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Why is storytelling an effective way to transmit information between people?

Why is storytelling an effective way to transmit information between people?

Parables, fables, myths, whatever you might call them, stories have always been part of human consciousness. Within recent decades, storytelling is recognized as a big component of advertising and marketing. Stories can capture our attention, motivate us, and make us feel.

Is there any scientific research which provides an explanation as to why humans are so cognitively responsive to stories?


Narrative psychology is probably the go-to domain of research and theory for questions about the power and popularity of stories. Here's an excerpt from the Wikipedia page (with added emphasis):

Narrative psychology is… concerned with the "storied nature of human conduct" [(Sarbin, 1986)] or… how human[s]… deal with experience by constructing stories and listening to the stories of others. Operating under the assumption that human activity and experience are filled with "meaning" and stories, rather than logical arguments or lawful formulations… [this] dichotomy… [appears (Bruner, 1990)] as a distinction between "paradigmatic" and "narrative" forms of thought, in his understanding they are both fundamental but irreducible one to the another.

According to Sarbin (1986) "narrative" is a root metaphor for psychology that should replace the mechanistic and organic metaphors which shaped so much theory and research in the discipline over the past century. The indisputable physical events of a personal occurrence are different from a story that results from the storied cause and effect relationships. (McKinnon) [citation unavailable]

Independent of any fiction in the actual physical matter told, are physical events that are as unequivocal as quantum mechanics and human chemistry.

I'm unfamiliar with examples of narrative psychological research of the sort you're looking for specifically, but the above seems to argue from psychological theory at least that narratives gain appeal and influence from their apparent factuality. Narratives may not claim to apply their principles generally, let alone acknowledge any limits to their generality, but maybe people naturally infer generality anyway, and are less likely to recognize limits on their own when they aren't mentioned… This is just speculation though.

One other idea that's at least equally worth mentioning (which may not be saying much) is that narratives are particularly influential in the study of identity. Tying negative events in one's life into a redemptive life narrative relates to well-being, though causality isn't clear in this relationship (McAdams & McLean, 2013). Maybe a similar principle applies from an observer's perspective: maybe consumers of stories "create meaning" vicariously by putting both good and bad events in the shared context of others' lives. Maybe advertisers' messages are more subtly appealing (and less overbearing) when embedded in the narratives of relatable, likable characters that seem to have more to say than just what their favorite shampoo is. Again, this is speculation; I'm no advertiser. I mostly hope I've given you some ideas to follow up on in study of the areas of psychological research with which I am somewhat familiar: narrative identity, and narrative psychology in general.


References
· Bruner, J. S. (1990). Acts of meaning. Harvard University Press.
· McAdams, D. P., & McLean, K. C. (2013). Narrative identity. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 22(3), 233-238.
· Sarbin, T. R. (1986). Narrative psychology: The storied nature of human conduct. Praeger Publishers / Greenwood Publishing Group.


Stories are an effective means for conveying ideas or messages and captivating our attention as it gives meaning to those idea's and messages, while also linking it to a themes and emotions, hence allowing us to reflect our own lives in these stories you hear.

For example, imagine your self in the latter stone age where story telling was the most effective medium for passing down techniques. If you were told that to start a fire you had to simply collect and number of materials and stratch a piece of flint and steel to create sparks on the tinder, some may remember the process but for most a lot of effort and concentration would be required to memorise all of these items.

Meanwhile, if you were told this process through a story with characters (for example a story of how fire was discovered that was most likely fictional) suddenly you are relating characters, themes and experiences to events in your own life, which would significantly increase the chance of you remembering it.

Similarly, for the story teller, instead of having to remember a list of items required, all they would have to remember is a short story and the best part is the details of the characters do not have to be specific. Thus it would be much more enjoyable.

Clearly sotry telling is much more effective then memorisation, which is why it is being used up to this day.

Hope this helped, Mona.


I think that when a human being listen to a story then listener get some sympathy or emotional attraction towards some character and as you said that it motivates us, stories motivate us because we thing that we are equivalent to some character and we try ourselves to become like that or to achieve what the character have achieved.

You even said that stories capture our attention, in this case I am not with you. Take an example, you yourself will not like(not being in attention) because you have some categories(like- love stories, horror, adventure etc.) let say that you like horror stories then I am sure that you can not give the same attention to stories other than horror.

This just the role of genes that decide the mood, likes, dislikes etc.

You will like to know that you pay more attention in watching a horror movies than any other movie.


No research can prove any explanation as to why humans are so cognitively responsive to stories.

Moreover, while one may be able to find evidence to support a plausible theory, such evidence will only be correlative, and as such cannot prove cause.

That said, there have been many studies about correlating emotional stress with with long term memorization.

While the comprehension of bare facts does not require emotion, the full comprehension of a story does.

It has also been shown, that when presented with a story, your mirror neurons are activated, and you become more susceptible to suggestions of feeling. You then take on the emotions presented to you, and these emotions, much like the ones in the stress studies, are thought to help solidify memories in your mind.

Despite all of these insights of how stories affect us, the "why" still cannot addressed.

One might theorize about an "explanation" of how it might be evolutionary advantageous to remember things with strong emotional ties vs information without such context. However, it is prudent understand that such explanations provide no testable hypotheses, and thus should not to be confused with "scientific explanations".

As such, "Why" questions are generally the realm of philosophy and religion.


Maybe because episodic memory is better developed then semantic.

Here is a nice study on how to teach virtual agent to use episodic memory: http://www.techfak.uni-bielefeld.de/~frabe/publications/Rabe2012-EpisodicMemory-ICAART2012-CameraReady.pdf


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Podcasts and audiobooks benefit from the advantages of any character-based story. But some research, like a recent study conducted at the University of Waterloo, has shown that people who listen to the narration of a passage, like the audio storytelling found in traditional audiobooks, remember less information, are less interested in the content, and are more likely to daydream than those who read the same book out loud or silently to themselves.

But anyone who has gotten hooked on a podcast knows that audio can be much more than just narration. Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, studies how audio productions retain people’s attention. Her work has shown that a dramatized audio structure, using voice actors who tell the story exclusively through dialogue, stimulate listeners’ imagination more than a typical “voice of God” narration. Participants who listened to the dramatized structure reported that they generated more vivid images in their minds, and conjured the images more quickly and easily than those in the narration condition. They also reported being more emotionally aroused and interested in the story.

Another study illustrates the importance of using sound effects, sounds that represent objects and/or environments and sound shots, an effect that gives the listener a sense of space by recording a sound that’s far away. Rodero found that the use of sound effects and sound shots in an audio drama increased the level of mental imagery that listeners reported, and also caused listeners to pay more attention.

Audiobook producers are catching on, and have started rolling out new types of “audio entertainment.” A novel by best-selling crime writer Jeffrey Deaver, called The Starling Project, has only been released as an audiobook, and features characters brought to life by 29 voice actors. Adapted by famed sci-fi author Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game Alive, released by Audible in 2013, tells the Ender's Game story entirely through the use of dialogue and sound effects. And companies like Graphic Audio are creating audio dramas exclusively in the style, calling it “a movie in your mind.”

The tagline captures one of the best things about audio storytelling, according to Rodero. She says that, like reading, listening to audio allows people to create their own versions of characters and scenes in the story. But she thinks listening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.

“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production,” Rodero says. “And that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.”


Plot Twist: Stories Won’t Always Make the Sale

To start answering these questions, Rucker and Krause designed an experiment involving a fictional cell phone called the Moonstone. They recruited 397 online participants to read about various attributes of the Moonstone and then rate their impressions of the product on a scale of 1 to 9.

The researchers developed two sets of facts about the Moonstone, one containing strong information (for instance, that the phone could withstand a fall of up to 30 feet) and the other containing similar, but weaker information (the phone could withstand a fall of up to 3 feet).

Study participants were presented with either the strong or weak facts about the Moonstone in one of two formats: a simple list, or a narrative involving the phone’s ability to withstand falls.

The results were clear: participants given the weak set of facts had much more favorable impressions of the phone when those weak facts were presented in a story. The difference was striking: participants’ rating of the Moonstone soared from an average of 4 to an average of nearly 7.

But this is not what happened for participants who saw the strong set of facts. Their impressions of the phone were significantly weaker when the facts were presented as a story (an average of 6.82) compared to a list (7.5).

This result provided important evidence that reduced message processing, rather than biased processing, was part of the explanation for the persuasive effects of stories.

“Stories appeared to shut people down from scrutinizing the information carefully,” Krause says. “So when people saw a really impressive product within a compelling story, the story backfired they failed to appreciate just how great the product was.”


The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

A good story can make or break a presentation, article, or conversation. But why is that? When Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich started to market his product through stories instead of benefits and bullet points, sign-ups went through the roof. Here he shares the science of why storytelling is so uniquely powerful.

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented "sandwich," the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

What's interesting about this is that you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich ever again. Or at least, much less likely to do so, if it would have been presented to us in bullet points or other purely information-based form.

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, and I wanted to learn more.

Here is the science around storytelling and how we can use it to make better decisions every day:

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it's a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It's in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that's it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically . Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it's about motion, our motor cortex gets active:

"Metaphors like "The singer had a velvet voice" and "He had leathery hands" roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like "John grasped the object" and "Pablo kicked the ball." The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body's movements."

A story can put your whole brain to work. And yet, it gets better:

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

"When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners' brains."

Anything you've experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you've activated that way, active too:

Evolution has wired our brains for storytelling—how to make use of it

Now all this is interesting. We know that we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found [that] "personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations."

Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That's why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula , which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.

The following graphic probably describes it best:

In a great experiment , John Bargh at Yale found the following:

"Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes."

We link up metaphors and literal happenings automatically. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we've previously experienced.

Let's dig into some hands on tips to make use of it:

Exchange giving suggestions for telling stories

Do you know the feeling when a good friend tells you a story and then two weeks later, you mention the same story to him, as if it was your idea? This is totally normal and at the same time, one of the most powerful ways to get people on board with your ideas and thoughts. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people's minds.

Write more persuasively—bring in stories from yourself or an expert

This is something that took me a long time to understand. If you start out writing, it's only natural to think "I don't have a lot of experience with this, how can I make my post believable if I use personal stories?" The best way to get around this is by simply exchanging stories with those of experts. When this blog used to be a social media blog, I would ask for quotes from the top folks in the industry or simply find great passages they had written online. It's a great way to add credibility and at the same time, tell a story.

The simple story is more successful than the complicated one

When we think of stories, it is often easy to convince ourselves that they have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is however, that the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick. Using simple language as well as low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story. This is a similar reason why multitasking is so hard for us. Try for example to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.

Quick last fact: Our brain learns to ignore certain overused words and phrases that used to make stories awesome. Scientists, in the midst of researching the topic of storytelling have also discovered, that certain words and phrases have lost all storytelling power :

"Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like "a rough day" are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more."

This means, that the frontal cortex—the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions—can't be activated with these phrases. It's something that might be worth remembering when crafting your next story.

Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer , a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Leo writes more posts on efficiency and customer happiness over on the Buffer blog . Hit him up on Twitter @LeoWid anytime he is a super nice guy.


Why storytelling is essential to effective communication

Whether you’re pitching to a client or presenting at a board meeting, you have to engage your audience or else risk a costly ‘failure to communicate’.

Well, your intention in these meetings is to share your experience with someone else in the hope that it will move them to action. And as Denise Withers, an award-winning communicator and professional storytelling strategist, says:

‘Engagement matters, because research by academic giants such as Daniel Berlyne, Jerome Bruner, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget shows that we learn, remember and participate better when an activity is engaging.’


Conclusion

The human brain is wired to remember memorable and visual stories.

The sooner you start using storytelling in your content creation and marketing, the easier you’ll find it to increase your conversions.

There is no shortcut to improving your ROI as a content marketer and blogger. You have to consistently feed Google and your target audience with fresh, high-quality content.

As you do that, you’ll get more organic traffic and improve your long-tail keyword rankings significantly.

Have you leveraged storytelling to increase your conversions? What is your experience and how do you respond to other people’s stories?

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Hey, I'm Neil Patel. I'm determined to make a business grow. My only question is, will it be yours?

He is the co-founder of NP Digital. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies. Neil is a New York Times bestselling author and was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 35 by the United Nations.


Any kind of presentation—whether it be online training or a live presentation—will benefit from a story construction. Organizing information into a format with a beginning (setting the stage), middle (the challenge) and ending (new reality) can work for many topics.

When we watch or read about a superhero, we always remember the person’s origins. We know where they came from and the circumstances that created their super powers. People are defined by their origins and people are curious about where people (or fictional characters) come from, how they change and how they evolve. Include this type of information in your next story.


Podcast: The Power of Persuasive Storytelling

The art of storytelling may conjure up images of telling tall tales around a campfire or artsy live lit events. But storytelling is also a key business skill worth cultivating. It can serve as an essential tool for closing a deal, impressing your boss, or making your brand more relatable to consumers.

Stories let you connect with your audience on an emotional level. They help you convey key information in a way that will be remembered and help you persuade your audience to take action. This holds true for both spoken and written stories as well as the stories you want to tell with data.

In this month’s Insight In Person podcast, you’ll hear from two Kellogg School professors and a lecturer about the power of storytelling, as well as their tips to become a better storyteller.

Emily STONEHere’s a little exercise: Think of all the ways that we compare our lives to stories: We want to “start a new chapter in life,” or “turn the page” on something, or wonder, “What’s her story?”

As humans, we are hardwired to organize our thoughts through stories. They comprise everything from our creation myths to the anecdotes politicians use to pepper their speeches. Stories make us relatable to each other and connect to people’s emotions.

They’re also a powerful business tool. If you have key information you want others to remember, tell them a story. If you want to use data to persuade people to take action, build visualizations to convey that data as a story.

In this month’s Insight In Person podcast, we’ll hear from two Kellogg professors and a Kellogg lecturer about the best ways to tell stories. I’m your host, Emily Stone. So stay tuned.

Michelle BUCK“What’s your story?” The question, “What’s your story?” is like asking, “What do you have to say? Really, at the end of the day, What do you stand for? How do you want to be known?”

STONEThat’s Michelle Buck, a clinical professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. She believes that in order to lead effectively, it is paramount that leaders first clarify who they are and what they stand for. In other words, they need to master their own story.

Buck calls this a capital S story. A capital S story is different from what she calls little S stories, the anecdotes that are usually what we expect when we hear, “Let me tell you a story.”

A capital S story hones a leader’s vision and purpose. It is the narrative that acts as a compass, steering leaders in the right direction. It can also drum up support for a leader’s initiatives. And that is especially important, given that studies show that only about 20 percent of workers globally feel a sense of meaning in their work.

BUCKTherefore, when leaders have that sense of purpose in their story, that transmits or translates to the people whom they’re leading as well and makes the work much more engaging, therefore more productive, possibly more innovative, and ultimately, more profitable as well.

STONEA capital S story also provides leaders with a sense of agility.

BUCKBecause when decisions are required in a very quick manner, we’re living in a constantly changing environment. You have to be able to access what matters most very, very quickly.

STONESo what can leaders do to get their capital S story straight? In her executive education courses, Buck guides her students through a variety of exercises.

One asks people to think of their life as a book and to title the different chapters. What chapters have already happened? What chapter are they in now?

BUCKMore importantly, in terms of identifying an underlying sense of identity or purpose or story, we ask people to think about, “Is there some theme that connects the dots of the otherwise totally different experiences of your life?”

STONEAn exercise like this, as simple as it sounds, can take you to some profound places. Buck describes an instance where an executive in one of her courses was reflecting on who he was, and what experiences had shaped him.

He started talking about his mother—artsy, a dreamer—and his father—a stalwart for logic. And then, he had an epiphany.

BUCKHis whole life was working as a bridge builder. In his job, he was the person who was always bringing people from different functions and different departments together who otherwise may not talk. He came from a part of the world that had great racial and socioeconomic tensions, and he was always the person who was connecting the dots. He saw a theme that he had never thought about before because of one of these reflective exercises. He said that it completely changed the way he thought about the work ahead of him, and the contribution that he could make, and reframing what he was offering.

STONECapital S stories aren’t just useful for leaders. People across organizations—and even organizations themselves—can use stories to help people make sense of change.

BUCKMany leaders, during times of change will invoke the story metaphor and the idea of chapters in the book and say, “What do we want our next chapter to be? What is the chapter that we are going to write together that builds upon the story that we’ve been living for 10 years, 100 years?” That then serves as an invitation to current employees to be part of writing the narrative, which is incredibly compelling as well.

STONESo capital S storytelling helps you shape the path ahead. But what about those little S stories?

Esther CHOYStorytelling is important because it is the most fundamental and shared human intelligence. It is the real fundamental way of how we learn, how we share, how we formulate our experience and how we tell others about it.

STONEThat’s Esther Choy. She’s a Kellogg alum and lecturer, who is also the founder of the Leadership Story Lab, where she teaches people how to perfect telling those little S stories. She stresses that storytelling isn’t only about getting up in front of a crowd and telling a story—though that’s part of the craft.

CHOYStorytelling doesn’t have to always take a long time. You can have a two-lined, brief sentence of a story.

STONEThink about how we use storytelling when we run into a friend who asks how work is, or when a manager demands to know why an important project isn’t ready yet. More broadly, Choy says to think about storytelling as an organizing principle for business communication.

The goal of all these storytelling moments is to make you relatable to the other person, make the information you’re presenting persuasive, and get your audience to take a desired action.

CHOYAssume they’re not interested, assume they have better things to do than listen to you, assume they don’t understand what you’re saying—and storytelling is the most accessible way to build that bridge.

STONESo how do you build that bridge? What are the best ways to tell your story?

To start with, don’t just deluge your audience with all the facts that you think are important. First, you want to get your audience engaged, be it the corporate board that you hope adopts your restructuring plan or the person at a cocktail party you’re trying to network with.

Think of storytelling as the strategic ordering of facts and emotions.

CHOYThere is a time to data dump, there is a time to intrigue and delight. I always encourage people to create that thirst first. Why should they pay attention? Why should they put down their phone? Why should they stop looking out the window?

STONEChoy teaches whole workshops on how to craft a good story, but she offers up a few quick tips to get you started.

CHOYFocus on the beginning and the end. Make sure the middle is solid, but focus on the beginning and the end. The beginning is how you get their attention, how you motivate them to keep paying attention. The end is what they most likely will remember, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year after you tell the story.

STONENext, Choy suggests taking your story out for a test-drive. Tell it to a few trusted friends or colleagues to get their reaction. And be specific about what sort of feedback you want.

She says to ask your test audience three questions: First, does the story get their imagination going? Second, do they find it relatable? Third, and this is key, what is the listener going to do after hearing your story. Because, in the end, the stories you tell in a business context are all about getting people to take action.

CHOYSo the way to gauge how effective your story is is to get that feedback. Do you want to do anything about it? Would you hit “Send”? Would you click to the next page? Would you ask me more questions about this product? So on and so forth.

STONELet’s say you want to get people to act by showing them the amazing data you’ve gathered. Won’t the numbers alone persuade your audience and get them to take action?

Nope. You need to get that data to tell a story. Remember, don’t just “data dump.” The best way to do that is to create a data visualization. That’s according to Steven Franconeri, a Northwestern psychology professor who also teaches management and organization courses at Kellogg.

If you’re shaking your head and think that just handing out a spreadsheet is all you need to do, here’s what Franconeri has to say.

Steven FRANCONERIIf you really feel that you’re able to communicate with just numbers, that could be true, but give it a test. So actually try to have people repeat back to you what they think the important aspects of your story, of your prescription, are. And see what comes back. Often you’ll be surprised. If you are not using visualizations and you feel like it’s sufficient, it might be overconfidence.

STONEData visualizations are a key tool for business leaders, Franconeri says, in part because of the way our brains are hardwired. Forty percent of our brains are devoted to visual processing. Once upon a time, that helped us spot a lion lurking behind a bush. Now it can be harnessed to get your boss to approve your marketing plan, or your employees to buy into a new incentive program.

FRANCONERIIt can be far superior to communicate patterns and data to people’s visual system rather than their verbal system. So the visual system lets you take in a pattern of information more deeply and more broadly, and it makes you process it more deeply. When you want people to pay attention to data—not just anecdotes or gut instincts, but data, hard numbers—it’s helpful to convey them in this visual form so that they sink in better.

STONEOkay, so you’re ready to use a visualization to dazzle your audience. How do you go about creating it?

The first thing, Franconeri says, is to make sure that you’re telling the story you want to tell. Because when faced with data, your audience is automatically going to convert it into a story.

FRANCONERIIf you just let people stare at a complex visualization, they will make their own story, and they’ll pick different views, and they’ll pick them in an order that their brain designs, and it won’t be your story. You need to pick a set of views and put them in order that tells the narrative that you want people to follow to understand the problem that you have and the solution that you’re proposing, so that they think about that sequence in the same way that you do in your brain.

STONETo ensure that your story gets told, Franconeri echoes some of Choy’s advice: Take your visualization out for a test-drive. Create a few different types of visualizations—say, a bar graph, a line graph, and a scatter chart—and then do a few iterations within those styles, testing different ways of ordering and arranging the data points within each graph.

FRANCONERIShow those different possibilities to a few colleagues or friends and ask them what story they see in the data. You’ll be amazed at the differences.

Just imagine a simple line graph generally going up but with a few bumps in it. Just when you show something like that, there are several stories that people could be seeing in that: the fact that there are two bumps, the fact that it’s going up in general, the fact that the acceleration goes down a little bit, that the growth seems to be diminishing. You need to be able to understand what other people see in those patterns. Because once you’ve been staring at the data for many hours with your analyst hat on, you can get locked into a state where you see certain patterns, but you don’t realize that other people don’t.

STONEThere are other key rules for making a good data visualization. Make sure you give it a nice, crisp title that highlights the story you want to tell, keep the look minimalist so you aren’t providing distracting visual clutter, and be sure to guide your viewer through the data so you don’t lose anyone along the way.

FRANCONERIThen when you take a series of those and put them in sequence—“so you should see this aspect of the data, and now, let’s switch to this aspect of the data, and this aspect of the data”—and you guide people through that sequence in a logical way, that’s a data story.

STONEFranconeri also stresses that these visualization rules are important for business leaders, even if they have a staff that can pretty up the slides.

FRANCONERIYour art department can make the visualization look good, but they can’t make it tell the story that you want. As the leader or as the analyst, you are the person who knows what’s important in the data. You are the person who knows what everyone else in the room needs to know and what actions they should take. Knowing just these simple rules about how to make your visualization effective, combined with the knowledge that’s in only your head, can make it an incredibly effective tool.

STONEThis program was produced by Jessica Love, Kate Proto, Fred Schmalz, Emily Stone, and Michael Spikes.

Special thanks to Kellogg professors Michelle Buck and Steven Franconeri, as well as lecturer Esther Choy.


The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr review – the lure of novel ideas

Will Storr: ‘weaves brilliantly between high and low culture’.

Will Storr: ‘weaves brilliantly between high and low culture’.

T he American novelist John Barth claimed that rather than the traditional “what happened next?”, the real question that every reader is asking him or herself as they read is “the essential question of identity – the personal, professional, cultural, even species-specific ‘Who Am I?’” Stories are ordering, sense-making machines, helping our brains to render the frantic incoherence of chaotic existence into comprehensible narratives. These narratives, as Peter Brooks showed in his classic critical work Reading for the Plot, “follow the internal logic of the discourse of mortality” – stories have beginnings, middles and ends because our lives do. Every time we read a novel, we’re giving ourselves a new way of thinking about the shape and structure of our own lives. And even in the age of AI, the novel remains our most subtle and sophisticated piece of technology when it comes to answering these deep, existential questions.

It’s surprising, given how many authors now teach creative writing in order to supplement their meagre incomes, that there aren’t more good books on the craft of novel writing. Novice novelists still tend to turn to screenwriting guides when looking for inspiration. Yet as the brilliant send-up of Robert McKee’s Story, one of the many guides that use formalist archetypes to provide film writers with plot blueprints, in the Charlie Kaufman film Adaptation demonstrates, the structures that work for blockbusters don’t always work for more refined narratives.

Will Storr is a prize-winning journalist and the author of a very good, if largely forgotten, novel, The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone. In The Science of Storytelling, he attempts to do for novelists what McKee, Joseph Campbell and Christopher Booker did for screenwriters – providing a how-to guide that looks back to the fundamental questions that animate readers and then using these to help novelists shape their narratives. And yet Storr is doing something more interesting than merely cashing in on the current boom in creative writing and the bulk of this book isn’t only for those wishing to write themselves. Recognising that novels respond to deep psychological impulses, Storr employs a mixture of neuroscience and psychology to explore why it is that the novel has become such a staple of our cultural lives. He shows how novelists answer the challenge of “grabbing and keeping the attention of other people’s brains” by delving into the science of those brains.

This makes for a hugely compelling reading experience. Storr weaves brilliantly between high and low culture – in the space of a few pages we go from Mrs Dalloway to Gone Girl to Marion and Geoff to the computer game Fortnite – and he illustrates and expands upon these examples with repeated reference to the science that lies behind them. He makes particularly good use of the psychologist George Loewenstein’s work on curiosity (“deep in the detail of his dry, academic paper, Lowenstein has written a perfect description of police-procedural drama”) and the neuroscientific research of Benjamin Bergen and Michael Gazzaniga. Storr shows how novels activate the brain’s reward mechanisms he illustrates how we draw on neural models to populate the worlds of the novels we’re reading there’s some brilliant stuff on research into saccades – the miniature movements our eyes make when processing information – and how novelists might use this to structure their scenes.

The Science of Storytelling ends with a long, practical appendix, entitled The Sacred Flaw Approach, which offers a step-by-step guide to writing a novel, drawing on the lessons and observations of the book. Such templates usually feel a little blunt for the lengthy and complex art of novel writing, but Storr’s central thesis is so compelling, his own prose so well sculpted and readable, that I found myself largely convinced. Robert McKee has built an empire out of his screenwriting manuals – it’ll cost you close to $1,000 to attend one of his seminars. Storr’s superb exploration of the enduring appeal of the novel feels like it could do something similar – offering a smart, fascinating exploration of the science and psychology behind our most sophisticated art form that also works as an effective how-to guide.


The Science Behind The Art Of Storytelling

Storytelling has the power to engage, influence, teach and inspire listeners. That’s why we argue for organizations to build a storytelling culture and place storytelling at the heart of their learning programs. There’s an art to telling a good story, and we all know a good story when we hear one. But there’s also a science behind the art of storytelling.

Here’s how it works, starting with the science of the non-story:

We’ve all listened to (and suffered through) long PowerPoint presentations made up of bullet points – bullet points that may be meaningful to the presenter, but lack the same punch for the audience. Even if the presenter is animated, when we hear information being ticked off like this, the language processing parts in our brain, known as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, get to work, translating those bullet points into story form where we can find our own meaning. The problem with this, however, is that the story we come up with in our mind may not be the same one the speaker is intending to convey through data.

When a speaker delivers those same facts within a story, however, something else happens in the brain. In his essay “The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains”, entrepreneur and storyteller Leo Widrich noted that there’s research to suggest that when we hear a story, “not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are, too.” For example, sensory details like the client was as excited as if he had won the lottery engage a listener’s sensory cortex. Action words like drive this project home engage the motor cortex, all leading to a more connected and richer experiencing of the message. In short, the more a speaker conveys information in story form, the closer the listener’s experience and understanding will be to what the speaker actually intended.

Neuroscientists are still debating these findings, but we know from experience that when we’re listening to a good story — rich in detail, full of metaphor, expressive of character — we tend to imagine ourselves in the same situation. Just think about all those scary stories told around the campfire. Your heart rate increases, you get goosebumps, the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. The stories told in a business setting might not be quite as dramatic (or hair-raising), but nevertheless can be more impactful than data alone.

Lisa Cron, in Wired for Story, speaks to additional benefits of sharing stories in business settings, “Stories allow us to simulate intense experience without having to actually live through them. Stories allow us to experience the world before we actually have to experience it.” Leo Widrich, citing Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson, writes that “a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” The potential value here for managers to use story to mentor and coach is clear. Through stories, we can utilize vicarious experience, mentally rehearsing how we might handle a situation before we have to face it. Internal data banks, so full of what if’s and how to’s, are refreshed with new options, without our having to live through an experience and all the risk that might entail.

There are additional scientific elements at play. Scientists are discovering that chemicals like cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain when we’re told a story. Why does that matter? If we are trying to make a point stick, cortisol assists with our formulating memories. Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. When it comes to creating deeper connections with others, oxytocin is associated with empathy, an important element in building, deepening or maintaining good relationships.

Perhaps most importantly, storytelling is central to meaning-making and sense-making. It is through story that our minds form and examine our own truths and beliefs, as well as discern how they correlate with the truths and beliefs of others. Through story listening, we gain new perspectives and a better understanding of the world around us. We challenge and expand our own understanding by exploring how others see and understand the world through their lens.

By sharing and listening to each other’s stories, we all get a little bit closer to what’s true.

Ultimately, storytelling is about the exchange of ideas, about growth – and that’s learning. That’s why we believe that it’s important that we embed storytelling in our organizational cultures and in our learning programs. Storytelling is essential. If you’re trying to engage, influence, teach, or inspire others, you should be telling or listening to a story, and encouraging others to tell a story with you. You’ll have plenty of science to back you up.


Conclusion

Storytelling helps our audience members put themselves in the shoes of our users. When they think from this perspective, they have more information to make a decision that will benefit the user in addition to the business.

Learn more about storytelling in user experience in our full-day course, Storytelling Throughout the UX Process.

Reference

Quesenbery, W., & Brooks, K. (2010). Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, LLC.

About the Author

Rachel Krause is a User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group. Her areas of expertise include storytelling, UX in agile, design thinking, scaling design, and UX leadership. She has also planned and conducted research on careers, UX maturity, and intranets for clients and practitioners in numerous industries.

Subscribe to our Alertbox E-Mail Newsletter:

The latest articles about interface usability, website design, and UX research from the Nielsen Norman Group.


The Science of Storytelling by Will Storr review – the lure of novel ideas

Will Storr: ‘weaves brilliantly between high and low culture’.

Will Storr: ‘weaves brilliantly between high and low culture’.

T he American novelist John Barth claimed that rather than the traditional “what happened next?”, the real question that every reader is asking him or herself as they read is “the essential question of identity – the personal, professional, cultural, even species-specific ‘Who Am I?’” Stories are ordering, sense-making machines, helping our brains to render the frantic incoherence of chaotic existence into comprehensible narratives. These narratives, as Peter Brooks showed in his classic critical work Reading for the Plot, “follow the internal logic of the discourse of mortality” – stories have beginnings, middles and ends because our lives do. Every time we read a novel, we’re giving ourselves a new way of thinking about the shape and structure of our own lives. And even in the age of AI, the novel remains our most subtle and sophisticated piece of technology when it comes to answering these deep, existential questions.

It’s surprising, given how many authors now teach creative writing in order to supplement their meagre incomes, that there aren’t more good books on the craft of novel writing. Novice novelists still tend to turn to screenwriting guides when looking for inspiration. Yet as the brilliant send-up of Robert McKee’s Story, one of the many guides that use formalist archetypes to provide film writers with plot blueprints, in the Charlie Kaufman film Adaptation demonstrates, the structures that work for blockbusters don’t always work for more refined narratives.

Will Storr is a prize-winning journalist and the author of a very good, if largely forgotten, novel, The Hunger and the Howling of Killian Lone. In The Science of Storytelling, he attempts to do for novelists what McKee, Joseph Campbell and Christopher Booker did for screenwriters – providing a how-to guide that looks back to the fundamental questions that animate readers and then using these to help novelists shape their narratives. And yet Storr is doing something more interesting than merely cashing in on the current boom in creative writing and the bulk of this book isn’t only for those wishing to write themselves. Recognising that novels respond to deep psychological impulses, Storr employs a mixture of neuroscience and psychology to explore why it is that the novel has become such a staple of our cultural lives. He shows how novelists answer the challenge of “grabbing and keeping the attention of other people’s brains” by delving into the science of those brains.

This makes for a hugely compelling reading experience. Storr weaves brilliantly between high and low culture – in the space of a few pages we go from Mrs Dalloway to Gone Girl to Marion and Geoff to the computer game Fortnite – and he illustrates and expands upon these examples with repeated reference to the science that lies behind them. He makes particularly good use of the psychologist George Loewenstein’s work on curiosity (“deep in the detail of his dry, academic paper, Lowenstein has written a perfect description of police-procedural drama”) and the neuroscientific research of Benjamin Bergen and Michael Gazzaniga. Storr shows how novels activate the brain’s reward mechanisms he illustrates how we draw on neural models to populate the worlds of the novels we’re reading there’s some brilliant stuff on research into saccades – the miniature movements our eyes make when processing information – and how novelists might use this to structure their scenes.

The Science of Storytelling ends with a long, practical appendix, entitled The Sacred Flaw Approach, which offers a step-by-step guide to writing a novel, drawing on the lessons and observations of the book. Such templates usually feel a little blunt for the lengthy and complex art of novel writing, but Storr’s central thesis is so compelling, his own prose so well sculpted and readable, that I found myself largely convinced. Robert McKee has built an empire out of his screenwriting manuals – it’ll cost you close to $1,000 to attend one of his seminars. Storr’s superb exploration of the enduring appeal of the novel feels like it could do something similar – offering a smart, fascinating exploration of the science and psychology behind our most sophisticated art form that also works as an effective how-to guide.


The Science Behind The Art Of Storytelling

Storytelling has the power to engage, influence, teach and inspire listeners. That’s why we argue for organizations to build a storytelling culture and place storytelling at the heart of their learning programs. There’s an art to telling a good story, and we all know a good story when we hear one. But there’s also a science behind the art of storytelling.

Here’s how it works, starting with the science of the non-story:

We’ve all listened to (and suffered through) long PowerPoint presentations made up of bullet points – bullet points that may be meaningful to the presenter, but lack the same punch for the audience. Even if the presenter is animated, when we hear information being ticked off like this, the language processing parts in our brain, known as Broca’s area and Wernicke’s area, get to work, translating those bullet points into story form where we can find our own meaning. The problem with this, however, is that the story we come up with in our mind may not be the same one the speaker is intending to convey through data.

When a speaker delivers those same facts within a story, however, something else happens in the brain. In his essay “The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to a Story Does to Our Brains”, entrepreneur and storyteller Leo Widrich noted that there’s research to suggest that when we hear a story, “not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are, too.” For example, sensory details like the client was as excited as if he had won the lottery engage a listener’s sensory cortex. Action words like drive this project home engage the motor cortex, all leading to a more connected and richer experiencing of the message. In short, the more a speaker conveys information in story form, the closer the listener’s experience and understanding will be to what the speaker actually intended.

Neuroscientists are still debating these findings, but we know from experience that when we’re listening to a good story — rich in detail, full of metaphor, expressive of character — we tend to imagine ourselves in the same situation. Just think about all those scary stories told around the campfire. Your heart rate increases, you get goosebumps, the hair on the back of your neck stands on end. The stories told in a business setting might not be quite as dramatic (or hair-raising), but nevertheless can be more impactful than data alone.

Lisa Cron, in Wired for Story, speaks to additional benefits of sharing stories in business settings, “Stories allow us to simulate intense experience without having to actually live through them. Stories allow us to experience the world before we actually have to experience it.” Leo Widrich, citing Princeton neuroscientist Uri Hasson, writes that “a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.” The potential value here for managers to use story to mentor and coach is clear. Through stories, we can utilize vicarious experience, mentally rehearsing how we might handle a situation before we have to face it. Internal data banks, so full of what if’s and how to’s, are refreshed with new options, without our having to live through an experience and all the risk that might entail.

There are additional scientific elements at play. Scientists are discovering that chemicals like cortisol, dopamine and oxytocin are released in the brain when we’re told a story. Why does that matter? If we are trying to make a point stick, cortisol assists with our formulating memories. Dopamine, which helps regulate our emotional responses, keeps us engaged. When it comes to creating deeper connections with others, oxytocin is associated with empathy, an important element in building, deepening or maintaining good relationships.

Perhaps most importantly, storytelling is central to meaning-making and sense-making. It is through story that our minds form and examine our own truths and beliefs, as well as discern how they correlate with the truths and beliefs of others. Through story listening, we gain new perspectives and a better understanding of the world around us. We challenge and expand our own understanding by exploring how others see and understand the world through their lens.

By sharing and listening to each other’s stories, we all get a little bit closer to what’s true.

Ultimately, storytelling is about the exchange of ideas, about growth – and that’s learning. That’s why we believe that it’s important that we embed storytelling in our organizational cultures and in our learning programs. Storytelling is essential. If you’re trying to engage, influence, teach, or inspire others, you should be telling or listening to a story, and encouraging others to tell a story with you. You’ll have plenty of science to back you up.


Conclusion

Storytelling helps our audience members put themselves in the shoes of our users. When they think from this perspective, they have more information to make a decision that will benefit the user in addition to the business.

Learn more about storytelling in user experience in our full-day course, Storytelling Throughout the UX Process.

Reference

Quesenbery, W., & Brooks, K. (2010). Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design. Brooklyn, NY: Rosenfeld Media, LLC.

About the Author

Rachel Krause is a User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group. Her areas of expertise include storytelling, UX in agile, design thinking, scaling design, and UX leadership. She has also planned and conducted research on careers, UX maturity, and intranets for clients and practitioners in numerous industries.

Subscribe to our Alertbox E-Mail Newsletter:

The latest articles about interface usability, website design, and UX research from the Nielsen Norman Group.


Recommended Reading

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The Pride Flag Has a Representation Problem

The Rich, Weird, and Frustrating World of Depression-Era Travel Guides

Podcasts and audiobooks benefit from the advantages of any character-based story. But some research, like a recent study conducted at the University of Waterloo, has shown that people who listen to the narration of a passage, like the audio storytelling found in traditional audiobooks, remember less information, are less interested in the content, and are more likely to daydream than those who read the same book out loud or silently to themselves.

But anyone who has gotten hooked on a podcast knows that audio can be much more than just narration. Emma Rodero, a communications professor at the Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, studies how audio productions retain people’s attention. Her work has shown that a dramatized audio structure, using voice actors who tell the story exclusively through dialogue, stimulate listeners’ imagination more than a typical “voice of God” narration. Participants who listened to the dramatized structure reported that they generated more vivid images in their minds, and conjured the images more quickly and easily than those in the narration condition. They also reported being more emotionally aroused and interested in the story.

Another study illustrates the importance of using sound effects, sounds that represent objects and/or environments and sound shots, an effect that gives the listener a sense of space by recording a sound that’s far away. Rodero found that the use of sound effects and sound shots in an audio drama increased the level of mental imagery that listeners reported, and also caused listeners to pay more attention.

Audiobook producers are catching on, and have started rolling out new types of “audio entertainment.” A novel by best-selling crime writer Jeffrey Deaver, called The Starling Project, has only been released as an audiobook, and features characters brought to life by 29 voice actors. Adapted by famed sci-fi author Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game Alive, released by Audible in 2013, tells the Ender's Game story entirely through the use of dialogue and sound effects. And companies like Graphic Audio are creating audio dramas exclusively in the style, calling it “a movie in your mind.”

The tagline captures one of the best things about audio storytelling, according to Rodero. She says that, like reading, listening to audio allows people to create their own versions of characters and scenes in the story. But she thinks listening, unlike looking at a written page, is more active, since the brain has to process the information at the pace it is played.

“Audio is one of the most intimate forms of media because you are constantly building your own images of the story in your mind and you’re creating your own production,” Rodero says. “And that of course, is something that you can never get with visual media.”


The Science of Storytelling: Why Telling a Story is the Most Powerful Way to Activate Our Brains

A good story can make or break a presentation, article, or conversation. But why is that? When Buffer co-founder Leo Widrich started to market his product through stories instead of benefits and bullet points, sign-ups went through the roof. Here he shares the science of why storytelling is so uniquely powerful.

In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich, spent a lot of his free time playing cards. He greatly enjoyed eating a snack while still keeping one hand free for the cards. So he came up with the idea to eat beef between slices of toast, which would allow him to finally eat and play cards at the same time. Eating his newly invented "sandwich," the name for two slices of bread with meat in between, became one of the most popular meal inventions in the western world.

What's interesting about this is that you are very likely to never forget the story of who invented the sandwich ever again. Or at least, much less likely to do so, if it would have been presented to us in bullet points or other purely information-based form.

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, telling stories has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. Recently a good friend of mine gave me an introduction to the power of storytelling, and I wanted to learn more.

Here is the science around storytelling and how we can use it to make better decisions every day:

Our brain on stories: How our brains become more active when we tell stories

We all enjoy a good story, whether it's a novel, a movie, or simply something one of our friends is explaining to us. But why do we feel so much more engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

It's in fact quite simple. If we listen to a powerpoint presentation with boring bullet points, a certain part in the brain gets activated. Scientists call this Broca's area and Wernicke's area. Overall, it hits our language processing parts in the brain, where we decode words into meaning. And that's it, nothing else happens.

When we are being told a story, things change dramatically . Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too.

If someone tells us about how delicious certain foods were, our sensory cortex lights up. If it's about motion, our motor cortex gets active:

"Metaphors like "The singer had a velvet voice" and "He had leathery hands" roused the sensory cortex. […] Then, the brains of participants were scanned as they read sentences like "John grasped the object" and "Pablo kicked the ball." The scans revealed activity in the motor cortex, which coordinates the body's movements."

A story can put your whole brain to work. And yet, it gets better:

When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:

"When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners' brains."

Anything you've experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you've activated that way, active too:

Evolution has wired our brains for storytelling—how to make use of it

Now all this is interesting. We know that we can activate our brains better if we listen to stories. The still unanswered question is: Why is that? Why does the format of a story, where events unfold one after the other, have such a profound impact on our learning?

The simple answer is this: We are wired that way. A story, if broken down into the simplest form, is a connection of cause and effect. And that is exactly how we think. We think in narratives all day long, no matter if it is about buying groceries, whether we think about work or our spouse at home. We make up (short) stories in our heads for every action and conversation. In fact, Jeremy Hsu found [that] "personal stories and gossip make up 65% of our conversations."

Now, whenever we hear a story, we want to relate it to one of our existing experiences. That's why metaphors work so well with us. While we are busy searching for a similar experience in our brains, we activate a part called insula , which helps us relate to that same experience of pain, joy, or disgust.

The following graphic probably describes it best:

In a great experiment , John Bargh at Yale found the following:

"Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes."

We link up metaphors and literal happenings automatically. Everything in our brain is looking for the cause and effect relationship of something we've previously experienced.

Let's dig into some hands on tips to make use of it:

Exchange giving suggestions for telling stories

Do you know the feeling when a good friend tells you a story and then two weeks later, you mention the same story to him, as if it was your idea? This is totally normal and at the same time, one of the most powerful ways to get people on board with your ideas and thoughts. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton, a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.

The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind is the best thing to do. According to Princeton researcher Hasson, storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people's minds.

Write more persuasively—bring in stories from yourself or an expert

This is something that took me a long time to understand. If you start out writing, it's only natural to think "I don't have a lot of experience with this, how can I make my post believable if I use personal stories?" The best way to get around this is by simply exchanging stories with those of experts. When this blog used to be a social media blog, I would ask for quotes from the top folks in the industry or simply find great passages they had written online. It's a great way to add credibility and at the same time, tell a story.

The simple story is more successful than the complicated one

When we think of stories, it is often easy to convince ourselves that they have to be complex and detailed to be interesting. The truth is however, that the simpler a story, the more likely it will stick. Using simple language as well as low complexity is the best way to activate the brain regions that make us truly relate to the happenings of a story. This is a similar reason why multitasking is so hard for us. Try for example to reduce the number of adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.

Quick last fact: Our brain learns to ignore certain overused words and phrases that used to make stories awesome. Scientists, in the midst of researching the topic of storytelling have also discovered, that certain words and phrases have lost all storytelling power :

"Some scientists have contended that figures of speech like "a rough day" are so familiar that they are treated simply as words and no more."

This means, that the frontal cortex—the area of your brain responsible to experience emotions—can't be activated with these phrases. It's something that might be worth remembering when crafting your next story.

Leo Widrich is the co-founder of Buffer , a smarter way to share on Twitter and Facebook. Leo writes more posts on efficiency and customer happiness over on the Buffer blog . Hit him up on Twitter @LeoWid anytime he is a super nice guy.


Plot Twist: Stories Won’t Always Make the Sale

To start answering these questions, Rucker and Krause designed an experiment involving a fictional cell phone called the Moonstone. They recruited 397 online participants to read about various attributes of the Moonstone and then rate their impressions of the product on a scale of 1 to 9.

The researchers developed two sets of facts about the Moonstone, one containing strong information (for instance, that the phone could withstand a fall of up to 30 feet) and the other containing similar, but weaker information (the phone could withstand a fall of up to 3 feet).

Study participants were presented with either the strong or weak facts about the Moonstone in one of two formats: a simple list, or a narrative involving the phone’s ability to withstand falls.

The results were clear: participants given the weak set of facts had much more favorable impressions of the phone when those weak facts were presented in a story. The difference was striking: participants’ rating of the Moonstone soared from an average of 4 to an average of nearly 7.

But this is not what happened for participants who saw the strong set of facts. Their impressions of the phone were significantly weaker when the facts were presented as a story (an average of 6.82) compared to a list (7.5).

This result provided important evidence that reduced message processing, rather than biased processing, was part of the explanation for the persuasive effects of stories.

“Stories appeared to shut people down from scrutinizing the information carefully,” Krause says. “So when people saw a really impressive product within a compelling story, the story backfired they failed to appreciate just how great the product was.”


Why storytelling is essential to effective communication

Whether you’re pitching to a client or presenting at a board meeting, you have to engage your audience or else risk a costly ‘failure to communicate’.

Well, your intention in these meetings is to share your experience with someone else in the hope that it will move them to action. And as Denise Withers, an award-winning communicator and professional storytelling strategist, says:

‘Engagement matters, because research by academic giants such as Daniel Berlyne, Jerome Bruner, John Dewey, and Jean Piaget shows that we learn, remember and participate better when an activity is engaging.’


Any kind of presentation—whether it be online training or a live presentation—will benefit from a story construction. Organizing information into a format with a beginning (setting the stage), middle (the challenge) and ending (new reality) can work for many topics.

When we watch or read about a superhero, we always remember the person’s origins. We know where they came from and the circumstances that created their super powers. People are defined by their origins and people are curious about where people (or fictional characters) come from, how they change and how they evolve. Include this type of information in your next story.


Conclusion

The human brain is wired to remember memorable and visual stories.

The sooner you start using storytelling in your content creation and marketing, the easier you’ll find it to increase your conversions.

There is no shortcut to improving your ROI as a content marketer and blogger. You have to consistently feed Google and your target audience with fresh, high-quality content.

As you do that, you’ll get more organic traffic and improve your long-tail keyword rankings significantly.

Have you leveraged storytelling to increase your conversions? What is your experience and how do you respond to other people’s stories?

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Hey, I'm Neil Patel. I'm determined to make a business grow. My only question is, will it be yours?

He is the co-founder of NP Digital. The Wall Street Journal calls him a top influencer on the web, Forbes says he is one of the top 10 marketers, and Entrepreneur Magazine says he created one of the 100 most brilliant companies. Neil is a New York Times bestselling author and was recognized as a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 30 by President Obama and a top 100 entrepreneur under the age of 35 by the United Nations.


Podcast: The Power of Persuasive Storytelling

The art of storytelling may conjure up images of telling tall tales around a campfire or artsy live lit events. But storytelling is also a key business skill worth cultivating. It can serve as an essential tool for closing a deal, impressing your boss, or making your brand more relatable to consumers.

Stories let you connect with your audience on an emotional level. They help you convey key information in a way that will be remembered and help you persuade your audience to take action. This holds true for both spoken and written stories as well as the stories you want to tell with data.

In this month’s Insight In Person podcast, you’ll hear from two Kellogg School professors and a lecturer about the power of storytelling, as well as their tips to become a better storyteller.

Emily STONEHere’s a little exercise: Think of all the ways that we compare our lives to stories: We want to “start a new chapter in life,” or “turn the page” on something, or wonder, “What’s her story?”

As humans, we are hardwired to organize our thoughts through stories. They comprise everything from our creation myths to the anecdotes politicians use to pepper their speeches. Stories make us relatable to each other and connect to people’s emotions.

They’re also a powerful business tool. If you have key information you want others to remember, tell them a story. If you want to use data to persuade people to take action, build visualizations to convey that data as a story.

In this month’s Insight In Person podcast, we’ll hear from two Kellogg professors and a Kellogg lecturer about the best ways to tell stories. I’m your host, Emily Stone. So stay tuned.

Michelle BUCK“What’s your story?” The question, “What’s your story?” is like asking, “What do you have to say? Really, at the end of the day, What do you stand for? How do you want to be known?”

STONEThat’s Michelle Buck, a clinical professor of management and organizations at the Kellogg School. She believes that in order to lead effectively, it is paramount that leaders first clarify who they are and what they stand for. In other words, they need to master their own story.

Buck calls this a capital S story. A capital S story is different from what she calls little S stories, the anecdotes that are usually what we expect when we hear, “Let me tell you a story.”

A capital S story hones a leader’s vision and purpose. It is the narrative that acts as a compass, steering leaders in the right direction. It can also drum up support for a leader’s initiatives. And that is especially important, given that studies show that only about 20 percent of workers globally feel a sense of meaning in their work.

BUCKTherefore, when leaders have that sense of purpose in their story, that transmits or translates to the people whom they’re leading as well and makes the work much more engaging, therefore more productive, possibly more innovative, and ultimately, more profitable as well.

STONEA capital S story also provides leaders with a sense of agility.

BUCKBecause when decisions are required in a very quick manner, we’re living in a constantly changing environment. You have to be able to access what matters most very, very quickly.

STONESo what can leaders do to get their capital S story straight? In her executive education courses, Buck guides her students through a variety of exercises.

One asks people to think of their life as a book and to title the different chapters. What chapters have already happened? What chapter are they in now?

BUCKMore importantly, in terms of identifying an underlying sense of identity or purpose or story, we ask people to think about, “Is there some theme that connects the dots of the otherwise totally different experiences of your life?”

STONEAn exercise like this, as simple as it sounds, can take you to some profound places. Buck describes an instance where an executive in one of her courses was reflecting on who he was, and what experiences had shaped him.

He started talking about his mother—artsy, a dreamer—and his father—a stalwart for logic. And then, he had an epiphany.

BUCKHis whole life was working as a bridge builder. In his job, he was the person who was always bringing people from different functions and different departments together who otherwise may not talk. He came from a part of the world that had great racial and socioeconomic tensions, and he was always the person who was connecting the dots. He saw a theme that he had never thought about before because of one of these reflective exercises. He said that it completely changed the way he thought about the work ahead of him, and the contribution that he could make, and reframing what he was offering.

STONECapital S stories aren’t just useful for leaders. People across organizations—and even organizations themselves—can use stories to help people make sense of change.

BUCKMany leaders, during times of change will invoke the story metaphor and the idea of chapters in the book and say, “What do we want our next chapter to be? What is the chapter that we are going to write together that builds upon the story that we’ve been living for 10 years, 100 years?” That then serves as an invitation to current employees to be part of writing the narrative, which is incredibly compelling as well.

STONESo capital S storytelling helps you shape the path ahead. But what about those little S stories?

Esther CHOYStorytelling is important because it is the most fundamental and shared human intelligence. It is the real fundamental way of how we learn, how we share, how we formulate our experience and how we tell others about it.

STONEThat’s Esther Choy. She’s a Kellogg alum and lecturer, who is also the founder of the Leadership Story Lab, where she teaches people how to perfect telling those little S stories. She stresses that storytelling isn’t only about getting up in front of a crowd and telling a story—though that’s part of the craft.

CHOYStorytelling doesn’t have to always take a long time. You can have a two-lined, brief sentence of a story.

STONEThink about how we use storytelling when we run into a friend who asks how work is, or when a manager demands to know why an important project isn’t ready yet. More broadly, Choy says to think about storytelling as an organizing principle for business communication.

The goal of all these storytelling moments is to make you relatable to the other person, make the information you’re presenting persuasive, and get your audience to take a desired action.

CHOYAssume they’re not interested, assume they have better things to do than listen to you, assume they don’t understand what you’re saying—and storytelling is the most accessible way to build that bridge.

STONESo how do you build that bridge? What are the best ways to tell your story?

To start with, don’t just deluge your audience with all the facts that you think are important. First, you want to get your audience engaged, be it the corporate board that you hope adopts your restructuring plan or the person at a cocktail party you’re trying to network with.

Think of storytelling as the strategic ordering of facts and emotions.

CHOYThere is a time to data dump, there is a time to intrigue and delight. I always encourage people to create that thirst first. Why should they pay attention? Why should they put down their phone? Why should they stop looking out the window?

STONEChoy teaches whole workshops on how to craft a good story, but she offers up a few quick tips to get you started.

CHOYFocus on the beginning and the end. Make sure the middle is solid, but focus on the beginning and the end. The beginning is how you get their attention, how you motivate them to keep paying attention. The end is what they most likely will remember, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a year after you tell the story.

STONENext, Choy suggests taking your story out for a test-drive. Tell it to a few trusted friends or colleagues to get their reaction. And be specific about what sort of feedback you want.

She says to ask your test audience three questions: First, does the story get their imagination going? Second, do they find it relatable? Third, and this is key, what is the listener going to do after hearing your story. Because, in the end, the stories you tell in a business context are all about getting people to take action.

CHOYSo the way to gauge how effective your story is is to get that feedback. Do you want to do anything about it? Would you hit “Send”? Would you click to the next page? Would you ask me more questions about this product? So on and so forth.

STONELet’s say you want to get people to act by showing them the amazing data you’ve gathered. Won’t the numbers alone persuade your audience and get them to take action?

Nope. You need to get that data to tell a story. Remember, don’t just “data dump.” The best way to do that is to create a data visualization. That’s according to Steven Franconeri, a Northwestern psychology professor who also teaches management and organization courses at Kellogg.

If you’re shaking your head and think that just handing out a spreadsheet is all you need to do, here’s what Franconeri has to say.

Steven FRANCONERIIf you really feel that you’re able to communicate with just numbers, that could be true, but give it a test. So actually try to have people repeat back to you what they think the important aspects of your story, of your prescription, are. And see what comes back. Often you’ll be surprised. If you are not using visualizations and you feel like it’s sufficient, it might be overconfidence.

STONEData visualizations are a key tool for business leaders, Franconeri says, in part because of the way our brains are hardwired. Forty percent of our brains are devoted to visual processing. Once upon a time, that helped us spot a lion lurking behind a bush. Now it can be harnessed to get your boss to approve your marketing plan, or your employees to buy into a new incentive program.

FRANCONERIIt can be far superior to communicate patterns and data to people’s visual system rather than their verbal system. So the visual system lets you take in a pattern of information more deeply and more broadly, and it makes you process it more deeply. When you want people to pay attention to data—not just anecdotes or gut instincts, but data, hard numbers—it’s helpful to convey them in this visual form so that they sink in better.

STONEOkay, so you’re ready to use a visualization to dazzle your audience. How do you go about creating it?

The first thing, Franconeri says, is to make sure that you’re telling the story you want to tell. Because when faced with data, your audience is automatically going to convert it into a story.

FRANCONERIIf you just let people stare at a complex visualization, they will make their own story, and they’ll pick different views, and they’ll pick them in an order that their brain designs, and it won’t be your story. You need to pick a set of views and put them in order that tells the narrative that you want people to follow to understand the problem that you have and the solution that you’re proposing, so that they think about that sequence in the same way that you do in your brain.

STONETo ensure that your story gets told, Franconeri echoes some of Choy’s advice: Take your visualization out for a test-drive. Create a few different types of visualizations—say, a bar graph, a line graph, and a scatter chart—and then do a few iterations within those styles, testing different ways of ordering and arranging the data points within each graph.

FRANCONERIShow those different possibilities to a few colleagues or friends and ask them what story they see in the data. You’ll be amazed at the differences.

Just imagine a simple line graph generally going up but with a few bumps in it. Just when you show something like that, there are several stories that people could be seeing in that: the fact that there are two bumps, the fact that it’s going up in general, the fact that the acceleration goes down a little bit, that the growth seems to be diminishing. You need to be able to understand what other people see in those patterns. Because once you’ve been staring at the data for many hours with your analyst hat on, you can get locked into a state where you see certain patterns, but you don’t realize that other people don’t.

STONEThere are other key rules for making a good data visualization. Make sure you give it a nice, crisp title that highlights the story you want to tell, keep the look minimalist so you aren’t providing distracting visual clutter, and be sure to guide your viewer through the data so you don’t lose anyone along the way.

FRANCONERIThen when you take a series of those and put them in sequence—“so you should see this aspect of the data, and now, let’s switch to this aspect of the data, and this aspect of the data”—and you guide people through that sequence in a logical way, that’s a data story.

STONEFranconeri also stresses that these visualization rules are important for business leaders, even if they have a staff that can pretty up the slides.

FRANCONERIYour art department can make the visualization look good, but they can’t make it tell the story that you want. As the leader or as the analyst, you are the person who knows what’s important in the data. You are the person who knows what everyone else in the room needs to know and what actions they should take. Knowing just these simple rules about how to make your visualization effective, combined with the knowledge that’s in only your head, can make it an incredibly effective tool.

STONEThis program was produced by Jessica Love, Kate Proto, Fred Schmalz, Emily Stone, and Michael Spikes.

Special thanks to Kellogg professors Michelle Buck and Steven Franconeri, as well as lecturer Esther Choy.