Stories are the way in which we teach moral lessons, keep an audience engaged in what we're saying, and convince others to pursue a course of action.
In the business world, where time is short, and you need to make a point quickly the favorite device is the anecdote. These short stories help others see your point of view.
I can't count the number of times I've been in a meeting where all of the evidence is pointing towards a clear path when someone, usually someone in a senior position, offers up and anecdotal counter-example.
You want to quit smoking? Why? My grandfather smoked a pack a day and he lived till 92.
And that's all it takes. The meeting is over. All the evidence in the world doesn't matter anymore.
This simple anecdote now has everyone ignoring the evidence and statistical distribution and focusing on the grandfather.
The problem is stories don't really encourage us to think. They make it easy to overlook evidence, fall prey to cognitive biases, and generally encourage bad decisions.
Stories are an important weapon to have in our arsenal.
As someone trying to persuade others, you can have all the facts you want but if you can't tell a story people won't listen.
In response to a question recently, Demian Farnworth, a writer at copyblogger, offered up four books copywriters should read to improve their ability to tell a good story.
He spends his day writing stories and highly recommends you read these four books if you want to learn how to tell better stories.
- The First Five Pages: A Writer's Guide To Staying Out of the Rejection Pile, by Noah Lukeman.
- Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die, by Chip and Dan Heath.
- How to Write a Damn Good Novel: A Step-by-Step No Nonsense Guide to Dramatic Storytelling, by James N. Frey.
- Writing the Breakout Novel, by Donald Maas.
“As you'll notice,” he writes, “these have nothing to do with copywriting. That's okay. The discipline of storytelling translates exceptionally well over industries. What you learn in these books you can use in your sales copy.”
And sales copy is just a fancy way of persuading people to come around to your point of view. Just make sure you've done the work.