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Storytelling - the most effective form of communications

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In our media training workshops, I often talk about the power of telling a story to communicate an idea or convey a message. One of the examples we sometimes use is former US President Ronald Reagan. He was an absolute master, so even though his stories are getting a little dated, I'm reluctant to let them go. This example from back during the Cold War is one of the reasons why.

You notice what he did there. We were drawn in to that short story about he and Nancy on the streets of Moscow. He got us engaged, then made his point that communism doesn’t respect freedom. How much more effective that is, than if his speech simply made the point, perhaps supported with statistics. In other words, the approach many others may have taken.

The reason I am mentioning this now is because I just read of another great example of storytelling that I’d like to share. This is from a piece in the Harvard Business Review Blog Review, focused on the power of storytelling as a strategic business tool.

It talked about research focused around that Budweiser ad that went viral after it aired on the Superbowl. You know the one with the adorable little puppy who had a thing for this Clydesdale, and they became separated when someone took the puppy away, but then the horse organized the other Clydesdales and that led to the unlikely couple getting reunited, and they go back to frolicking together and supposedly live happily ever after.

It’s goes right off the scale for cuteness, leaving viewers feeling good in a collective aaawwwwww. But what makes it work beyond the cuteness of the puppy is the story of this special bond and how they overcome adversity. It’s like a mini-movie in 60 seconds.

The writer of the article goes at this from an academic perspective, explaining why it works from the perspective of the neurological affects on the brain when we watch it, the techniques at play etc. etc.

All of that is interesting, but what caught my attention was another example he used of effective storytelling. He wrote about a lawyer named Moe Levine who was seeking compensation for his client, a man who had lost both arms in an accident.

Rather than a long summation focusing on what happened, and why, and going on and on about safety measures and medical reports and whatever else might have been useful in swaying a jury, Levine instead relied on simply telling a short story. It only took him about 30 seconds, but in that time he painted a brief and emotionally compelling picture. Here’s what he said:

As you know, about an hour ago we broke for lunch. I saw the bailiff come and take you all as a group to have lunch in the jury room. Then I saw the defense attorney, Mr. Horowitz. He and his client decided to go to lunch together. The judge and court clerk went to lunch. So, I turned to my client, Harold, and said “Why don’t you and I go to lunch together?” We went across the street to that little restaurant and had lunch. (Significant pause.) Ladies and gentlemen, I just had lunch with my client. He has no arms. He has to eat like a dog. Thank you very much.

Levine reportedly won one of the largest settlements in the history of the state of New York.

Storytelling. In communication I am hard-pressed to thiunk of anything more powerful. 


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