The Power of Stories

February 2024
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Watch a video of Jason Carlton, APR, discussing more about this story here.

“You want to shove what down my throat while I’m awake?” I asked my doctor, more loudly than intended. A few minutes earlier I had been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, or an abnormal heart rhythm. The shape of my heart was irregular; one of my heart valves wasn’t closing properly and the muscle was weak.

What was worse, however, was that I was at an increased risk of a blood clot forming in my heart, breaking loose, making its way to my brain and causing a stroke. Yikes!

The solution for me was to swallow a long, pinkie-sized tube, while coherent and talking, so the doctor could check my heart for clots. If I was clot free, they would fully sedate me and shoot electricity through my chest to kick my heart back into a normal rhythm. 

I was nervous, and YouTube searches to better understand the procedure didn’t calm my fears. I found a distinct lack of patient stories outlining the procedure.

A year later, my heart was out of rhythm again and I needed to undergo the same procedure. So, this time — being the communicator that I am — I allowed my procedure to be shared live on Twitter as 1.21 gigawatts shot through my chest. OK, so it was only 200 joules of electricity — after all, I wasn’t a Delorean trying to travel through time. 

My story was picked up by cardiologists at hospitals throughout the United States, with many sharing it with their patients to help them understand the Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE) and subsequent cardioversion procedure.

Why does storytelling work? 

As you read through my story, what went through your mind? Were you standing next to my bedside watching the procedure happen? Were you thinking about yourself or someone close to you who underwent a challenging medical procedure? 

You likely became part of my story. 

In the book, “Master Storytelling,” the authors explain, “When you tell a story with a plotline and characters I can relate to, I respond on multiple levels. Not only do I understand what you’re telling me (cognitive level), I place myself within your story and feel it (emotional level). I access my own storehouse of experiences and my mirror neurons make your story mine, pretty vividly, if not literally.”

What makes a great story?

In your communication efforts, are you using stories to connect people? Or are you appealing to their logic with facts and figures? While data can persuade people, it’s the story connection that can inspire them to act. According to the late Steve Jobs, “The most powerful person in the world is the storyteller.”

Our English teachers taught us that all stories need a beginning, a middle and an end. While true, a great story needs a few more ingredients if it’s going to build a connection with your stakeholders.

According to author Jerry Borrowman, a great story must:

  • Raise curiosity
  • Create suspense
  • Involve a conflict (a moral issue or solving a problem)
  • Resolve the problem in unexpected ways to relieve the tension (people like resolution)
  • Be believable
  • Be relevant

A great story, told correctly with the right details — and leaving the wrong details out — can increase the odds of your information being digested and move your audience to action.

How to tell a story

One of my favorite stories is from the Disney movie, “Up.” Why? Because it tells an incredible love story without a single word. A young, introverted boy meets an outgoing young girl. They marry and the movie dialogue goes by the wayside. You see visual snippets of their life together — sharing joys, tragedies and heartaches — which sets the premise for the whole movie. It’s a great example of how to show, not tell, a story.

One of my mentors often shared the requirements for telling a good story. He said, stories must…

  • Have an objective and not bury the lead
  • Start by telling the story, not telling about the story
  • Share the right details, but not the wrong ones
  • Oh, and have a conclusion

Since audiences have short attention spans — and they’re getting shorter by the minute — the third point above is crucial. If you include the wrong details — those things not important to the progression of the story — the story will get easily lost.

How to find the stories

As communicators, we most likely feel comfortable telling stories. The biggest challenge is finding them. While many organizations and industries are different, here are six ways you can find stories worth telling:

1. Remember that stories beget stories. As you start telling stories about your organization, other stories will surface.

2. Ask for specific stories. For example, talk with people and let them know, “I need a story about someone who has worked here more than 10 years.”

3. Listen for good stories in meetings. You’re the storyteller, so pay attention for those small comments that could lead to big stories.

4. Wander the halls. Those impromptu water-cooler conversations can tune you into stories that you may not have heard about. 

5. Read thank you/comment cards. Does your organization provide a way for people to provide feedback? Look through those to identify potential stories.

6. Watch social media channels and read online reviews. 


Stories bring people closer together. They offer insight into others’ lives that help us relate to one another and discover what we all have in common. But as communicators, we must be more than storytellers — we have to be great storytellers. That ability will connect your messages with your audiences and drive you toward achieving your goals and objectives. 
Return to Current Issue Writing & Storytelling | February 2024
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