Storytelling; A Powerful Way to Share Your Ideas, by Rachel Sexton

Our family of patient speakers is as wonderfully diverse as any other large, boisterous family: we have PhDs and high school students; stay-at-home dads and full-time lawyers; newly diagnosed patients and seasoned influencers. Yes, each of our 400 speakers is decidedly unique, but they have far more in common than a diagnosis: they all have an inspiring story to tell.

When introducing ourselves to a new client, “storytelling” isn’t exactly something we lead with. In an industry accustomed to measuring ROI, it can take some time to see how R-O-Y (or John, or Joe, or Mary) can make an impact on your bottom line by simply sharing his personal narrative. But, not only can Roy’s powerful story move his peers to action, it can even have a direct impact on their health.

Scientist and author Paul Zak, PhD researches the neurological effects of narrative. In a recent interview, he shared that listening to a good story triggers a cascade of events in the brain and body that can increase heart rate as the listener’s attention is piqued and cause the brain to secrete oxytocin, which lowers blood pressure and eases gastrointestinal distress (Goldman, L. 2018, February. Tell It Like It Is. O Magazine, volume 19, pp. 67-69).

While storytelling may indeed be a natural remedy, many of our clients have their own therapies – and want us to find those speakers who can tell a motivating story that includes their experience with that therapy – which is why it’s important to also emphasize the emotional benefits that come when peers connect and stories are shared: “90% of patients who heard an inspirational story about another patient said they became more hopeful, which spurred them to take action, such as trying a new treatment, going to a doctor, exercising or eating healthier.” (Robinson, R. 2017, March. Patient Stories. PharmaVOICE).

We see and hear anecdotes that support that statistic every day at VPR POP; in fact, one of the most common things we hear from HCPs who recommend that their patients attend a patient-to-patient program is “I’ve been talking to them about making this change for so long, but it really didn’t sink in until they heard it from a peer.” While there’s no doubt that a peer’s story can make a big difference for someone living with a chronic or progressive disease, not every story is created equal, which is where we come in.

Our training team works with each patient speaker to make sure their story is authentic, impactful and compliant. Here are 3 tips to ensure that a patient story packs a punch and motivates someone to take action:

  1. Editing – it can be so hard to leave any detail on the cutting room floor when you think about your arduous journey of diagnosis, treatment and living with a disease, but you have a finite amount of time to engage the audience and get your message across. It’s often cathartic to start with the full War and Peace version of your story so that you’re sure you’re doing justice to your memories, and then work with a partner on the training team to whittle it down to the most crucial points.
  2. Relatability – the beauty of a peer-to-peer program is in identifying with someone who has been in your shoes. While it may be tempting to draw attention to the things that make you one-in-a-million, it’s best to save the humble brags for social media and keep the focus on the aspects of your life that are more relatable.
  3. Theme – there’s a fine line between a “hook” and “hokey”. It’s important to find a theme that the patient speaker is truly passionate about (a favorite quote or hobby, for example) and use it effectively but sparingly. It should punctuate and personalize the story without cannibalizing the main message.

Speaking of favorite quotes, one of mine is from author Robert McKee who said, “Storytelling is the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today.” To learn more about how storytelling can help get your ideas into the world, call us anytime at 816-756-5999.


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