By now there can be no doubt as to power of storytelling.

Folk like Andy Goodman, Annette Simmons, Michael Margolis, Peter Guber, Katharine Hansen, and most certainly Joseph Campbell, have firmly established this fact in their discussions of the practical uses of storytelling.

But there is one thing about the power of storytelling that still intrigues me.

Why do we respond to a particular story and completely ignore other stories?

We respond positively to stories that resonate

Therefore, our critical task as nonprofit storytellers is to design our stories so that they resonate with information already stored within our target audience.

When we strike this responsive chord, our stories have the power to induce the desired behavioral effect.

The Power of Storytelling: Strike a responsive chord

I recently stumbled upon this answer in The Responsive Chord by Tony Schwartz.

Way back in 1973 he recognized that print-based communication had dominated our history of non-face-to-face communication, and our understanding of communication had been rendered obsolete by the then-new electronic media boom.

I’m really over-simplifying his argument here, but essentially the print-based transportation theory of communication says that communication takes place primarily through words.

Communicators formulate meaning and then code that meaning into words. They now have a message that can be sent to the target audience through a chosen communication channel (e.g., letter, newspaper, or book).

After the message flows through, and is corrupted by time, space and noise, it is received by the audience. The audience must then decode the words and match the meaning in the corrupted message to their understanding of the world.

A communication is said to have taken place to the extent that the communicator’s intended meaning matches the meaning comprehended by the audience.

Constant flow of information

Schwartz recognized that as newer electronic technology reduced print communication to an ever smaller percentage of all communications, we needed a better way of understanding how we communicate.

As a wider range of new material reached audiences through telephone, radio, film, records, and television, society developed a stronger orientation toward the auditory mode of receiving and processing information.

By 1973, Schwartz concluded that there was nearly a constant flow of information at all times.  Well that’s certainly true a billion times over today.

So Schwartz asked the same question I’m asking now:

What are the characteristics of the process whereby we organize, store, and act upon the patterned information that is constantly flowing into our brain? Further, given these processes, how do we tune communication to achieve the desired effect for someone creating a message?

The resonance principle of communication

In electronic mediated human communication, the function of a communicator is to achieve a state of resonance with the person receiving visual and auditory stimuli from television, records, etc.

The Resonance Principle is easily applicable to all of the new media forms we have today. And I imagine it will be applicable to whatever form of communication we dream up in the future.

You must create resonance

Schwartz wrote:

The critical task is to design our package of stimuli so that it resonates with information already stored within an individual and thereby induces the desire learning or behavioral effect. Resonance takes place when the stimuli put into our communication evoke meaning in a listener or viewer. That which we put into the communication has no meaning in itself. The meaning of our communication is what a listener or viewer gets out of his experience with the communicator’s stimuli.


The listener’s or viewer’s brain is an indispensable component of the total communication system. His life experiences, as well as his expectations of the stimuli he is receiving, interact with the communicator’s output in determining the meaning of the communication …


… we no longer direct information into an audience, but try to evoke stored information out of them, in a patterned way.

That is striking a responsive chord.