The Power of Story

Story is an important way to engage the audience and appeal to people’s need for logic and structure in addition to emotion. Humans are predisposed to remembering experiences in the narrative form; we learn best with a narrative structure. Humans have been sharing information aurally and visually far longer than we have been getting information by reading lists. A 2003 Harvard Business Review article on the power of story says storytelling is the key to leadership and communication in business: “Forget PowerPoint and statistics, to involve people at the deepest level you need to tell stories.”

The power of a single story goes far beyond simply relaying facts and data and can be a highly effective tool to create customer loyalty.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, legendary screenwriting coach Robert McKee suggests a big part of a leader’s job is to motivate people to reach certain goals. “To do that she must engage their emotions,” McKee says, “and the key to their hearts is story.” The most common way to persuade people, says McKee, is with conventional rhetoric and an intellectual process that, in the business world, often consists of a typical PowerPoint presentation in which leaders build their case with statistics and data. But people are not moved by statistics alone, nor do they always trust your data. “Statistics are used to tell lies...while accounting reports are often BS in a ball gown.” McKee says rhetoric is problematic because while we are making our case others are arguing with us in their heads using their own statistics and sources. Even if you do persuade through argument, says McKee, this is not good enough because “people are not inspired to act on reason alone.” The key, then, is to aim to unite an idea with an emotion, which is best done through story. “In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotion and energy,” he says.