As a species, humankind developed one unparalleled technique for shaping and manipulating behavior. The power of storytelling began with clans huddled around open fires under blazing stars. Stories explained the patterns of those stars, the gods who created them and the rhythms of the universe. Over thousands of years, storytelling gave us Gilgamesh, Moses, Macbeth, and Harry Potter. Leaders--from Jesus of Nazareth to Adolph Hitler—articulated stories that motivated millions to dedicate their lives to passionate causes.
The reason storytelling is so powerful—more powerful than reams of data, or armies, or great art—is that it can be crafted to trigger great emotion. In fact, the storyteller can incite very specific, desired emotions by artfully and purposefully constructing the story.
Here’s the kicker: it is emotion that drives behavior. As school communicators, we want to effect our constituents to behave in highly specific ways. We want potential applicants and their families to crave admission to our school. We want to retain the philanthropy of annual fund supporters over many years. We want benefactors with the greatest capacity to choose to make our dreams come true with capital gifts. Our greatest tool in shaping our constituents’ behavior to meet our needs and goals is powerful storytelling.
Here’s good news: all stories hinge on a similar trick! Reduced to its most basic structure, a story reveals something unexpected. “You might assume that our curriculum would be static over time” you might write, “but it is—in fact—highly dynamic!” You demonstrate and prove your assertion with anecdotes and real-life images. Whether blogging, or answering questions from a visiting family in the admission office, or soliciting a major gift from an alumnus, be conscious of your role as a storyteller, and craft your stories to yield the desired behavior.