The Power of Stories

Human beings learn through stories. A well-told story is an extremely compelling way to convey your message, which will linger longer in the mind of the listener than a fact. Why? Because the listener has engaged with your message by creating mental pictures that complete your story. Use these strategies to help your audience cement your message through images:

Be permanently in story-gathering mode. Ask for feedback at every program through use of a comment sheet. Sample prompts/questions: Your comments – the good, the bad, the ugly, and the life-changing; Your name (optional); May we use your name and comments on our web site or with funders?

Let people know how their stories will help you help them. Tell your audience how their comments can help you persuade funders to provide them with more programs like the one they’re attending today.

Get personal. As you gather feedback, ask people for permission to use their names and personal details when you share their stories. Consider which of these statements is more compelling: “A man in my city recently said...” or “Tom Smith, who owns the pet store, told me...”

Capture great stories immediately. When a parent tells you a great anecdote about what a difference storytime has made for his child, say you need to remember that wonderful story! Immediately write down what you just heard, verify that it’s correct with the parent, and ask if you might use the age of the child and the child’s first name when you tell this story to others. Why not ask for the parent’s name and phone number, too? If you want to use the story in other ways requiring more permission (with a photo in an annual report, for example), you can contact the parent at a later date.

Solicit stories. Ask parents how the Summer Reading Program is making a difference in their children’s reading or if the library’s technology camp has sparked their students’ interest in math. If the responses are positive and interesting, capture them!

Make your stories local. A story that takes place right in your community is always more compelling than one set further afield. Whenever possible, use a local story that involves constituents of your audience. Examples: City residents for the mayor or city council, district residents for a representative or senator.

Know your audience, and choose your story accordingly. If your legislator is a rancher, don’t talk about the prairie dog rescue program you had.

Use stories effectively and sparingly. Go for quality rather than quantity. After you conclude a story, wait a moment or two for the story to sink in before continuing on.

Consider when to use a story. Sometimes stories can be effective conversation starters, prefaced with a sentence or two about why you’re addressing an individual or group. Wrapped up with a one-sentence reminder of what you want the audience to do, stories can also leave powerful parting images in the minds of your audience.

Keep your stories fresh. If you used a story the last time you met with this official, find a new story for this visit.

Reinforce your message with a story. Don’t underestimate the value of stories to provide humor and elicit good feelings. But the most powerful stories don’t just give us a warm, fuzzy feeling—they compel us to take action. Find a story that underscores your main message, then craft it carefully.

Shape your story. Work with your story until the wording is strong. Run it by others for their input, then practice it until it flows from your mouth easily. Everything involving communication gets better with practice!