ocean photo to illustrate story
Beware Mental Shortcuts
December 1, 2019

Why Story?

Telling a story

People are inundated with information. The problem is in deciphering that information. Structuring your communications about data in the form of a story is the most effective way to help your audience with that deciphering.

So, why story?

Stories are the fundamental unit of human thinking. They are how children play and learn. They are how we entertain ourselves (e.g., novels, movies, Netflix shows, music, etc.). They are how we make meaning out of the world.

We connect to stories emotionally. We can’t help it. Any experience with emotional content is more memorable. And, emotion is what prompts us to act. Stories, because they evoke emotions, are more memorable and more motivating than other ways of communicating.

We connect to stories biologically. In recent years, neuroscientists have used functional MRI to validate what many storytellers know: stories impact our thinking in a unique way. When we hear a story, our brain activity begins to mimic the brain activity of the storyteller through a process called neural coupling. And, the brain activity of the storyteller and the audience mimic the brain activity of someone actually participating in the activities described. This is one of the reasons we can have very visceral reactions to a well told story.  It is impacting us in our bodies. And the upshot of that is that it is easier for us to maintain focus on the content of a narrative, because we are engaged on so many levels.

Data is the what, story is the why.

So, we should take a little time to explore what a story is.

Story can be boiled down to a fairly simple and easily repeatable pattern: there is a situation, a complication or confrontation, and then a resolution. Put another way, the protagonist (main character) has an objective, there is some obstacle to our hero achieving that objective, the protagonist then struggles against that obstacle, and is finally changed by that experience.

There are numerous approaches to build on this basic framework in order to develop a story. In our next post, we’ll explore how to put this into practice.