5.0 out of 5 stars
Stories: How to Tell them for Maximum Impact
Reviewed in the United States on January 18, 2019
I am intrigued with the power of stories to bring new insight and even lead to transformation, and I am always on the hunt for how stories work, how they may be structured, and to what ends they may be used. That is what drew me to Rob Beisenbach’s book, Unleash the Power of Storytelling, and it did not disappoint.
Ignore the fundamentals of storytelling, the author, contends, and “you could end up squandering an opportunity to change minds and even lives.” What makes stories this powerful? Beisenbach gives us six keys to impactful stories: (1) stories trigger an emotional response; (2) stories involve characters we can related to; (3) stories connect us; (4) they communicate what we value; (5) they raise the stakes; and (6) they show, rather than tell, what we stand for.
So what is a story? In simplest terms, it is “a character in pursuit of a goal in the face of some challenge or obstacle.” There are, of course, other elements in a story—a turning point, a climax, and more—but character, goal, and challenge are “the three legs of the stool.” Without these three, you don’t have a story.
For a story to work, the author says, you need the following elements: (1) a character who is a specific individual, (2) conflict (the tension between your character’s goal and the challenge facing your character, (3) something important at stake (a serious problem that cries out for action), (4) events connected to one another in a cause-effect relationship (rather than just a random series of events), and (5) an emotional response from the audience (frustration, disappointment, joy, etc.).
A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. In the beginning of the story, you set the scene and introduce the main character. Then, something happens (a challenge) that upsets the balance of things. The middle is where the character works to overcome the challenge, and the end is where things come to a resolution (the character either reaches his goal or doesn’t).
The best stories are the ones that come from our own experience, but whatever their source, our stories must show that (1) we know who our audience is, (2) we know what we want them to do (buy a product, work more efficiently, join our cause), (3) we have thought through the main challenges that are likely to get in the way of our goal, (4) we have found a character who has overcome one or more of those challenges, and (5) we have brought resolution to our story.
The importance of emotion cannot be underplayed in an effective story. In fact, claims Beisenbach, “facts don’t influence action the way an emotional appeal does.” He goes on to say that “emotion drives decision-making.” (People buy on emotion and justify their purchase with logic.) In order to reinforce the emotional impact of a story, the author suggests that the storyteller focus not just on what he or she does but on why they do it.
The goal of telling any story is an important consideration. For example, our goal may be to align our team with a certain strategy, or it may be to promote a brand. We might be seeking simply to establish common ground or even show others how humanly real we are. We may want to motivate a change in behavior, inspire a team, or establish trust and credibility with a customer. Whatever our goal, we should have it clearly in mind, and the story we’re telling should be directed toward that goal.
Collecting stories is a lifelong pursuit—and a worthy one. You will have just the story you need when the time comes to tell it. Or, perhaps a story won’t be exactly what’s needed but a metaphor or an analogy will be. Beisenbach covers this skill as well.
This book has great value to anyone who seeks to communicate with others, motivating them and encouraging them. According to Beisenbach, there is power in storytelling. Our stories define who we are and what we stand for. They set us apart. So, think of a character with whom others can identify, lay out his or her goal and the challenges she or he faced in pursuing that goal, and bring the whole thing to resolution. And read Beisenbach’s book. He will be just the coach you need to impact the world around you for good.
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