Using Storytelling to Engage and Motivate Constituents
Goodman was floored by the impact of the story and told Milton to start her presentations by telling it. The change in audience interest and reaction was like night and day
"She could tell they connected with her and her organization," Goodman said. "And then when she hit them with the data, it was even more powerful."
Well-told stories involve the following five common elements:
- Protagonist. The person who we follow through the story.
- Inciting incident. Something that happens that kicks the story into action.
- Barrier. Something that stands in the protagonist's way. According to Goodman, this is what makes stories interesting and is absolutely critical. "That's where the listener leans forward and asks, 'And then what happens?" he said. "There can be multiple barriers (rising tension), and with every new barrier, the story becomes more interesting. If you're trying to engage a roomful of adults, they need some action, some barriers."
- Resolution. This is when the hero gets around the last barrier.
Goodman said there are six qualities of a well-told story. They:
- Are concise, but colorful. "When someone starts telling a story, somewhere in the back of your head, a clock starts," Goodman said. We're used to stories of a certain length, generally two to three minutes or 750 words. Therefore, every word has to work at maximum capacity.
- Are told in the language of the audience. The average American reads at a sixth-grade level, Goodman said. Look at the language you use and ask yourself, ”Am I really speaking their language?”
- Aren't predictable. "Aristotle said, 'Narrative demands reversal. A turn of fortune,'" Goodman said, i.e., something has to happen along the way that you didn't expect. Be sure to include wrong turns, mistakes, dead ends and surprises in your stories. Goodman also advised not to tell stories like journalists, where the meat of a story is pushed to the beginning. "Tell the story as though you want them to hang until the end. Tell the story as it happened. Hold some things back that you know but you don't want to reveal to the audience just yet," he said. "Hold out for that a-ha moment. Don't put the payoff of the story too soon. If you do this, your a-ha moment becomes an ordinary story point."
- Are emotionally engaging. People won't think about what they don't care about. "If information coming at you doesn't get through your heart, it won't make it to your head," Goodman said. "When someone tells a story, it engages us and our emotions and makes us care about them, and now you're ready to hear more."
- Contain a moment of truth. "At some fundamental level," Goodman said, "they will tell us something about the way the world works, whether it's how we should treat each other, how we should treat the planet, etc." The moment of truth in the story of Zach Harris and T.R. is when Harris faces the gang. "What that tells you is that the program creates a level of connection between the mentor and child," Goodman said. "Adding that moment of truth tells listeners something that they can't get otherwise."
- Don't tell, they show. Good stories paint a picture of a world listeners can't enter. Going back to the Harris/T.R. story, the organization could say that T.R. established an extraordinary connection with his counselor, but you don't get the picture in the same way that you do when showing this via the story.
Goodman said getting the qualities mentioned above in an organization's stories requires digging for them from the people telling the stories. To that end, he recommended the following tips:
- Don't accept "we." Ask those providing stories who they are talking about when they say "we." This information may tell you that you have to interview other people. "Audiences won't identify with an organization," Goodman said. "It's got to be people, so find out who are the people in the story."
- Don't accept jargon. If storytellers use words like "outreach," press them to learn exactly what they were doing.
- Map out a timeline for the story that tells you what happened moment by moment. "Storytellers tend to gloss over details, and interesting things can be lost," Goodman said.
- Look for moments of vulnerability. Ask protagonists, "How did you feel?"
- Press for direct quotes. People tend to summarize what people said or guess. “Ask for direct quotes because often there's more color there," Goodman advised.
- Ask for surrounding details. Who else was there? What was the weather like? See if there's anything else they remember from that day that hasn't been mentioned. "Maybe it was raining that day," Goodman said. "'Pouring buckets' makes the story more interesting."
Goodman ended his presentation by citing research that proves that stories help with memory. A study took three separate groups of 5-year-olds, and for one group said 21 pairs of things, e.g., "soap and shoe," etc. An hour later the kids could only remember one of the 21 pairings. For the second group, researchers paired the same two words, but this time had each child put them in a sentence together, e.g., "the soap is in my shoe." An hour later, this group of kids could remember 8 out of the 21 pairings. For the last group, researchers made the sentences into questions, e.g., "Who put the soap in my shoe?" An hour later, the kids remembered 16 of the 21 pairings. Goodman said it's proof that people are more likely to remember facts if they're in a story.