Posts Tagged ‘William H. Whyte’

The next time you read a newspaper or magazine, notice how many of the articles start with a human interest story.

The headline may be about the rising popularity of a new sport, but the statistics will not come first.  Instead, the article will begin by describing one family’s Saturday morning with all three kids involved as players.

If the article is about people growing their own food, the first few paragraphs will likely introduce readers to a suburban gardener who is losing plants to rabbits.

Writers know something that every speaker should keep in mind: stories about people generate immediate interest.  Set the stage for your topic with an anecdote from your own life or someone else’s, and your audience will immediately tune in.  Stories are inviting.

Years ago I read a fascinating book by William H. Whyte called City.  It’s about Whyte’s research into why people congregate in some places and avoid others. 

In one section of the book he talks about store fronts that are inviting and others that discourage entry.  Someone is far more likely to enter a store that is wide open to the street than one that requires a definite decision to open a door and walk in.  Whyte says it is particularly effective to have a wide open front with merchandise pushed part way out into the public thoroughfare.  People will start looking over the goods and gradually cross over the line into the store without realizing it.

I think of human interest stories in speeches and presentations as being comparable to the wide-open store front with some of the merchandise pushed into the walkway.  They are naturally enticing and audience members “enter” into your message without ever having to make a conscious decision to listen.  They are enticed into what you are saying before they realize what is happening.


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