storytelling

Storytelling 3: Tips for a compelling narrative

Storytelling at work

In the first two parts of our series we looked at the science behind storytelling, and how to jump in and create your own. And in this post we share a few tips to help you hone and maintain your storytelling habit.

Perhaps the world's (and our own) infatuation with storytelling will fade over time, but stories themselves are no flash in the pan. They speak to our quintessentially human desire to communicate. And at their best, elevate the simple stuff of life to the utterly captivating. So here they are, a few of our top tips.

1. Start with emotion

What emotions are at the heart of the story, how do you want your audience to feel when they hear it? What do you want them to do after they've heard it? Pin them down and keep them at the story's heart.

2. Identify the narrative arc

It sounds obvious. It is obvious. And yet... structure so often goes out the window. So clarify the beginning, middle and end, and make sure your story is going somewhere.

Writing down the three or five key elements on post-it notes and switching them around may help you find the most powerful structure for your story.

3. Keep it personal

The personal is powerful. If you can show why something matters to you, you'll help your audience understand why it matters to them.

If you're like me, you'll hate doing this. You could decide to suck it up, if that works for you, or you could find a personal angle on a story that can bring it to life without leaving you feeling entirely exposed.

4. Keep it short, with options to extend

Develop and practice 60-second, 2- and 3-minute versions of your story. You can fit a surprising amount into a minute, whether or not you adhere to the rules of Just a Minute.

5. Start small, and varied

Create a few stories and try them out as soon as possible, starting with low risk situations. Review, extend, condense and adapt as you find out what works best for you and has the greatest impact on a particular audience.

Do drop us a line if you have any questions, or would like to know more about how you can use storytelling more effectively at work. Or sign up to download our free Chirp Workbook.

 

 

Storytelling 1: The Science of Storytelling

By Nevit Dilmen (talk) and Tekks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via  Wikimedia Commons

By Nevit Dilmen (talk) and Tekks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Our world is awash with stories.

Not only ones we seek out, but others we're confronted with whether we like it or not. True stories, fictional stories, fictional stories purporting to be true stories… They feature in every aspect of our daily lives, from business to politics to leisure.

And for good reason. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool. It alters the activity in your brain, influencing not only what you think and feel, but how you act. Which is quite useful if you’ve ever needed to convince someone of something – whether it’s that they should donate to charity or hire you for your dream job.

There’s a fascinating – and growing – body of research into the science behind storytelling. Labs across the world are exploring how stories impact on the human brain – from how we understand them to their role in communication.

Curious? Read on for three examples (referenced below) you might find useful when telling your own stories. And for insightful analysis of what to do with this all storytelling, do check out Sisonke Msimang's excellent Ted talk.

1. Simulation of reality

Hearing or reading a story creates a simulation of reality in your brain. In other words, your brain processes the story as if you were actually experiencing its events first-hand.[i] That ‘real’ experience can provide a useful short-cut to improving understanding and emotional connection between storyteller and audience.

2. Emotion and empathy

Emotionally arousing stories raise the pain thresholds of the audience, and increase their sense of group bonding.[ii] Stories with a strong emotional and dramatic arc are also more likely to inspire empathy in the audience and influence their subsequent actions (such as charitable giving) than stories that are emotionally neutral.[iii] [iv] 

3. Alignment and communication

Storytelling “couples” or aligns your brain with that of your listener. When you tell people a story, their brain activity begins to mirror yours and you interpret the story in the same way. The stronger the similarity in your brain activity, the better the communication between you and your listener(s).[v] [vi] Uri Hasson’s Ted talk, though a few years old now, is useful for a quick overview of some of this research – and why it matters.

This is the first of our three-part series on storytelling. Do drop us a line if you have any questions, or would like to know more about how you can use storytelling more effectively at work. Or sign up to download our free Chirp Workbook.


[i] Oatley, K (2012), The Cognitive Science of Fiction. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. 3(4), 425-430.

[ii] Dunbar RIM, Teasdale B, Thompson J, Budelmann F, Duncan S, van Emde Boas E, Maguire L. (2016) Emotional arousal when watching drama increases pain threshold and social bonding. Royal Society open science, 3: 160288.

[iii] Barraza, J., Alexander, V., Beavin, L. Terris, E., & Zak, P. (2015). The heart of the story: Peripheral physiology during narrative exposure predicts charitable giving. Biological Psychology. 105, 138-143.

[iv]  Zak, P. J. (2015). Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2.

[v] Stephens, G. J., Silbert, L. J., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(32), 14425–14430

[vi] Liu, Y., Piazza E., Simony, E., Shewokis, P., Onaral, B., Hasson, U., Ayaz, H. Measuring speaker–listener neural coupling with functional near infrared spectroscopy. PRE-PRINT. bioRxiv preprint first posted online Oct. 16, 2016; doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/081166.

Get to the point – tell me a story

Image by Ali Shaker/VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Image by Ali Shaker/VOA [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It's not a contradiction. We know from experience (and now science) that stories are more effective than facts if you want someone to connect with your message. Storytelling helps engage people in your vision, from one customer to an entire nation. Or at least enough of a nation to swing an election.*

The term 'storytelling' has been bandied about so much it's in danger of not living up to its own myth. (Ah, the irony.) But to me, it's simply a way of harnessing the emotional capital that lies at the heart of what you do, and why it matters.

A compelling story communicates the emotional core of your message. When you hear it, it creates a simulation of reality in your brain. That helps clients and colleagues to act on what they've heard, because they're engaged both intellectually and emotionally. They understand why they should care. And that's a powerful tool.

If you're interested in the neuroscience of storytelling, you might like to read this. And if you're interested in the practice, you might like to come to our Effective Storytelling session on Saturday 22nd October in Central London. No votes, just stories.

*Okay, so Michelle Obama isn't President. But she is a masterful, and vote-winning, storyteller.

Find out how to tell your own compelling stories. Sign up to download our free Chirp Workbook.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why inspiring your team is not (quite) enough

We often hear that inspiring others is a leadership essential. And yet, on its own, it’s not enough. The most effective (and inspiring) leaders I’ve come across also enable. They embody what they seek in others, and show how it can be achieved. In doing so, they help colleagues take their inspiration and turn it into action.

A few building blocks can help all of us be both inspiring and enabling leaders – particularly when experimenting or leading change. I’ve shared my top five below.