I'm working with Victoria Ward and her colleagues over at Sparknow at the moment evaluating a set of stories for their likely impact. We do a lot of story impact assessment at Anecdote because when we collect stories we always end up with too many to use in a workshop and therefore must select a sub-set. Sometimes culling is done by our clients, sometimes by us. But regardless of who does it you need a set of criteria to make the selection.
So here's our assessment criteria for likely impact. I should say, however, that it can only be an assessment of likely impact because people are affected more or less by stories based on their experience. I've told the one armed karate kid story many times and mostly people find it amusing and insightful. On one occasion, however, a woman who was listening to the story teared up.
- Clarity—you hear or read the story once and you get it. It's simple, clear and has a good narrative structure (time markers, characters, begin-middle-end). That structure components don't have to be too sophisticated. We have found some of the most powerful organisational stories would past a screenwriters test or have the hero's journey structure, for example.
- Emotional—it gets you in the gut. It doesn't matter what emotion it evokes but impactful stories evoke at least one strong emotion.
- Believable—it doesn't sound like bullshit. Facts and figures help but not too many. Details help with real people's names and specific dates and times.
- Transport—it transports you to relive the experience. You can see, hear, touch, smell and taste the experience.
- Surprising—it throws you a curve ball that you weren't expecting.
- Relevant—does it talk to the topic under investigation
If your story rates well on all these criteria there is a good chance it will be memorable and persuasive which means it's likely to be retold. And when that happens then the story has real impact.