We’ve all been taught that good story telling is the essence of good fundraising. But what makes for good story telling? And how much does it really matter?
According to researchers Philip Mazzocco and Melanie Green it matters a lot. They draw a contrast between rhetorical persuasion, in essence arguing with facts and logic, and the use of narratives to influence decisions. They conclude that stories are more effective at changing emotional beliefs that logical arguments have difficulty reaching.
1. Delivery Counts. For spoken narratives (as one normally finds in a courtroom), a good storyteller is more persuasive than a mediocre one. Dramatic pacing, use of imagery, and other factors affect the impact the story has on the listener. (If your story will be told in written form, it’s safe to assume that effective use of language and an appropriate narrative style will have that same effect.)
2. Vivid Imagery. Immersive images will enable the audience to “see” the characters and scenes being described, and will trump dry factual information that lacks that impact. (If you have any doubts, brain scans show vivid action imagery lights up the reader’s or listener’s brain as if he were performing those same actions.
3. Realism and Understandability. Even if you are painting a fictional picture with the story, its elements need to relate to the reality that the audience is familiar with, for example, basic human motivations. Needless to say, the audience must be able to understand the story – the authors point out that Shakespeare resonates with readers because he was so in tune with human nature, but a younger audience might not make that connection for language reasons. A response to the article by Glen Kuper notes that stories must be coherent (“narrative probability”) and consistent with the listeners past experiences (“narrative fidelity”)
4. Structure. Stories need to flow in a logical manner, and usually have a beginning, middle, and end. Suspense can keep an audience tuned in. Starting with a provocative question or curious situation will make listeners want to hear what comes next.
5. Context and Surroundings. The same story may vary in its persuasive impact depending on the context in which it is told. A story told by a pushy salesperson will be less believable because listeners will attribute ulterior motives to the person telling it. At a more basic level, problematic surroundings (like a noisy environment or, presumably, a web page with distracting elements near the text) can also reduce the story’s effectiveness.
6. Audience. This is one factor you may not have direct control over: people vary in their ability to be transported by stories. Stories will be less likely to persuade audience members who lack the imagination to visualize what they are hearing or reading. While the authors suggest a simple test that could be used to evaluate potential jurors, most of us won’t be able to evaluate customers in that manner. If you could identify your less imaginative prospects, though, you could attempt to persuade them with logic and argument rather than a narrative.