The Story Factor

I have just finished Annette Simmons’ book The Story Factor. The book is a guide and sort of a how-to on influencing through storytelling. Although it was an easy and fairly short read, it took me a long time to finish the book. A couple of months to be honest.

This is not a criticism on the book. The book is great. And I would even recommend taking a long time, or read it and read it again in parts, so that you can savor and absorb the ideas outlined in the book. The great thing about spreading the reading over a couple of months was that I could actively observe storytelling and recall passages from the book as they applied to several experiences. I found myself often thinking “that is exactly how it was told in the book.”

The book tells the tale of storytelling in general, but it is undeniably marketed toward business folk. Politicians and community activists too, are targeted. Not mentioned specifically and by name in the book, but a crucial audience, are public relations practitioners.

Alton Miller, former press secretary of the late Chicago mayor Harold Washington and my former teacher of public relations for government and politics, first introduced me to the power of story in public relations (the hero’s journey). Ever since that class, I have equated public relations with storytelling.

Back to the book, it is divided in several chapters, explaining “what is a story,” “how to tell a good story,” and “the psychology of story’s influence” among many things. In “six stories you need to know how to tell,” Simmons identifies the key stories you need to be able to tell an audience in order to influence: Who I Am, Why I Am Here, The Vision, Teaching, Values-in-Action, and I Know What You Are Thinking.

The highlight of the book is chapter 3, which goes into the details of “what story can do that facts can’t.” Facts cannot influence an audience; it is the story that accompanies the facts that will. The chapter starts with a quote by Luigi Pirandello:

“A fact is like a sack—it won’t stand up if it’s empty. To make it stand up, first you have to put in all the reasons and feelings that caused it in the first place.”

Simmons continues to explain: “Just as knowledge can become wisdom, so do facts become a story.” Further on she adds: “Facts aren’t influential until they mean something to someone.”

In a telling example (stories do not have to be long, they can be anecdotes, or even sound bites), the cover of the book provides a compelling rationale on why you tell stories. I believe it sums up quite nicely why you should read the book as well:

“A man came upon a construction site where three people were working. He asked the first, ‘What are you doing?’ and the man answered, ‘I am laying bricks.’ He asked the second, ‘What are you doing?’ and the man answered, ‘I am building a wall.’ He walked up to the third man, who was humming a tune as he worked and asked, ‘What are you doing?’ and the man stood up and smiled and said, ‘I am building a cathedral.’”