The Power of Story [Part 1]

DeathtoStock_Neighbors2 SmallAuthor Curtis O. Fletcher

 As a consultant my job often consists of helping organizations implement better processes, systems, or strategies. This typically requires the development of factual evidence, business cases, and rational, logical arguments. While the facts and data are important many times they fail to move the customer to action. I believe that this gap between facts and action is best filled with story.

By way of example:

Recently I was in conversation with a nonprofit organization that provides peer-networking opportunities for chief executives around the world. The challenge that they were trying to overcome was getting members to avail themselves of additional products and services after they had become members. Some of the “facts” that they understood were as follows:

  1. Members reported that they were not aware of the full scope of available services.
  2. They knew that they had different product offerings members based on life circumstances, age, industry, experience, etc.
  3. They knew they needed better processes and tools in order to offer appropriate services and products to members at appropriate times.

Rather than going into a detailed list of our experiences in delivering those processes and tools I crafted the story of their imagined first ever day at Disneyland:

  • Trying to locate the attractions their kids had heard friends talk about or at least locating a map.
  • Trying to figure out what it meant to get a “FastPass”.
  • Trying to figure out how to judge ahead of time if their kids were going to be tall enough to go on a particular ride.

I built the sense of frustration that many parents feel in trying to navigate the Magic Kingdom and we all got a chuckle out of the image of the completely worn out parent who never wants to return to the “happiest place on earth”.

I confessed that there have been multiple times when I’ve been asked for advice on going to Disneyland for the first time. I told them that I have three simple questions that I ask:

  1. How tall are your children?
  2. Do they like fast thrills or puzzles and stories?
  3. What is their favorite Disney movie?

In getting the answers to those three questions, I said, I can point them to the places on the map that will be of most interest to them and sometimes even create an itinerary that will last the entire day based on the best way for them to navigate the park and enjoy the day doing it.

The folks in the meeting instantly understood.

It wasn’t enough for them to get members “in the gate” they needed to provide them a “map” of all the options that were available once they had become members. They understood that they needed to collect some information by asking some simple questions. They understood that the questions needed to be few in number and simple to answer and that the map should perhaps be graphical in nature. All of that from a simple story.

Imagine then how confident they were in the help we could provide them when I was able to mention that we had taken this same approach with other non-profit organizations.

Why did that story work so well?

1. It took them from analytical construction to emotional connection.

By crafting a story that evoked frustration and futility in a place that should’ve been filled with something better I paralleled the imagined frustration of their members who found it difficult to navigate the organization. By helping them feel that frustration through the story I built a connection between those in the meeting and their members experience.

2. It took them from probable conclusions to practical solutions.

When people operate from their analytical mind they come up with possible courses of action. But the decision to take an action is an emotional one. Studies time and time again show that it is emotion that causes people to finally make decisions and take action. By connecting their emotion to a practical solution to their problem we were able to move them to action more quickly.

The “fact” was, we could help them. Story moved them from head to heart resulting in faster action and deeper engagement.

Where is there room in your communication to add stories that will move your audience from head knowledge to heart felt action?

What stories exist within your organization that can be leveraged to create better communication? 

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Curtis is a speaker, coach, and grandiose pontificator who regularly consults with large organizations on topics ranging from customer experience to the Internet of Things. He has a passion for helping people create wow moments for their audiences and customers. When he is not coaching someone in communications or marketing he can often be found preparing for his next half marathon, something he finds terribly perplexing.

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