Whether you’re tucking your child in or competing in a cut-throat job interview, one of the best ways to capture attention and keep your listeners listening, is to tell a story.

Stories hold the key to making memories and lasting impressions because they stir emotion. They create tension. They build suspense. They pull us in. And they give us a sense of control. Because of the story, we “know better now” and we feel triumphant.

Whether you learn how to tell your stories from famous authors like Joseph Campbell who told us about “The Hero’s Journey” or from famed psychologist Carl Jung who told us about “archetypes,” your story will follow a time-tested pattern to blast through boredom and rivet attention. Why? Because we all want to be that hero. We all want to be in control. We all want to make a difference. We all want to matter. Listening to stories help us relate to those who do. As presenters, we can help others feel that way by telling stories. So if you want to make a point and make it stick, tell a story. Here’s an example.

Example

  • The Point: Think twice before you press that “Send” button because once you do, you can never take it back.
  • The Story:

As a professor, I always offer to write a recommendation for my students. A few years after Laura finished my course, she emailed me asking for that recommendation.

Laura: Hi Professor. It’s Laura from your class. Remember me? I would like to take you up on your offer for a letter of recommendation. May I count on you for that?

Professor: Hi Laura. Thanks for your email. I’m happy to consider writing a recommendation for you, but first I need your help. There were several “Laura’s” in our class. Can you help me remember which one you are? Maybe you could tell me where you most often sat or perhaps a conversation we had before or after class.

I waited a few minutes for Laura’s follow-up email expecting some reminders from her. Here’s what I got back:

Laura: Can you believe this jerk??!! He doesn’t even remember who I am. What a phony!

Whoops! Clearly an email Laura didn’t expect me to read. By this time, I did remember her. A very good, but somewhat outspoken and impulsive student. So, what to do? Should I chastise her out of anger? Should I use her impulsively sent email as an opportunity to teach her one more lesson? Here’s what I wrote back:

Professor: Hi Laura, I do remember you. I don’t’ think you intended for me to get this email.

Then I waited. It took about an hour, but sure enough Laura wrote back.

Laura: Professor, please forgive me. I am so sorry and so ashamed. It’s just that I’ve been reaching out to my former professors. I’m applying for internships and I need recommendations for my application. I’m so frustrated because no one remembers me and now I’m panicking. I emailed a friend to blow off some steam and I didn’t’ realized I sent the email to you instead.

  • The Point: Think twice before you press that “Send” button because once you do, you can never take it back.

No doubt, Laura’s story made an impact on you. Why? Because we’ve all pressed that “Send” button and had to worry about the consequences. And why does the story work? Because it starts out innocently enough, then creates tension and suspense. How would the professor react when he read “What a phony?” It makes us wonder how anyone would react. How would you react. And finally, the tension begins to reside when the student faces up to her own shortcomings and apologizes. The only missing part of the story is whether or not the professor wrote the letter of recommendation. I did. After all, she was a good student. She learned her lesson. She will not likely ever press that Send button again without thinking carefully. Perhaps, neither will you. And that’s the point!

In Part 2 of “To Make Your Point Stick – Tell a Story,” we’ll apply storytelling to how to make a point during a job interview.

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