Assertions are red, stories are blue

Posted by  Mark Schenk —July 7, 2015
Filed in Business storytelling, Communication

There is a big difference between assertions and stories when it comes to impact, comprehension and memorability.

Assertions and stories

Most business talk is full of assertions and opinions. These can sound very impressive but they are hard to understand and remember. To an audience, these often just sound like blah, blah, blah.

Get your message to stick

To get your message to stick it’s important to help your audience to see what you are talking about and to feel it.

Here are two audio examples.

The first makes an important business point using a series of assertions. Listen to this 70 second audio:

Reflect on what you just heard. What do you remember? What does it mean to be more approachable?

This second piece of audio makes exactly the same point using a business story. It runs for 77 seconds.

Reflect on what you heard in this second piece of audio. What do you remember? What does it mean to be more approachable?

Assertions are abstract

The danger with assertions is that they are abstract: there are many possible interpretations of what you mean.

For example, if I asked 20 people to write down what it meant to be more approachable, based solely on the first piece of audio. Chances are I would get a lot of different answers.

However, business examples are more specific. If I tell 20 people the story version and then ask them to write down what it means to be more approachable, there is likely to be far less variability in their responses.

How to better illustrate the point you want to make?

Stories (examples) are a powerful way to increase the extent to which people understand exactly what you mean.

One of the best ways to improve communications in organisations is to find specific examples that illustrate the points you want to make.

Mark Schenk About  Mark Schenk

Mark works globally with senior leadership teams to improve their ability to communicate clearly and memorably. He has been a Director of Anecdote since 2004 and helped the company grow into one of the world’s leading business storytelling consultancies. Connect with Mark on:


  1. Tom Ware says:

    After listening to the first audio I jotted down: friendly, less critical in a negative way, more open to new ideas and concepts. After listening to the second I did not necessarily get all of these – though the story did illustrate ‘approachability.’ The key part of the second audio, apart from the main part of the story was the ‘throw away line’ “not many people around here do this.”

    I think this story could have been enhanced with the use of a bit of dialogue between the big boss and his employee. e.g. He said (woman telling the story) “Come in. Sit down. What can I do for you?” She replied “I’ve come about…”

    I know the emphasis is on narrative in many of the stories used as examples on this website, but I still advocated the use of more actual dialogue. Dialogue brings imaginary characters to life.

    1. Mark Schenk says:

      Hi Tom, there are many ways the ‘approachable manager’ story could be improved, including by adding dialogue. But, that’s not the point here. The point is that people understand examples much more clearly than assertions, statements, opinions etc. I also resist your point about dialogue on the basis that business people aren’t necessarily wanting to be expert storytellers. In the main, they just want to be understood and remembered.

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