Once upon a time there was a wedding (actually yesterday). The father of the bride wanted to give a speech. His wife (me) worried that he would bore the guests. Mildly insulted and not wanting to forgo an opportunity to praise the bride, his new son-in-law, his son-in-law’s parents, and to share a few words of wisdom, the proud papa insisted on going ahead with his speech. However, he also decided to use stories to illustrate his points. He kept his guests’ attention during his 15-minute discourse. When he returned to the table, he triumphantly said to his wife, “See. I told you I wouldn’t talk too long.” He came about as close to “I told you so” as he could.
Once upon another time, there was an elite business school by the name of “Harvard.” (Its friends called it “HBS.”) HBS had a professor named John Kotter, who became an internationally famous “leadership and change guru.” When he wanted to spread his gospel of change to the widest possible audience, he didn’t publish a thick tome full of facts; he didn’t write a philosophical treatise on the truth about change and leadership. (Been there; done that.) He wrote a fable. Why? In Kotter’s words, fables “take serious, confusing and threatening subjects and make them clear and approachable. Fables can be memorable…They can stimulate thought, teach important lessons, and motivate anyone…” His book has become a best-seller.
In fact stories are so important that another top business school (Michigan’s Ross School of Business) has an award-winning screen writer, Robert McGee, come to its orientation “to teach business leaders how to tell a riveting story.” McGee wants to challenge the new MBA students to “take a case study and create a story that will persuade. He wants them to answer the question … What is the inciting incident that upsets the balance of forces in this company’s life? What is the object of desire?”
Ross gets it. Harvard gets it. Even my husband gets its. The engaging and persuasive power of a compelling, succinct story.
Do you get it? Considering that you want your essays to engage and persuade, can you afford not to use one of the oldest and most successful techniques of communication known to man? You really can’t.
Embrace stories. Show what you want to communicate. When you sit down to write your AMCAS essay, application essays, or personal statement, which succinct anecdotes illustrate your point? What were the turning points in your life? In your dreams? What motivated you to change?
Keep it real. Keep it memorable. Just tell a story.