Episode 202: Storytellers do it with words

On October 8, 2022, Kasie co-hosted with a repeat-sub-host Dr. Anna Courie, author and educator. They talked about using stories to convince, prove, and teach. Here are the show notes:

Theme for the day

Storytelling is a natural human condition


  • Special Guest Anna Courie in the studio today
  • Storytelling as marketing
  • Storytelling in community and healing
  • How to use storytelling to share, convince, or educate
Photo by cottonbro on Pexels.com

Rex is in Buffalo this week, so my good friend Dr. Anna Courie is in the studio with me. Anna is the author of seven books (Amazon link), a registered nurse, an Army wife, and mom to two teenagers. She is a Clemson graduate from the nursing school and holds a doctorate from Ohio State University. Moreover, she’s been my pal since 1998 and I’m always in awe of everything she has done and is doing. She agreed to sit in today – GAME DAY! – so we could talk about the power of storytelling in every aspect of our lives and careers.

Welcome, Anna!

You’re working with first responders right now as a liaison between your big-international-telecommunications employer and non-profits that serve first responders in a number of ways. Tell us one story of the work you’re doing that indicates the change you’re responsible for there.

You and I agreed to talk storytelling today because it’s a consistent (and persistent) part of what we both do. In corporate, you tell stories of reach and impact that help your stakeholders understand the value of your work. I’m in the business school, so I’m constantly telling my students to “tell the story” about how a firm learned a certain thing, organized a strategy to deal with it, executed and got results.

So let’s start with those basic storytelling elements:

  • Characters
  • Plot
  • Setting
  • Conflict
  • Resolution
  • Narrative or character arc – how they change over time

Segment 2

In business, by far the most popular story brand is Donald Miller’s Building a Story Brand (link):

  1. Make your audience the hero – it’s hard lesson to learn in business that you are not the hero of your brand story. Your customers, your stakeholders are.
  2. Define your audience’s problems – this is the job they need done, the pains they are experiencing, the gains they can envision for themselves. What would success look like for them?
  3. Be a guide with a solution – this is how your product or service will do the job, relieve the pains, and create the gains. This is how your services or product satisfies the customers’ needs.
  4. Create a clear plan or path for your client to follow – this is two parts: 1) the process plan or how the customer can engage with you i.e. set an appointment, complete an assessment, determine a budget, etc. and 2) the agreement plan is your full proposal, your statement of work, or your scope of work. It’s how you expect to deliver the solution you described in step three.
  5. Call to action – this is what your customer is meant to do right now.
  6. Discuss the potential for failure – what could go wrong? On the Statement of Work in our consulting practice, we call this the assumptions section. It’s all the things that could prevent the solution from being implemented as designed.
  7. Results review – once the project has wrapped up, finish with a review of all the successes (and challenges) you’ve experienced.

Have you used this outline with your work at the company? How did it work?

Segment 3

I’ve always known humans are storytelling creatures. We’re attracted to stories, we learn from them, we gravitate toward them. We are aware of their structure and we anticipate the required elements. I found this link that talks about their use in wellness. Here are some highlights and I thought we could discuss this in relation to Cancer Girl and your own healing journey.

  • Boosts listening skills and fosters imagination – when we get pulled into a story, we move away from other things (like worries) and imagine new ideas (like healing). We focus our senses on the build of the story, the characters and plot, and we anticipate the resolution.
  • Increased empathy and memory retention – this is chemical. Our brain actually releases oxytocin when we connect with characters in a story. We also remember story elements easier than we do facts.
  • Increased positive emotions – stories improve our moods. Who knew? Positive emotion and optimism are side effects of stories. 
  • Helps us connect with others – stories that demonstrate complex concepts help bring non-professionals into our understanding. This show is a good example. The majority of our listeners are not authors and will probably never become one. But our stories of writing help them understand the profession and (I hope) appreciate the craft.
  • Narratives out of success and failure help us position for the future – there’s evidence that reframing a narrative can help people understand things in different contexts and learn from those experiences. 

Segment 4

So here’s the fourth segment “how to.” Here’s a good comprehensive blog on all the important must-knows on storytelling. Here’s another one that talks about the magical elements of storytelling and why you should use it. But my favorite is this video of David JP Phillips talking about how an audience reacts to stories and why they’re so powerful. I have my students watch this video, it’s that good.

Ways to use stories to complete specific tasks:

To convince others. this one is from Harvard Business Review (so you know it’s useful) and suggests you must: 

  • know your message, 
  • find the right example (I struggle with this in my classes unless I’ve given the lecture before, sometimes the examples don’t land), 
  • weave the narrative with a character, conflict, resolution structure, 
  • convey with passion but support with facts (not hyperbole!).

To teach. this one comes from the Association for Psychological Science (really the smart stuff this week). Stories create vivid mental images and the concepts that are illustrated by those images can help students remember course material more easily:

  • Create interest – concepts and vocabulary can be abstract but stories pique interest
  • Characters – put actors in the story that students can relate to, people or animals for whom the audience can have empathy
  • Find stories – textbooks and case studies can provide stories, but think of things the students may have experienced, too, how those stories can help them understand complex concepts
  • Structure your lecture as a narrative – I had a professor at Clemson who did this. It was awesome. NPR does this, too. There are a lot of informational outlets that employ storytelling to convey facts and history.
  • Try to represent different points of view – of course our own stories would be from our POV, but case studies and second or third-hand stories can be from anyone’s POV and asking questions related to POV can help give the students a 360-degree view of the situation

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