But just how does it work? And is it a silver bullet?
This blog post on "The Science of Storytelling" explains, from the brain's point of view, why storytelling works. Leo Widrich, writing for the Buffer blog, summarizes the brain research that confirms just how important telling stories is.
Here are just a few of the points in Leo's post:
- Telling stories is a very old habit of humans. Way before we had anything like statistics, much less Powerpoint and infographics, we were telling stories. In fact, 65 percent of all human communications is made up of stories and gossip. We really don't communicate well at all without our stories.
- Stories literally light up our brains. A PowerPoint presentation with bullet points only lights up the language processing part of our brains. Nothing much beyond that happens. But stories activate the parts of the brain that we would use if we actually experienced the events of the story. We "relive" the story in our heads.
- Stories syncronize our brains! Yes, the brains of storyteller and listener actually start working together. Research has found that when a storyteller's brain had activity in the parts of her brain that controlled emotion, the brains of her listeners lit up in the same areas. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did those of the listeners.
- Stories are the universal language of our brains. Stories work so well because they are narratives, where one thing leads to or causes another. And that is the way we think all day long. We create little stories for everything we do. When I'm choosing my veggies at the grocery store, my brain is running a little video of the salad I'll be eating for dinner.
- We adopt the stories we hear as our own. We may even think that a story was really our's. That's how you can actually plant ideas in other people's heads. Instead of telling people what they ought to do, tell a story that has an outcome that you want. People are much more likely to end up doing that very thing.
- Simple stories work. Simple stories are "stickier" than complicated ones. We don't need fancy words and complicated techniques. Tell it straight but with feeling. Use plain language. If you need a model, listen to Garrison Keillor tell his stories about Lake Woebegon.
- Cliches don't work. Overused words lose their impact and simply don't light up the brain any more. Keep your language fresh and original.
Those are just a few things we know about brains and stories.
But, unfortunately, stories are not silver bullets.
For instance, it won't:
- Fix bad management
- Correct lousy programs or services
- Take the place of other ways of fundraising such as as asking directly and meeting with donors one-on-one
Storytelling, Julie points out, augments all the other things fundraisers do. It's not a substitute, but I'm thinking it is the centerpiece.
Photo: Jasper White/Getty Images