Key expert at using personal stories to make points

Posted September 4, 2014

One of the best ways to make a point stick with audiences is by telling personal stories. This is particularly important for extended media interviews or live debates when answers can be longer than short sound bites.

That’s because people are far more interested in personal stories than abstract points. So if the point can be made by telling a story, it’s far more likely to be heard and remembered.

John Key has always been an expert at this. There were some classic examples in The Press Leaders Debate on Tuesday night. For example, at one stage he made the point that creating jobs was the best way to pull people out of poverty. That sounds reasonable, but is still quite abstract.

But he then told us a story about when he was living with his mother in a state house. He said she got herself two jobs, one as a night porter and another one as a cleaner. That allowed her to save up and put a deposit down on a small house of her own.

You can see that the story makes the same point about the importance of creating jobs, but in a far more interesting way. The story takes the abstract point and turns it into something concrete that everyone can understand. It also keeps people listening as we all love hearing stories about other people. It is also far more likely to be remembered, which is the whole point of taking part in the debate.

Key later talked about the importance of all children getting a world class education. He again talked about himself and how lucky he was to get a great education at Burnside High School that set him up for a successful career, despite living in a lower socio-economic area. This again made the point far more relevant and concrete to viewers. These are just two examples from the debate. There were more.

People often forget that communication is not one person talking to others, it’s about the other people hearing the message and remembering it. That’s why personal stories are such an effective way to make a point.

I even remember back to the Pike River disaster. When speaking at the Memorial Service for the 29 lost miners, Key told the mothers of the dead that their children would still succeed in life without their fathers. He did this by pointing to his own life without a father.

Some people think Key plays too much on his early life without money. But it’s a fantastic way for him to make so many of his points stick with audiences.

This use of stories is one reason I believe Key is winning these debates. His easy-going nature and likeability are obviously huge positives. But it’s also important to get your points across. I believe his use of stories is a big reason why he does this better than David Cunliffe.

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