Storytelling as key tool to engage and convince people

Storytelling is something that moves people. Everyone loves good stories. I wish I was better at telling good stories, who wouldn’t? It’s something, I think isn’t done enough in transhumanist or futurist circles. Futurists are very fact and rationality oriented. That’s an approach that doesn’t engage most people. It doesn’t even fully engage their peers, which is quite a shame! I have made that mistake a lot, being focused on information, on ideas, on facts. You don’t get the resonance you want with that approach. It’s a sad truth, but it’s how people work, and how the world works. You need to deal with that. I need to deal with that. We need to deal with that. And storytelling is a tool or a strategy that acknowledges this hard reality. This is why I’ve actually strived to become a science fiction writer – my practical success with that has been limited, because for me writing fiction is perhaps the hardest thing ever. It’s exhilarating and torment at the same time – not good for my health, unfortunately.

Anyway, I wished that more people understood how important storytelling really is. It’s what effective marketers, writers, and journalists do. Also, effective educators, leaders, and of course politicians. Perhaps this post would be better if I had written it as a story, but I lack the skill to do that quickly and properly, so I just wrote about what I think about this subject.

I think we, as futurists, needs to come up with compelling visions to motivate people to get active and do something about the future. And storytelling is the mechanism for transporting that vision and make it emotionally relevant for people – and not just “emotional” people. Everyone likes hearing good stories.

Today I found this gem of an interview with one of the best storytellers on this planet: Robert McKee. What’s special about him is that he’s brutally honest. And of course he’s really good at storytelling and teaching others how to tell good stories. What I’ve mainly got from this interview are a few points:

  • Avoid bragging and promising – people don’t like that

  • Don’t tell a story about yourself, tell a story about the people you want to reach, or a role model

  • Don’t lie!

  • Start with the end in mind. Focus on the point that is most relevant to your target audience.

  • The “customer” is the centre, not you or your product, or your organization, or your policy

  • Stories include negativity, and overcoming negative obstacles – that separates them from marketing that only focuses on the positive

  • Storytelling is very hard and requires a lot of practice and persistence

  • Of course you need knowledge and data. Storytelling without relevant knowledge and data is certainly less effective, or even pointless.


This is fast becoming a lost art as far as I can tell. For example, none of the parents I know tell their children stories - they mostly read straight from books! I would think this is a lost opportunity. I’m trying to use story telling with my kids to engage and encourage them - maybe when they are older they may be able to use those skills to their advantage. In the meantime my two kids are always challenging me to improve my own story telling skills. :slight_smile:

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I think it’s interesting to note in which areas storytelling appears to have an important role:

  • When trying to sell products
  • When trying to explain ideas
  • When trying to entertain
  • When trying to sell yourself to an employer
  • When trying to convince people to do something, or just to inspire them
  • When trying to educate people in general

And of course different media can be used for those different purposes, be it short stories, blogs, podcasts, videos, articles, or orally transmitted stories.

I’m sure we have the common goal to inspire and encourage people to do more “futurist stuff”. This is where good storytelling seems to be a key to success. If our message is not enveloped in interesting stories, it’s probably not that engaging.

This makes me think that we could use this forum as exercise platform for writing very short stories. Perhaps a “storytelling” subcategory for the “Personal Development” category would be cool. Stories can have arbitrary length, but of course most stories will be rather short, because we don’t have excessive amounts of time and energy at our disposal. These stories could then be commented on (in the way the author wishes that). Or they could be short story series which add up to a larger series. Also, stories will probably have something to do with futurist, but they don’t need to. They would be primarily written for exercise purposes, just to become better at storytelling in a community that is open and helpful to futurists and their ideas.

Edit (2015-07-15): There’s another aspect to storytelling: The stories we tell about ourselves, and the persons, things, and systems we interact are of central psychological importance. Our identity is tied closely to the stories that are repeated in our heads. And our identity is tied closely to our motivations, which in turn is tied to our actions. If we want to change actions, we need to start by changing the underlying stories. It should be obvious that I do different things if my story out myself is that I’m in essence a renaissance person than if I simply see myself as student or worker or manager or capitalist. The highest form of art is probably telling yourself and others the most fitting story (“I am a great programmer”) at just the right time, and always switch back to an underlying narrative (“I am an renaissance person who wants to make the world better. And we are in a time of change towards some more or less utopian outcome, if we do the right things.”) again and again.