Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
May 27, 2009

Master the Art of the Storyteller

Anecdotes make your messages easier to believe, understand and remember.

“Stories are the most powerful form of human communication.”

— Peg C. Neuhauser
Author, Corporate Legends and Lore

If you want to win the hearts and minds of your audience members, you must be a master storyteller. Stories can help you:

  • Get and keep reader attention. It’s no secret that our audiences suffer from information overload. Each day, Americans face an average of 5,000 attempts to spark their interest — that’s nearly 2 million messages a year. In this environment, communicators must cut through the clutter to grab our audience’s attention. The best way to do that is through storytelling.
  • Bring your mission, vision and values to life. These are arguably some of an organization’s most important messages. Yet in most companies, they’re relegated to laminated cards in employees’ wallets or to the back of the annual report — in six-point type. But storytelling can bring these defining statements to life. In fact, there is no other way to adequately communicate these big-picture elements.
  • Enhance credibility. People who are cynical about statistics — and who isn’t these days? — find stories credible. It’s the Peer Principle of Persuasion: Our audience members believe that if it worked for someone else, it will work for them.
  • Improve readership. Storytelling outscored the inverted pyramid in a study by the American Society of Newspaper Editors. Articles that featured storytelling were better read, communicated better and were more effective at pulling readers across the jump, or convincing them to finish stories that continued inside the paper. 
  • Help people remember your message longer. People process stories in three ways — factually, visually and emotionally. That triple absorption helps readers remember stories longer than other kinds of information.

Unfortunately, most communicators haven’t mastered the art of writing anecdotes, narratives and other stories that have the power to move people.

Master the Art of the Storyteller
Would you like to learn how to identify, develop and tell stories that illustrate your points, communicate your messages, and sell your products, services and ideas? If so, please join me at PRSA’s June 25 teleseminar, “Master the Art of the Storyteller.” You’ll learn how to put the most powerful form of human communication in your very next piece.

“I’ve used Ann’s “Art of the Storyteller” information in media training sessions to help dairy farmers use specific examples of what they do on their farms. Telling their stories has made the interviews rich with real-life detail and therefore memorable.

— Carol Bodensteiner,
communication consultant,
West Des Moines, Iowa

Ann Wylie, president, Ann Wylie CommunicationsBy Ann Wylie, president, Wylie Communications. Ann works with communicators who want to reach more readers and with organizations that want to get the word out. She travels from Hollywood to Helsinki, helping communicators at such organizations as NASA, AT&T and H&R Block polish their skills and find new inspiration for their work. For PRSA, she presents programs like “Writing That Sells — Products, Ideas, and Services” in on-site sessions across the country. Ann is the author of more than a dozen learning tools, including, a toolbox for writers. In addition to writing and editing, Ann helps organizations launch or revitalize their Web sites and publications. She has served as a public relations professional in an agency, corporate communicator for Hallmark Cards, editor of an executive magazine and consultant in her own firm. Her work has earned more than 60 communication awards, including two IABC Gold Quills.

Join Ann for her teleseminars, Anatomy of a News Release, Pitch and E-Mailed Release: Write Releases That Get Posted on Portals, Help Google Find Your Site, Reach Readers Online and More,” “Go Beyond the Inverted Pyramid: Increase Readership With Feature-style Writing“  and her seminar, “Writing That Sells — Products, Ideas, and Services: Reach Reluctant Readers,” on Friday, March 5 in New York, NY!

  • stevewinstonpr

    Bravo, Ann!

    In a world – and in a professional world – where it sometimes seems like the small, humanistic touches which distinguish us from other species are disappearing, it was refreshing to read your article.

    Traditional mediums of communication may be disappearing all around us…but, if we’re truly communicators, we let go of the storytelling concept at our own peril.

    I agree with you that the best communicators tell stories. Compelling stories. Provocative stories. Stories that move us emotionally. Stories that spark a need (or a want). And stories that can make us act on this need or want.

    The media platforms upon which we tell our stories may be changing. But stories – well-told, engaging stories – are still the best means of generating action (or satisfafction) by our publics, or by our customers.

    Bottom line? People will always want to hear about other people, and what makes them act the ways in which they do. It stands to reason, then, that the best way to sell products or services – or ideas – is to tell stories, often about people. It may be about how people can benefit from a certain product. How they can join a certain cause. Or how they can find out more about a certain idea. Or, simply, how they overcame an obstacle in life. But, whatever the purpose, if you use stories, you’ve got a better chance to achieve your goals.

    Marketers and PR people – all the emerging technologies notwithstanding – should take note. Stories – stories with which the target audience can identify and benefit from – are the best way to sell a product or service. Period!!

    Steve Winston
    (954) 575-4089

  • awylie

    Thanks, Steve. Well said.

    Do you have a favorite example of how you’ve used storytelling to sell products or services? I think our work telling Saint Luke’s Health System’s stories is my current favorite: (PDF)