Why are we so compelled to tell stories?

Sharon Timms

I remember the first story I ever wrote. I was in 4th grade, and it centred around a little girl in a magical red dress who explored faraway lands with enchanted creatures and was on a quest to find a unicorn.

Hey, I read a lot of Enid Blyton.

It was one of my first exercises in writing, but also in storytelling – I imagined the little girl in my mind, I knew her backstory, her mannerisms, her favourite colour. It was my duty, as a storyteller, to relay as much detail and emotion as possible to the reader, without getting too caught up in the detail. Tough gig for anyone, let alone a 9-year-old.

Storytelling is inherently emotive, and humans are rather emotional creatures. Since our ancestors first stood around tribal fires relaying tales of wild bison, through to the modern day telling of fairy tales to children and binge-watching Netflix dramas, humans have used stories to share experiences and values, bonding us to others.

Stories are the anecdotes we tell our friends, the books we read, the music we listen to and the films we watch. But why do we actually tell stories?


Survive. Thrive. Procreate. Our mission here is pretty simple. In order to survive and thrive, we need to pass on the strategies and tactics that are necessary for us to exist through to following generations. Stories become the vital codes of survival.

In her book Reckoning, TEDxSYDNEY speaker Magda Szubanski relates the story of her father’s activities as an assassin in Nazi-occupied Poland. Her story of intergenerational trauma, migration and coming-of-age as a young gay woman is an extraordinary example of storytelling, highlighting survival.


Storytelling is what makes us human. Stories are one of the few things that separate us from animals, they are central to the human experience. Dolphins don’t blog (well, not the way we do, it’s fair to assume…), but animals do engage with us highlighting our humanity.

With a special performance at this year’s TEDxSYDNEY by Teena the celebrity dauchund, Teena’s Bathtime is a playful artwork telling a wonderful tale in overcoming anxieties, emotional or behavioural needs, and moving beyond the traditional confines of storytelling between humans and animals.


Stories are uniquely able to move people’s hearts and minds into the storyteller’s intended direction. Not all stories are verbal, mind you. Some of the greatest stories are told by allowing our imaginations to simply run wild.

TEDxSydney favourite, beatboxer extraordinaire Tom Thumb, is one such storyteller. By creating a sound to reflect a moment that creates a scene in our mind, his vocal chord manipulation allows us to transcend all expectations and create our own connections to a place and space in time.

A good story engages our curiosity, emotions and imagination, and ultimately lives on to inspire us.


Why not share yours with other fellow TEDxSydney 2018 guests at this year’s event. Register here.  


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