Book review: The Story Factor
In 2010 Chas Grundy, a marketing and fundraising professional at the University of Notre Dame, told me about the book The Story Factor. Chas is a great colleague; he shares excellent content via Non-Profit Chas and grundyhome.com, and we both serve on the CASE Indiana board of directors. I took Chas’ recommendation and used this for our “directors’ book club” last spring semester.
Our team thought the book’s message rang true for our work in advancement. As author Annette Simmons notes, “People don’t want more information. They are up to their eyeballs in information. They want faith—faith in you, your goals, your success, in the story you tell.” Thanks to Chas for his guest post and review of The Story Factor, below.
Let me tell you a story. Years ago, my wife and I bought our first house. We had talked about it for several months and finally decided to start looking around. A few days later, we had done no more than drive past houses with signs outside when we saw one that we liked. We walked around the house, peering in the windows. There was no real estate agent and the owners weren’t living there. The lawn was brown and crackly from a hot summer’s worth of neglect. The house was empty. It needed some love.
But the house was nice enough. And it was in a neighborhood that evoked nostalgic memories. The other lawns were deep green and meticulously trimmed. The sidewalks and streetlights made everything feel safe and classic. We joked that the neighbors would be cooling pies on their window sills and baking us cookies to welcome us. We loved it and decided to buy the house.
We hadn’t even been inside. We didn’t even know what price they were asking. But we were already sold. (When it came to negotiating the purchase price, it made for a much more difficult process, but we did end up with the house.)
You may have heard the line, “people buy on emotion and justify with logic.” Today, it’s one of the most common themes in marketing, fundraising, public relations, sales, leadership, you name it: everything comes down to a story.
Annette Simmons is a storyteller. Of course, consults and writes and speaks, but in all of these things she tells stories. I recently shared her book The Story Factor – Inspiration, Influence, and Persuasion Through the Art of Storytelling with my colleagues as a way to help shape our approach to communicating.
The best part of The Story Factor isn’t the mechanics, the how-to, or the strategies of storytelling. It’s the stories she tells. Having collected hundreds of great stories over her career, Simmons uses them to teach readers how stories are an effective tool for changing hearts and minds.
Every chapter is laced with stories of all sorts, from fables to Jewish parables to personal stories from her own past or public speakers she’s heard. Some are emotional, others will get a chuckle. On their own, these stories would be enjoyable enough to read.
One of my favorite stories, one I’ve used when speaking with donors, is her tale of the Dead Sea and the “very much alive” Sea of Galilee. As she explains:
“The Dead Sea has no outlet. Both are fed by the same source but the Dead Sea can only receive an inward flow. The Sea of Galilee is alive only because what flows in can also flow out. For this man, the metaphor of the Sea of Galilee demonstrates his experience that for him, giving is a necessary function of thriving and feeling alive.” (p. 14)
But Simmons also does a wonderful job of connecting these stories to the mechanics of storytelling to help you learn how you can tell your stories. She launches the book with The Six Stories You Need to Know How to Tell and moves on through what makes up a story, how they can work where facts fail, and different styles of story. These parts can seem a bit slow, but it moves quickly as you find yourself leaping from story to story as you skim the denser text.
Then again, it seems she knows this danger. As she warns in the introduction, “Trying to break [stories] down into pieces is like cutting a kitten in half to in order to understand it. Half a kitten isn’t really half a kitten.”
This was the second time I’ve read The Story Factor with a group of colleagues, and I’ve given it as a gift to numerous others. If you’re like me, you’ll find yourself adapting the stories for your own use. It’s not hard to see how these things work in fundraising, marketing, sales, or leadership contexts. We work to inspire, influence, and persuade every day.
As a person who loves both to hear and tell stories, I’d love to believe that I’m immune from their effects. But I know better. When we bought our second home, my wife and I were caught by the same trap – we fell in love with the house at first sight. We told ourselves a new story and sold ourselves.