by Eileen McDargh, CSP, CPAE
In a data-driven world, facts and figures are the order of the
day in sales calls, employee meetings, board rooms, and
political assemblies. Traditionally, when a person is trying to
convince someone else to do something they use the logic of
benefits and features - long the sacred domain of anyone in sales.
And they are missing the boat.
What truly moves us as human beings, what prompts us into action,
is emotion. Imagination is the conduit of emotion and well-
crafted storytelling carries the imagination.
Consider this story:
You place your hand on top of your head, only to feel the sun
radiate from your scalp. Sweat trickles down your back and the
once ironed shirt clings to your sides. The pavement roasts
your feet even through your thick-soled shoes. You've been
walking for a 45 minutes, trying to find the office where you are
scheduled to make a sales call. Suddenly, a swoosh of cold air
swirls at your side as a young couple comes charging out of an
ice cream parlor, licking swirls of raspberry and vanilla
perched in a sugar cone.
I'll bet you're ready for some ice cream!
What engaged you was the reliving of a common experience. I
didn't need to itemize the benefits of cooling off or list the
features of ice cream and this particular store. You were drawn
in by your imagination. Facts tell. Emotion sells. You imagined
how you would win over the odds of heat by taking a break for
We follow leaders who capture us by stories that draw us in and
give us purpose for being part of the company. We buy products
when we see or read of the human experience with that product.
(Remember the Maytag Man?) And we accept the call to action if
we hear a compelling story about triumph over odds. Think about
the solicitation letters you get from non-profits. They are
often stories of individuals who suffered greatly until the non-
profit's "product" allowed them to regain a semblance of their
In short, crafting compelling, honest stories that resonant core
values in action is a skill worth learning by any leader,
manager, sales executive, or parent.
In his best-selling book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and
the Principles of Screenwriting, Robert McKee, the world's best-
known and most respected screenwriting lecturer, argues that
stories "fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of
living-not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very
personal, emotional experience." Or as USC leadership guru Dr.
Warren Bennis states, "Man cannot live without story any more
than he can live without bread."
What's the point you want to make at your next meeting? Is there
a story that can be crafted to that point-not a sermon to be
Who has used your product and reported a wonderful story that
came as a result of that product? Or did you even say, "Tell me
What stories are told in the coffee room about what it is like
to work where you are? What contribution could you make to this
story that could improve the ending?
What future do you want? Create a story about it.
Remember, people are not inspired to act by reason alone. The
heart holds hands with the head.
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