The secret to powerful storytelling

The secret to powerful storytelling

Have you ever wondered why some stories draw people into another world or even affect their lives? What are the key elements a story needs to grab a reader’s attention, engage them with the subject, evoke emotions and prompt a change in their behaviour?

Ms Karolina Kaczorowska, Professor Jodie Conduit and Associate Professor Steven Goodman from the University of Adelaide’s Business School researched how charities can use storytelling to trigger people to be altruistic, do something good, and help others. Charities often do this by telling a true story of someone in need and how the organisation helped them. However, there’s little evidence this approach is effective or research into how to best structure such a story.

The team examined how using different narrative structures and media influenced people’s emotional, cognitive, and behavioural responses to a story. Their research explored how to transport audiences into the story, engage them with the social problem that the story is about, and encourage them to behave for the benefit of others.

They found that engaging people through positive rather than negative emotions had a different effect on how they would support a charity. If stories had a video form, instead of a written text, the personal resonance between a reader and the story character was stronger. This also fostered imagination of the plot, making it more resembling real-life experiences, which, in turn, increased empathy and engagement with the story.

The research findings will help charity organisations look at different story structures and media to better engage their audience and drive charity support and altruistic behaviour. Sharing and co-creating stories can involve local communities in initiatives going beyond typical donations or volunteering. 

What's next?

Next time you are drawn to a story, think about the science behind it and the magic that lies ahead.

Tagged in Societal wellbeing, featured