Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: A book review by Bob Morris

Posted on: August 24th, 2011 by bobmorris

Whoever Tells the Best Story Wins: How to Use Your Own Stories to Communicate with Power and Impact
Annette Simmons
AMACOM (2007)

I am among those who have praised Annette Simons’ previously published The Story Factor and are thus delighted that she has written this book in which she develops in much greater depth many of the same core concepts of the earlier work, one in which she rigorously examines the basic components of effective storytelling when explaining what a story is and what it can do that facts alone cannot. She suggests how to tell “a good story,” in process explaining the psychology of an effective story’s influence. She offers excellent advice on how to influence the unwilling, the unconcerned, and the unmotivated. Simmons also devotes an entire chapter to “Storylistening as a Tool of Influence,” then in the next chapter identifies a number of storyteller Dos and Don’ts. Simmons concludes her book with insights that have their greatest value only if considered within the context created for each in previous chapters.

In this volume, she explains “how to use your own stories to communicate with power impact” and I commend her on the informal, almost conversational tone she establishes and then sustains throughout her narrative. Her focus is on what each of her readers can contribute to all manner of communications with others. Hence the effectiveness of her direct, one-on-one rapport with those for whom she wrote this lively and entertaining as well as informative book.

Appropriately, she shares a number of “stories” from her own life and career when illustrating various key points. For example, in Chapter 10, she recalls a situation in which she was meeting with a group of international women in Europe only 10% of whom were from the U.S. When explaining how to be a more effective leader, she used an “I know what you are thinking story” to illustrate her key points. She recalled her need to “feel special” (i.e. to be admired, respected, and especially to be accepted) in school, college, and then as she began her career. Only later when she studied group process did she realize that “groups have patterns, and if you can predict the patterns of the group you can be in the right place at the right time. That sort of knowledge is power. I also learned about how ruthless groups can be to members who are innovative (deviant) or perceived as weak.” This is but one of several examples – drawn from Simmons’ own life and career – that illustrate how a personal story well-told can establish and then sustain a rapport, especially with those in an audience who may otherwise consider your point of view as dangerous, foolish, or simply not worth it. “Demonstrate how deeply you understand their objections by telling a story that validates them.”

In Part Two, Simmons explains how to find and then formulate stories. She includes a series of exercises for her reader to complete…and do so within the spaces provided in the book. She introduces each exercise with brief comments and suggestions before the reader records her or his own thoughts, feelings, and experience when formulating various kinds of stories such as those that explain “Who-I-Am”(Chapter 5) and “Why-I-Am-Here” (Chapter 6). In Chapters 7-10, she then helps her readers to organize material for “Teaching Stories,” “Vision Stories,” “Value-in-Action Stories,” and the aforementioned “I-Know-What-You-Are-Thinking Stories.” Although Simmons’ approach is systematic and comprehensive, I want to emphasize again the effectiveness of the personal tone of her narrative. Many readers will feel as if they are engaged in an extended conversation with her and, as they complete various exercises, interact with her as well as with the specific suggestions she offers.

In the “Call to Action” that concludes her book, she asserts that “every problem in the world can be addressed – solved, made bearable, even eliminated – with better storytelling. At first, initially this statement seemed somewhat hyperbolic to me and then I realized that some of the most influential leaders throughout human history (e.g. Jesus, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin Luther King, Jr.) were master storytellers who anchored their most important ideas within a human context “to communicate with power and impact.”

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