Show Not Tell

March 31, 2011 //

March 30, 2011

By Pia Infante

Recently, I ran across an engaging article by the media messaging firm M + R entitled Storytelling and the Art of Email Writing. While the article is more geared toward folks who are designing communications within a fundraising context than email composition more generally, the article struck a jangling chord in me.

They reminded me again why stories are so compelling (lifted from a Grenoble School of Business article):

  1. Stories are universal. They bridge many divides – including cultural, linguistic, and age-related.
  2. Stories mirror human thought. Humans think in narrative structures, and we remember facts and statistics far better when they’re presented to us in story form.
  3. Stories shape our identities. The stories we tell about ourselves shape who we are
  4. Our shared stories define our social group. The stories we share shape and define social connections in our life. The way this polar bear’s story is told, compounded with an opportunity for the reader to become a “hero” by giving them a chance to join or impact the story is a way to help translate tears of empathy to actions like donating time or money to a cause.

I appreciate M + R’s analysis and suggestions, despite the slight queasiness of wondering:
where is the line between storytelling and marketing/manipulation? And, does the end justify the means of investing so much energy in perfecting how to write stories in ways that move folks to action, as long as we’ve determined the action is “good”?

I admit I have an ambiguous distrust of advertising and marketing. But, perhaps this long harbored distrust is getting in the way of my booting up and increasing my capacity to tell stories that move people. I certainly want to move people to wake up and take meaningful action, to join the great and immense narrative of this moment.

So. I’m enervated. Uncomfortable. And have a deep desire to share and connect with others on this question. Perhaps this is a sign that I’ve been impacted by a story.

The story of a mama polar bear losing her cub due to human negligence.

The story of storytelling for good.

And somewhere in between, the continuous unfolding of my own story… to be continued.