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Storytelling’s Power to Influence

In 2015, a video about organ donation went viral. The video tells the story of an older man and his dog. It’s clear that the two companions are bonded when the old man has a heart attack and is taken to the hospital. The dog chases the ambulance and waits outside of the hospital for his owner to return but the old man does not survive. Instead, after many days a woman emerges from the hospital in a wheel chair and the dog immediately recognizes her because she is the recipient of his owner’s heart. In less than two minutes, one minute and thirty-four seconds to be exact, we are taken on a journey that inspires us to donate our organs after we die. This video was produced in Argentina but there is no language used and the structure and message is universal.

At its core the video is saying, if you die you should donate your organs. Why not just say that? Or why not explain how you can make an impact on the living by leaving your organs, or spout the number of people who die waiting for an organ, THAT would be compelling, would it not? Well, as it happens – not really. Persuasion requires an emotional component, and while statistics are indeed powerful they are not as influential as the story behind those statistics. The video is an exquisite example of how narrative has the power to move people, even when the stakes are exceptionally high. Organ donation is personal and requires that we confront our mortality. What could be more demanding?

Storytelling requires more creative energy than expressing a fact pattern, but there is no question that when we tell stories in presentations and marketing, we become more powerful in the marketplace. Storytelling moves us from reporters of facts to influencers of behavior. Bigger, better information is rarely the path to change. We know for instance that smoking is bad for us, exercise is good for us, and we need to financially plan for the future, but this doesn’t mean that we are moved to behave in accordance with the information at our disposal.

It doesn’t matter if we are selling complex financial products, ideas, or legal services; we are all in the business of moving people to action. The better we are able to express the outcomes of our work through narrative, the greater impact we will have.

How influential would you be and what could you accomplish if you became a better storyteller? Whether you’re trying to create change inside of your organization, land a new client or get an investor for your start up, storytelling is like possessing a super power that will help you connect more deeply, more authentically, and more effectively.

If you want to move someone you need to be able to show rather than tell. That is what storytelling does. Watch the video again. The entire message could have been reduced to a single sentence but you wouldn’t have been moved, you wouldn’t have remembered it and you would be unlikely to be transformed. But that dog at the end of the clip recognizing his owner’s heart in the woman who now possesses it – that you are unlikely to forget.

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