How to Use the Power of Story to Influence Others

Are you having a hard time inspiring your team to be more productive?

Individuals may represent much of the accomplishment of ministries at your church, but the real work of ministry is often done through teams. Whether a staff team comprised of full and part-time employees or a volunteer team comprised of various degrees of dedicated members, teams are the backbone of church ministry. And yet, most leaders at one time or another are frustrated by the lack of progress of the team toward accomplishing their assigned task.

To inspire and encourage the teams you lead to get the job done, tell stories.

THE QUICK SUMMARY – The Orange Revolution, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton

The Orange Revolution is a groundbreaking guide to building high-performance teams. Research by the authors shows that breakthrough success is guided by a particular breed of high-performing team that generates its own momentum—an engaged group of colleagues in the trenches, working passionately together to pursue a shared vision. Their research also shows that only 20 percent of teams are working anywhere near this optimal capacity. How can your team become one of them?

The authors have determined a key set of characteristics displayed by members of breakthrough teams, and have identified a set of rules great teams live by, which generate a culture of positive teamwork and lead to extraordinary results.

The Orange Revolution provides a simple and powerful step-by-step guide to taking your team to the breakthrough level, igniting the passion and vision to bring about an Orange Revolution.


Authors Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton have created a framework for developing breakthrough teams called “The Orange Revolution.” The Orange Revolution is depicted as a journey to breakthrough result, a journey that places the relationships among team members as a critical component. As these relationships evolve over time, it’s only natural that momentum slows down and the productiveness of the team begins to wane

The people on your teams are overwhelmed with information, and in your attempt to help motivate them to move forward, you may be inadvertently contributing to the slowdown. Already confused and overloaded, they assume that your added request will only make thing worse.

Enter the story.

Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information – more powerful and enduring than any other art form. In the land of complex reality, story is king. Story makes sense of chaos and gives people a plot. Stories can help people who are stuck become unstuck.

There are no guarantees that using story to motivate your team will come out the way you want. But story, on the average, works much better than telling your team “this is the way it’s going to be.”

Story is like a computer app you load into someone’s mind so they can play it using their own input. The best stories play over and over and create the outcomes that fit your goals and ensure that your team keeps moving forward.

Great leaders use story to express their passion and illustrate, illuminate, and inspire their team to greatness itself.

When you want to influence others, there is no tool more powerful than story.

Teams that are focused on wow results have a charming habit of telling stories that exemplify what they are trying to achieve.

Great teams create a narrative. As teams succeed, they tell their stories again and again. They are partly their history, but they also explain to others who they are and what they do.

Breakthrough teams tell stories frequently and with passion. It is a secret ingredient of their success. The power of their stories is in the specificity and vividness, which are the very elements that make them memorable. They get repeated – typically with the same enthusiasm in which they are told.

Stories are vital in helping individuals understand how world-class results are achieved and in making the possibility of doing so believable. Such tales have a way of perpetuating success. The listener retells the story, and more important, internalizes its message and becomes part of the story.

Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, The Orange Revolution


As you use stories with your teams, you will be using a mixture of credibility, evidence and data, and emotional appeal. You cannot persuade through logic alone, or even logic supported by your credibility. You must persuade your team through the use of emotional appeals.

Look back to a recent story you told your team. Categorize the story into the three areas mentioned above: credibility, logic, and emotional appeal. How does the ratio of emotional appeal stack up to the rest of the story? If it is not at least twice as great as the next component, you need to rethink your content.

The next time you want to encourage your team to be more productive, weave a personal story from your own background into your conversation. The ability to tell a personal story is an essential trait of authentic leadership – people who inspire uncommon effort. By inviting your team on a personal journey, they will want to join you in your success.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 2-3, published November 2015

Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “summary” for church leaders. I’m going to peruse back issues of both SUMS and SUMS Remix and publish excerpts each Wednesday.


Is Your Life a Story?

Tom Peters thinks so.

In fact, he goes even further. In his book The Little BIG Things! Peters has a chapter entitled:

You Are Your Story – So Work on It!

A few highlights:

He/she who has the most compelling/most resonant story wins:

  • In life
  • In business
  • In front of the jury
  • In front of the congregation

Stories are 100 percent about emotion – and emotion, far more than dynamite, moves mountains.

-> Your schedule today is…a short story with a beginning, narrative, end, and memory that lives on.

-> Your current project is…an unfolding story about making something better, exciting users, etc.

-> Your organization’s reason for existence and therefore its effectiveness, is…a story.

-> Your career is…a story.

Master the art of storymaking-storytelling-story doing-story presenting.

How are you writing – and telling – your story today?


inspired by The Little Big Things, by Tom Peters

The Little Big Things

Doing Daily Battle with the Curse of Knowledge

My name is Bob Adams, and I’m a knowledge addict.

As such, I also suffer from the Curse of Knowledge. Best documented by Chip and Dan Heath in their excellent book Made to Stick, it is defined as:

Once we know something, we find it hard to imagine what it was like not to know it.

Our knowledge has  “cursed” us.

Curse of Knowledge


The Heaths recount a famous study done in 1990 by Elizabeth Newton as she earned a PhD in psychology at Stanford. She created a simple game in which she assigned people to one of two roles: “tappers” or “listeners”.

Tappers received a list of twenty-five well-known songs, such as “Happy Birthday to You” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Each tapper was asked to pick a song and tap put the rhythm to a listener by knocking on a table. The listener’s job was to guess the song based on the rhythm being tapped.

The listener’s job in this game is quite difficult. Over the course of Newton’s experiment, 120 songs were tapped out. Listeners guessed only 2.5% of the songs: 3 out of 120.

The real revelation came by what happened before the tapping game: When Newton asked the tappers to predict the odds that the listeners would guess correctly, they predicted the odds at 50%.


The problem is that the tappers have been given knowledge (the song title) that makes it impossible for them to imagine what it’s like to lack that knowledge.

When they’re tapping, they can’t imagine what it’s like for the listeners to hear isolated taps rather than song.

That, my friends, is the Curse of Knowledge.

Once knowing something, it becomes difficult for us to share our knowledge with others, because we can’t readily re-create our listeners’ state of mind.

Becoming an expert in something means that we become more and more fascinated by nuance and complexity. That’s when the Curse of Knowledge kicks in, and we start to forget what it’s like not to know what we know.

Novices at anything perceive concrete details as concrete details. Experts perceive concrete details as symbols of patterns and insights that they have learned through years of experience. Because they are capable of seeing a higher level of insight, they naturally want to talk on a higher level.

That, most likely, leads to communication problems.

When you have worked for years in your particular area of specialty, it’s easy to forget that a lot of the world has never heard of your particular area of specialty, or at least at the depth you want to discuss it.

It’s easy to forget that you’re the tapper and the world is the listener.

How can you overcome the Curse of Knowledge?

The Heaths offer a couple of suggestions:

  • Giving our audience permission to ask “Why” as many times as necessary helps to remind us of the core values and principles that underlie our ideas and forces us to backtrack to the foundation of our passion.
  • Stories can almost single-handedly defeat the Curse of Knowledge. Stories have an amazing dual power to simulate and to inspire. Look for the good ones that life generates every day to get to the heart of the issue.

As for me, I will always have the Curse of Knowledge – I’m driven to learn more and more about many different topics. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. My passion and my vocation intersect in my job: as the Vision Room Curator for Auxano, I’m expected to dive daily into the vast and expanding knowledge pool out there…

…I’ve just got to remember that I’m a tapper, and you’re a listener. 

inspired by Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath

Made to Stick

Use Storytelling Principles and Structure to Engage Your Audience

Stories are the currency of human contact.  – Robert McKee

Award-winning author and presentation expert Nancy Duarte has a new book out: HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations. Over the next few days, I will be posting an outline of each of the book’s sections as well as zeroing in on a specific topic.

Section 3: Story

  • Apply Storytelling Principles – make your presentation stick
  • Create a Solid Structure – storytelling principles provide a framework
  • Craft the Beginning – Establish the gap between what is and what could be
  • Develop the Middle – build tension between what is and what could be
  • Make the Ending Powerful – describe the new bliss
  • Add Emotional Texture – decisions are not made by facts alone
  • Use Metaphors as Your Guide – memorable themes help rally an audience
  • Create Something They’ll Always Remember – drive your big idea home

Create Something They’ll Always Remember

According to Duarte, placing a climactic S.T.A.R. moment in your presentation will drive your big idea home. That moment is what the audience will tweet or chat about after your talk. Use it to make people uncomfortable with what is or to draw them toward what could be.

Here are four ways to create a S.T.A.R. moment that captivates your audience and generates buzz:

  • Shocking statistics – if statistics are shocking, don’t glide over them, amplify them
  • Evocative visuals – audiences connect with emotionally potent visuals
  • Memorable dramatization – bring your message to life by dramatizing it
  • Emotive anecdote – use gripping personal stories

The presentations that are repeated have memorable moments in them. These moments don’t happen on their own; they are rehearsed and planned to have just the right amount of analytical and emotional appeal to engage both the hearts and minds of an audience.

Captivate your audience by planning a moment in your presentation that gives them something they’ll always remember.

Next: Media


This is Part 4 of a series looking at Nancy Duarte’s new book HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, highly recommended for all leaders.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

The Power of Story in Guest Experience

Stories can be very engaging. We fill our lives with stories. When we tell our friends what happened on our vacation, what we say to our coworkers after the big meeting, talk about our kids’ activities, what happened at the grocery store, we are storytelling. Stories are powerful methods of communication.

The concept of “story” is coming together for me in several areas of my life. While doing research for a work project, I read the following by Robert McKee in his book Story: Substance, Structure, Style, and the Principles of Screenwriting:

Stories fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living – not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.

The last phrase of McKee’s quote reminded me of the importance that emotion plays in a Guest Experience. Extending that thought, the power of stories and anecdotes should not be underestimated as you consider how you might weave them into the design of your Guest Experience.

The power of stories is very captivating. When you are sitting down and watching a good movie you can become captivated (in the same way discussed here). Movies and theatre are just stories in another form. What’s your favorite film? You can probably recite the story line in great detail. As you are doing that, you can even remember how you felt when you were watching it. The movie captivated you, you were laughing and crying with the characters – you were the character, you were in the film.

You feel the emotion they do. People talk about being “on the edge of their seats.” Movies evoke emotions in powerful ways. Recently, a group of friends, my wife, and I saw the movie “Argo,” based on the true story of the Iranian hostage crisis in 1979. Since all of us are about the same age, we were young adults in our early 20s when the story was news, not a movie. In a discussion following the movie, everyone could recall what they saw and felt and talked about during those tense times. The movie took us back over 30 years to bring back memories that were vivid.

That is the power of story – it is an experience that enables us to escape to another world, to be captivated and be in the moment.

So ask yourself this:

What are the stories that your Guests would tell about you?

Remember that those great movies that you remember every detail about don’t just happen. They are planned and scripted. In the same way, organizations that aspire to WOW! Guest Experiences spend hours planning that Guest Experience. Every detail is considered and the senses are used to evoke emotions. In the same way a movie uses music, a tender love scene, and great dialogue to evoke emotions in the viewer, you must use the same principles to create a great Guest Experience.

Over the last few weeks I have been referring a lot to the work of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading experts on customer experience. In conversations with their staff and in researching their great resources, I have been able to “translate” the world of corporate customer experience to that of Guest Experiences in ChurchWorld.

In Beyond Philosophy founder Colin Shaw’s book Revolutionize Your Customer Experience, expert storyteller and story coach Doug Stevenson tells of the power of story. I have modified the language to that of Guest Experience:

For a Guest Experience to come alive and captivate an audience, the content, structure, and performance must be crafted strategically. The Guest Experience itself is only a beginning. Guest Experience is an art and the designer of the Guest Experience, the artist. And all artists need tools. The actor needs a stage, props, and costumes. The musician needs her instrument. The artist needs his brushes and paint. And the Guest Experience designer needs form, content, and presentation skills and techniques. The great designers of Guest Experiences distinguish themselves not just by their talent, but also by their dedication to their craft. They think about their Guest Experiences constantly. They structure the sequence and flow of the Guest Experience, and experiment to find the right words that are genuinely theirs. They work on a gesture or movement until it is just right. Then they rehearse if over and over again until it becomes second nature – the line and the gesture effortlessly married together. The incorporate acting skills and turn their Guest Experiences into little theatrical events. In order to have an end result that is amazing, you will have to spend many hours working on your Guest Experience. Your Guest Experience must be worked and re-worked, formed and re-formed. You’ll want to find the drama and comedy of your Guest Experience and let them shine.

Can you see that stories are essential enablers of the Guest Experience?

Stories Convey Meaning

Stories are the most powerful delivery tool for information; more powerful and enduring than any other art form.

People love stories because life is full of adventure and we’re hardwired to learn lessons from observing change in others. Life is messy, so we empathize with characters who have real-life challenges similar to the ones we face. When we listen to a story, the chemicals in our body change, and our mind becomes transfixed.

Stories link one person’s heart to another. Values, beliefs, and norms become intertwined. When this happens, your idea can more readily manifest as reality in their minds.

Tell the story.

Adapted from Resonate, by Nancy Duarte

Listen to Their Story

Every community has a story – a unique story. Every community has a character, a “feel”, and an attitude shaped by its own peculiar events and circumstances.



Does your church want to make an impact on your community in a meaningful way?

Listen to their story first.

Don’t rush in with your plans and dreams and schemes for what you want to accomplish. First, you ask what’s the story? What are the real issues, the real problems, the real needs?

  • What are the unique needs where God has placed us?
  • How are these needs reflected socially, economically, ethnically, environmentally, politically, and religiously?
  • What arena of our community is the furthest from the utopia that God wants to restore?
  • What special opportunities are found within our immediate sphere of influence (within a half-mile)?
  • What burning issues are alive in the public’s eyes and brought to attention by the media?
  • What needs and opportunities do the industries specific to our area create?
  • What is the most significant change in our community in the last decade, and what need does this create?
  • What are the largest community events, and what needs or opportunities do they create?
  • Because of our specific location, what solution could we provide that no other church does?
  • How would we describe the “atmosphere of lostness” in our community?
  • What is the creation story of our particular community, and what insight does this afford?
  • Does the history of our community bring to light any spiritual strongholds?
  • What one positive change in our community would have the most dramatic effect in people’s lives?

He who answers before listening – that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13