a story without words. The story may be a clear narrative of individual lives or abstract manifestations of a feeling or an emotion. Sometimes the most powerful stories told through dance are snapshots of a moment, a reflection of life itself.

Great dancing tells a story. Specifically, great dancing tells a story that people connect with. And when we see a great dance, it can move us, sometimes in ways we do not consciously realize. Dancers do not necessarily need the audience to think something. Rather, the goal more often is to move the audience to feel something. This requires dancers to not only know how their bodies work, but also how the audiences’ hearts and minds work. If dancers hope to move their audience, they need to become visual storytellers.

Think about a time when you saw a dance that resonated with you. Maybe it was on a grand stage or an informal dance floor. Maybe it was a YouTube clip you stumbled upon and watched over and over again. Was it simply the movement that drew you in? Or was it something more? Was it the story behind it or the story within it?

Stories are powerful. Stories move us. Stories inspire us. Stories shape us. Stories change us. Stories help us grow.

And the reason that stories shape us is because we are surrounded by stories. We see them not only in dance but in every book or piece of written text, in music, and in art. Stories exist in all of these things because our brains understand stories. Our brains are wired to connect to stories. Recent findings in neuroscience have shown how and why human beings react so powerfully to stories. They provide a lens to understand problems in life in a safe way, without the emotional and tangible fallout that occurs in real life. Stories are the way in which we as human beings understand what is happening in the world around us and our own lives as something other than sheer randomness.

Earlier I wrote about the principle that to move an audience to think, feel, know or do something, we need to connect to an audience on its terms. But to do this effectively, it means not only knowing about what the audience knows or cares about or what frames will resonate with them. It also means understanding how human beings work—what moves us and shapes us. And the answer is stories.

If leaders and organizations hope to move their audiences, they need to understand how human beings work and harness the power of stories. This means not only understanding why human beings react to stories, but also how to craft stories that will move an audience. Just as dancers use movement to communicate a story to their audience that will move them, leaders and organizations need to communicate in ways that will move their audience if they hope to have a lasting impact, if they hope to give the audience something that will change them.



This blog is part of a series “Lessons in Communication from a Dancer,” which uses principles and skills of dance as a way to better understand the key principles of effective communication.


[i] Lola Kinel, This is My Affair, Little, Brown, and Company: Boston, 1937: 250-1