The Power of Storytelling

“Narrative can instruct and inspire — teaching us not only why we should act but moving us to act.”

Marshall Ganz

Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government

Data or facts can spark interest, but how can we connect that data to our communities? By telling a story. Stories have the power to make people listen and create a lasting impact. Stories allow us to connect and use our emotions or senses to remember or learn something new.

Why are stories so important?

People are 22 times more likely to remember a fact when a story is tied to it, according to Jennifer Aaker, a professor of marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business. Fortunately, cities have a ton of great data and interesting facts that often affect people and their daily lives. Each of those data points within your community provides an opportunity to tell a story.

Don’t get me wrong, data is important and a very critical part of the story, but stories give the data color and help bring it to life. The story helps explain why it matters. Besides not being easily remembered, data alone can be confusing. By adding storytelling to the data, it becomes more accessible and easier for the community to understand.

How can you use storytelling?

Storytelling can be used anywhere. On social media, on the phone, in your office, while giving a presentation – the possibilities are endless. But a good story makes us feel something whether it is feeling scared, excited, or nervous.

For example, when you think of recycling, your community is likely trying to improve how much you recycle to be more environmentally friendly and have less garbage in your landfill. Chances are you have communicated these goals across a variety of mediums. What was the story that was shared? Was it simply “Our goal is to reduce our trash and improve recycling by X%.” What does that make people feel? Were they confused? Did it spark questions?

By adding a story, you could evoke an emotion, which will likely improve the results. Do you want people to be excited about recycling? Or maybe scared that if they don’t recycle there will be consequences? Tell a story that will add color to the data and clearly communicate why that goal is important and how it will affect them.

Using Visuals

If you are following along, you can see that our brains are more engaged by storytelling than data alone. Whether you are telling a story in person or through a digital or print medium, another important thing to consider is what images or graphics you are using to enhance the story. We all know that a picture is worth a thousand words, but what we may forget is the speed at which a photo can tell a story. According to 3M, visuals are processed 60,000 times faster than text.

What if you’re a “bad storyteller?”

Practice is key and fortunately, we get to practice telling stories every day – even without realizing it. How we describe our day, our experiences, a presentation, a quick text, a conversation with a friend. Our days revolve around telling and creating our own stories.

But if you need some tips, go back to the basics. Remember:

  • The elements of a good story (character introduced, conflict, rising action, climax, resolution).
  • To KISS (keep it simple silly).
  • To keep your audience in mind.

If you’d like help telling the story of your city, utility, or organization, contact me at!