The Importance of Storytelling

Once upon a time…

A young man made a computer in his parents’ garage…

A 12-year-old boy had his bike stolen, so he was advised to take up boxing if he wanted to really “whup” the boy who took it…

A young woman dreamed of rocketing into space and she had the perfect name for such a historic goal…

These are all stories that many of us know because they have captivated our imaginations and hit some kind of a mark within ourselves.

The first example is about Steve Jobs, of course, the founder of Apple. The second is how Muhummad Ali first put boxing gloves on. And the third is about Sally Ride, the first American woman to go into space.

We love stories. Why? I think it’s the same reason we love pizza and a warm summer day and puppies.

It’s natural. And there’s no reason why storytelling should not be a viable option when it comes to marketing efforts, communication plans and public outreach.

For one thing, a story engages people. Instead of a dry, mundane report or a complicated set of statistics, it can help people relate on a personal level.

Take the first example, about Jobs. Why does that story resonate so well even though most of us are not computer whizzes? It’s because all of us have dreams. And we all would love to see our dreams come true, as it did with Jobs.

The second example? Would Ali had become Ali, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, if not for his bike being stolen? Talk about a twist of fate. So, of course, we are enamored by it.

Sally Ride and her NASA team. (Credit: AFP/Getty Images)

And the third example? That would be Sally Ride, the first American woman to boldly go where no (wo)man has gone before. How can that story not be compelling to all? It’s the story of overcoming long-standing obstacles and pre-conceived notions and proving to society that anything – including becoming an astronaut – was possible for women.

Because stories are powerful, they are important as a communication strategy. How to use story telling as a means of communication? Easy. Find a story to tell. As a former newspaper reporter, I know that they’re everywhere.

Powerful stories aren’t necessarily complex. In a recent newsletter for the city of San Diego’s Water Conservation Program, a short story was about the San Diego winner for creating the best water-wise landscape design. He tore up his lawn and put in California-friendly plants because he wanted to save money. That was his goal.  But it turned out he also got a much better-looking yard, which garnered a lot of compliments. Those compliments became another, unexpected benefit and the emotional connection to the topic.

That’s a simple, direct story and yes, people can connect with it. Pure statistics like the average amount of water a person can save by doing such a makeover are important, but unexpected compliments are powerful. Who wouldn’t want a little appreciation for their extra effort?

As I said, I’m a former newspaper guy. Ink on paper. Comics. Where’s the sports section?

But when it comes to storytelling, even I can see the promise of social media. For instance, you can post a video of your story on YouTube. You can use Twitter to break up one story in as many sepearate stories as 140 characters will allow. Twitter is sort of like creating a small chapter book. You can use Facebook to tell your story as well.

Zach Lederer two hours after surgery. (Credit: NBC)

Look no further than the power of social media to tell a story than to a University of Maryland student basketball manager, Zach Lederer, who suffered from a brain tumor. After the operation to remove it, still weary and in pain, he asked his father to snap a photograph of him flexing his biceps. It was posted on Facebook and it went viral. People all over the nation began posting photographs of them flexing their biceps. It became known as “Zaching.” People recovering from operations flexed their muscles and posted it on Facebook.

Cool. And touching. And a wonderful story.

Storytelling has been with us since the dawn of man, with cave dwellers scratching out scenes on walls. With all the technological advances for telling stories, who knows how the art will evolve.

We can only imagine, but I bet it will make for a great story.

Join us this month for our Facebook posts and blogs about story telling. Maybe you’ll even tell us yours.

Mike Stetz
Senior Writer @ Collaborative Services

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