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  • Dr. Lalit Chawla

E#22:How to Improve Your Memory, Influence, and Communications via Storytelling

This episode is all about using stories to improve our ability to remember, connect with people and deliver a message that will be remembered.

The Greatest Communicators are Storytellers and the Greatest Storytellers are the Greatest Communicators

There is one element that we use daily in our lives to create meaningful conversations and communications. The best communicators, whether it’s a one on one situation, or with a large audience, use this element, to connect with their audience and that single element is effective storytelling.


We need to use stories to explain, to expound, to explore, to entertain, to educate and to connect with the people we are conversing with.


Storytelling is not only useful in creating effective meaning in our communications, but it’s also useful for remembering things. Whether we need to recall something for work or personal interest, we do it through stories or mental images that unfold in our mind.

If I am trying to remember grocery items on list, my mind will create a narrative on how I must walk the store in order to get all my items so I don’t forget them.


One of the greatest lessons I learned from a friend of mine, (who is brilliant at remembering things) told me his secret to success. The reason he has a great memory is because he is proficient at creating stories. He simply associates one concept to another in a story-like fashion. So, for example, if he needed to remember a list of items, he’d connect one item with another in a story line.


We use stories to to explain, to expound, to explore, to entertain, to educate and to connect with the people we are conversing with.



If he had to buy groceries, he’d picture himself spilling milk on a bunch of bananas and then he’d slip and fall into huge cartons of eggs and then he’d use a bunch of toilet paper to clean his face. In one picture he remembered the milk, bananas, eggs, toilet paper and so on; the list can be as long as he needed it to be. He also uses the technique when remembering chemical process or pathway such as the Krebs cycle, which may not initially be clear or visually understandable but he created a mental story so he wouldn’t forget. His study time decreases anywhere from 30-50% and even more impressive is his retain ability is tremendous. It’s a great technique that works. That’s the power and importance of cultivating a great imagination-which we all have the ability to improve with a bit of practice.


Also, if you think about many things that you already know, you remember it by the form of a story. Even math is understandable when it is put in the context of a story. One cookie plus another cookie equals 2 cookies. When you group a bunch of cookies together and have several groups of them, you are introducing the concept of multiplication. Stories help make complicated ideas more understandable. They help make the invisible, visible. There really is a magic to creating effective stories. We all have this skill to become a phenomenal storyteller; part of it is being more aware of how we are telling our stories and listening to wonderful stories and asking why are they so memorable.


Even math is understandable when it is put in the context of a story


Now You may be thinking, “Why am I even bringing up this concept of stories in this podcast?”

Well, I have been speaking at a few medical conferences recently and that experience has got me thinking. There are four reasons that lead me to create this podcast episode. The first was I wanted to highlight, or underscore the importance of storytelling and to bring it more into our conscious awareness of how prevalent and significant they are in our lives. The second reason was that I noticed that the best speakers at the conference had profound stories that lead to a memorable point. The knowledge they shared stayed with me because of an outstanding and impactful story. I’ll share a few of them with you in a few seconds. The third reason I’m doing this podcast was because I had been asked several times at the conferences, what I thought it took to be a great presenter, and if I had any advice that would make their presentations better. The answer I shared simply came down to creating and telling a memorable and an intriguing story in your presentations; and if you can add some personal connection it is even more meaningful.


“No one will remember what you said or did, but they’ll remember the way you made them feel”

If you look at the best speakers or things you remembered, it invoked a memory and emotion that made the concepts or facts real for you. As Maya Angelo said, “No one will remember what you said or did, but they’ll remember the way you made them feel” and that feeling comes from any vehicle that elicits emotions like all good stories do.


There is also a fourth reason for understanding stories and I’ll reveal that reason at the end.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about. Most information, even the boring stuff which has facts and figures needs a story attached to it. A story gives facts and figures meaning. The story gives the reason WHY the audience should pay attention to it. Nobody cares about facts if there isn’t meaning behind it. People remember facts better when those facts carry a purpose in their lives and affects them, or people and ideas they care about or could care about.

The story gives the reason WHY the audience should pay attention to it.


At the Canadian Conference on Physician’s Health in St. John’s Newfoundland, where I had the honour and privilege to speak and share some of my stories, as well as do and teach some magic and illusions. At that conference, I heard some very compelling stories that made a educational point and I’ll share them with you now.


One of the doctors speaking shared how he personally felt when he received a letter about the tragic death of one of his patients. The doctor spoke about his anxiety and the emotions he felt, before he and his young family were about to go on their holiday. But what I found interesting is, he never used the word anxiety per se to illustrate how the letter affected him emotionally. Instead, he shared the fact that when he, his wife and young children climbed into the car, he backed the car into a cement wall at a high speed. He then said, “I probably should have let my wife drive.”

That story of him backing into a cement wall with his wife and young children in the back seat said so much more about his personal psychological state than if he simply said ‘I felt upset and anxious’. As an audience member, I (we) knew that he had felt something profound. He was anxious, worried and upset from the letter he had just received from the surviving spouse. He depicted how a person feels when they get troubling news, and he described it in a manner whereby you as an audience member could ‘see’ yourself doing the very same thing as if you were in his shoes. It was a story you could empathize with and visualize happening. Every audience member ‘knew’ how he was feeling; I certainly did.


"I probably should have let my wife drive"


I remembered that story after he told it and it will more than likely be in my memory for a long time. If he simply said “we get anxious when we hear upsetting news” that wouldn’t have been memorable. He knew the art of storytelling in terms of getting an idea across and making it stick with the audience. That’s what fables, quotes, rhymes, limericks and the like do; they convey information and messages in a visual context. Great communicators understand this whether it’s intuitive in the way they are delivering their message or if they’ve consciously inserted a story in to clarify their message.


They would have been without a father and his mother without a spouse.


Another speaker, Dr. Stephane Lenoski, a family physician and sports medicine physician, shared in a few sentences about the importance of having an open sense of awareness in terms of our responsibility as physicians. He told us a story of when he was a child. His father had gone to his doctor for a general assessment and at the end of the visit he asked the doctor to take a look at a quick peek at a skin lesion on his shoulder. The doctor didn’t think that it appeared to be cancerous, but he took extra care and decided to do a biopsy anyway at the last minute. Well the biopsy revealed a stage 3 melanoma. His father would have died when Stephane would have been a young child. Dr. Stephane Lenoski said that the physician's extra care did not only affect his father’s life, but also his own and his siblings.


They would have been without a father and his mother without a spouse. His family’s life would have been so dramatically different. His story, which was less than a minute, stuck! His message through his story was - one person can affect the lives of so many and that we as clinicians may never even see the hidden people in the patient's life that is in front of us. That’s the power of his story.


‘How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.’

-George Washington Carver


Quotes can also be very effective as well. Dr. John Chaisson shared a wonderful quote by George Washington Carver:

‘How far you go in life depends on your being tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving and tolerant of the weak and strong. Because someday in your life, you will have been all of these.’


That quote speaks to character, compassion and wisdom. Quotes are also memorable because they can say something succinctly and often profoundly.

And of course, great health care professionals use stories in the clinical setting to explain medical concepts too. If I need to explain how the lungs work to a patient I will begin a ‘story’ of how the lungs are shaped as an upside-down tree, and that the blood passing through the lungs travels on a continuous ‘bus route’, picking up oxygen and carbon dioxide, and dropping them both off at their respective stops in the body so that the body can function. This type of story makes it easy to understand what’s happening in a concept that may not always be easily understood.

“When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.” The doctor looked down at his eager waiting grin and said “You’re not smart enough” and walked away.


I’d like to share with you one story I heard, which I still think about. It’s from a kind fellow who’s a real giver, just a real good soul. He told me that when he was a young child, he was very sick and spent a considerable amount of time in the hospital as a child because of his asthma. His father wasn’t in the picture very much, and at the age of seven when he was in the pediatric ward, he reached out for a male role model, who at that time happened to be a doctor and one day when the doctor was at his bedside the little boy said, “When I grow up, I want to be a doctor.” The doctor looked down at his eager waiting grin and said “You’re not smart enough” and walked away.


Now my friend, in telling me that story, was pointing out that the one sentence that the doctor said shaped the way he saw himself for many years, it shaped his self-identity. Although his interest in medicine remained, he never pursued a career in medicine. Yet I know, and he knows from years of self-discovery, he certainly could have become a doctor if he pursued it.


So, for me when I heard this story, it had more of an effect than if he had simply said: “What we say as health care professionals really impacts children, so you should be using proper language.” It’s a true statement but not something that you’d carry into action as easily, because it doesn’t have sticking power- if you will.

The lesson I come away with after hearing my friend’s story, is to be very mindful, especially with children, about the language that I use, because our language can shape their self-identity and life trajectory.


So, remember stories that you hear and stories that are important to you. Use stories in your presentations your talks and in your own lives, because that’s what people will remember. The greatest communicators are storytellers and the greatest story tellers are the greatest communicators.


Take time to remember stories, collect your own and share your stories with others. It will make an impact in your life, but also help others too in any lesson you may be sharing. We all should be collectors of stories, and we all can change our life stories by how we choose to interpret them, reshape them and share them. I believe we all have a story to tell. Live your best story because stories are truly magical.


I would love to hear your stories, comments and ideas. Please email me at lalit@theintroverteddoctor.com.

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I'm Dr. Lalit Chawla and thank you so much for listening. Let's together make a greater, more effective community and inspire people to live with Greater Harmony, Joy and Magic in their lives.

Have a safe Halloween!






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