by Steve Adubato, PhD
Don Hewitt, former executive producer and the main architect of "60 Minutes," passed away recently. Hewitt was a hard-driving, in-your-face leader who communicated in a direct and confrontational fashion.
He was also a genius when it came to connecting with his audience. What Hewitt understood better than most is that beyond issues, debates and statistics, what people respond to most are stories, particularly stories about people.
Of course health care matters, and the economy is a pressing concern, but ultimately Don Hewitt believed that what really matters is the impact health care and the economy have on individuals.
What "60 Minutes" does better than most is tell three consistently powerful and compelling stories on a weekly basis. Hewitt was quoted in a recent CBS documentary on his career saying he lived by a very simple philosophy; "It's four little words. Tell me a story. And that's all we do. Tell 'em a story."
When Hewitt gave advice to young journalists, he would tell them they needed to learn how to tell a story because if they couldn't, they would never succeed. Said Hewitt, "Even the people who wrote the Bible were smart enough to know, tell them a story. The issue was evil in the world. The story was Noah. Now, the Bible knew that. And for some reason or other, I latched onto it."
Why is it we so often miss the significance of storytelling? The most compelling communication approaches are usually the simplest ones. The simpler the story, the more poignant the message, the greater ability the communicator has to move, motivate and inspire his or her audience.
Ask yourself -- why do we tell stories to our children to make a point? It's because we know they will better relate to them and understand what we are trying to say, as opposed to inundating them with facts or rational arguments. Kids love stories, but so do adults, so why don't we tell more of them to make our point when it comes to business? The success of "60 Minutes" and its ability to tell stories about people isn't simply a formula for great TV ratings, but rather a communication strategy that works in a variety of other venues from the board room to the classroom.
Consider this: If you've got an argument to sell, tell a story. If you are trying to convince someone to do something they are not inclined to do, tell them a story, particularly one that challenges their thinking and helps them look at the situation in a different light.
Recently our 6-year-old son Nick said he didn't want to learn how to ride a bike, even though I've consistently told him how important it is that every kid learns how to ride a bike. Yet, I didn't have his attention until I told him a story about my being a kid and riding my bike to the park to play football (Nick loves football) with the other kids without my parents having to drive me. Until I told him this football-related story, Nick couldn't care less abut my "importance of riding a bike" arguments.
Stories not only illustrate, they illuminate. When they are told well, they paint vivid pictures that tap into your audience's imagination. They speak of possibilities and reach us less in the head and more in the heart. That's what great communication is all about. Don Hewitt understood that. The rest of us can learn from his enduring example of Sunday night storytelling over the past 40 years.