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Primary Debates Show the Power of Story

by Christopher G. Fox, Ph.D., on Jul 29, 2019 12:00:00 PM

We often find ourselves going up against many candidates when reaching for our goals in life.

The first round of Democratic debates taught a valuable lesson about the power of storytelling. Storytelling fosters personal connection at high-stakes moments. The breakout performances of Pete Buttigieg, Julian Castro, Kamala Harris, and Elizabeth Warren all had one thing in common: they wove short, powerful stories into their messages and emerged from the debate pack as a result. They gave themselves an edge over candidates who stuck to generalities or summarizing their careers.

Perhaps the most powerful moment across both debates came when Kamala Harris told a clear and authentic story in her own, distinctive voice about her experience with school integration.

Sen. Harris mentioned, "a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day."

"And that little girl was me," she concluded.

Telling your own story creates an immediately relatable connection, regardless of the format of communication. Whether you stand on a debate stage in front of millions or sit across a table from an interviewer for a job or for admission to a school, you can be certain that your story will differentiate you.

The numbers from the first debate fit nicely with what Story2 has observed in other high-stakes storytelling settings. Eighty percent of candidates (for a job, for a spot in a class, or for the presidency) fail to differentiate themselves. Audiences remember those who tell a story that they can feel when they hear it. More than just remembering, those stories affect the decisions they make down the road.

After the debate, Sen. Harris more than doubled her average polling numbers. The analogy between primaries and your daily life only goes so far, but the parallels remain instructive.

So, watch out for the debates coming up on July 30th and July 31st. It's very likely that people will be talking about at least one of the candidates who cut through the noise with a story about a moment that defines their character.