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The art of storytelling and how it can help make a better world


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"Storytelling the most powerful way to put ideas into the world today," according to master storyteller Robert McKee. This power point is about why story matters in a world of constant change and so much information to absorb at ever-increasing speed, and the importance of learning the art of story for maximum impact on the listener. Presented at the Applied Improvisation Network annual conference in Montreal on Sept. 28, 015.

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The art of storytelling and how it can help make a better world

  1. 1. The Art of Storytelling And How It Can Help Make A Better World Applied Improvisation Network 2015 World Conference Presented by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT Lifestage, Inc
  2. 2. “We are creatures of story, and the process of changing one mind or the whole world must begin with ‘Once upon a time.’” Research repeatedly shows that our attitudes, fears, hopes, and values are strongly influenced by story. “Why Storytelling Is The Ultimate Weapon” Jonathan Gottschall, Fast Company, May 2, 2012
  3. 3. Story promotes understanding about the tensions of change and the evolution of ideas “Technology is evolving at roughly 10 million times the speed of natural evolution. For all its glitz and swagger, technology and the whole interactive, revved-up economy that goes with it is merely an outer casing for outer selves. And these inner selves, these primate souls of ours with their ancient social ways, change slowly. Or not at all.” Brian Arthur, “How Fast Is Technology Evolving?” Scientific American (February 1997): 107
  4. 4. Stories are powerful ways to convey and consolidate knowledge. “Sharing experiences through stories is emerging in various professions as a powerful way to exchange and consolidate knowledge. Research suggests that sharing experiences though narrative builds trust, cultivates norms, transfers tacit knowledge, facilitates unlearning, and generates emotional connections.” Kimiz Dalkir & Erica Wiseman, “Organizational Storytelling and Knowledge Management: A Survey” Storytelling, Self, Society, Vol No. 1, Fall 2004
  5. 5. Through story, information and ideas ride in on a raft made of emotional connection carried along by a current called narrative
  6. 6. A story can be a metaphor. A story can contain metaphors. The brain feasts on metaphors. Metaphors specifically promote people's ability to identify the emotions or mental state of others. Andrea Bowes, Albert Katz. Metaphor creates intimacy and temporarily enhances theory of mind. Memory & Cognition, 2015;
  7. 7. Metaphors engage the cognitive, imaginative, emotional and sensory capacities of the brain all at once. This integration enhances memory and receptivity to new learning.
  8. 8. Story is the currency of human contact "Stories the world over are almost always about people with problems. Through stories, we can reap the benefits of engaging with an emotional journey without having to actually go through it ourselves.” Jonathan Gottschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 2012
  9. 9. “Stories are how you attempt to make sense of where you've been, where you are and where you're going.”Kevin Allison, creator and host of RISK! podcast. "When it comes to inspiring people to embrace some strange new change in behavior, storytelling isn’t just better than the other tools. It’s the only thing that works,“ Nathan Englander, “Stories That Will Plain Curl Your Eyelasher: A Love Letter To The Moth, The New Yorker, June 14, 2012
  10. 10. Effective stories engage the emotions. “As new challenges occur, an adult learner is forced to sharpen and renew their skills. Leaving old knowledge behind implies not only cognitive transformation, but also an emotional transformation to accept changes, differences, and most fearful, uncertainty.” Brad Shuck, Carlos Albornoz & Marina Winberg, “Emotions and Their Effect on Adult Learning: A Constructivist Perspective” Proceedings of the 6th Annual College Education Research Conference, 2007
  11. 11. Stories work best when they pack an emotional “punch.” For this to happen, the central character does not have to be the hero, and endings do not have to be happy. “People require some sort of stressor, some sort of arousal response in the brain to have the type of narrative transportation where we begin to share the emotions of the characters in a story.” Paul Zak & Jorge Barrazza, “Empathy toward Strangers Triggers Oxytocin Release and Subsequent Generosity” Values, Empathy, and Fairness across Social Barriers: Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1167: 182–189 (2009).
  12. 12. The classic story structure is most effective for evoking emotional connection. “The best stories will always have an increasing level of tension, and there exists a type of universal story structure—one in which a protagonist faces some sort of stressful challenge or conflict—that draws attention because it’s engaging emotionally and intellectually.” Paul Zak & Jorge Barrazza, “Empathy toward Strangers Triggers Oxytocin Release and Subsequent Generosity” Values, Empathy, and Fairness across Social Barriers: Ann. N.Y. Acad. Sci. 1167: 182–189 (2009).
  13. 13. The story is in the struggle Through the struggles and challenges of the story's main character, we have a window into social worlds and internal processes we might otherwise not know about. We might not identify with the protagonist but can connect with other players in the story as it unfolds.
  14. 14. The classic story structure 1. The Set-up: What is the main character’s “deal?” Set the scene, place the audience in a specific time and place. Include details about the main character’s state of mind and most importantly: what does he/she want? 2. The Inciting Incident: Something happens to upset the way things are, that somehow impacts or challenges the main character in his/her quest for what it is he/she wants.
  15. 15. Neuroscience supports the power of using the classic story structure for enhancing the emotional impact and delivery of information 3. The Rising Action: The turning point of the story. As a result of the inciting incident, choices are made, actions taken and consequences endured. The storyteller heightens tension by describing the sensory experiences, the emotions, and internal process during dramatic events. Comedy works too. 4. The Falling Action: The direct effects of the actions taken, the fall-out from the consequences, the emotional process as things begin to level out.
  16. 16. The higher the emotional stakes in the story, the more impact it has on the listener. 5. The resolution: what changed because of these events. How is the central character transformed, did he/she get what he/she wanted, or did what he/she want change in some important way?
  17. 17. Data inserted into a narrative is more likely to be understood and internalized When a storyteller describes a visual scene with compelling detail, the visual cortex of the brain lights up as if the listener is actually seeing. Descriptions of physical actions light up the motor cortex as if the listener is engaged in the activity. This makes stories an effective delivery system for information.
  18. 18. “In a story you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener’s emotion and energy.” “Stories fulfill a profound human need to grasp the patterns of living – not merely as an intellectual exercise, but within a very personal, emotional experience.” “Storytelling That Moves People” Harvard Business Review, June, 2003
  19. 19. “Neural coupling” occurs when a listener and storyteller are successfully connecting “Findings indicate that during successful communication, speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibit joint, temporally coupled, response patterns. Such neural coupling substantially diminishes in the absence of communication, such as when listening to an unintelligible foreign language.” “Speaker-listener neural coupling underlies successful communication” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science Vol. 107 No. 32
  20. 20. “Well-designed, well-told stories can convey both information and emotion, both the explicit and the tacit, both the core and the context.” Snowden, D. “The Art and science of Story or ‘Are you sitting uncomfortably?’” Business Information Review, Dec 2000 17(4): 215-226.
  21. 21. “Good stories happen to people who can tell them.” Ira Glass “A story is about creating what's possible in the world, about taking action, not about being a passive receiver of events. Stories tell you that you can shape the narrative of your life. It's a way of being in the world." Joey Xander, Artistic Director of The Moth Storytelling podcasts:
  22. 22. Storytelling coaching or workshops The Story Studio: Kevin Allison and his staff provide live classes in NYC and LA, as well as 1:1 coaching in person or by Skype. Check out local true storytelling organizations that sponsor slams and workshops.
  23. 23. More resources and links “Use Brain Science To Craft A Killer Story” posted August 12, 2015 on “Possible Futures: The Emotional Impact Of Stories To Promote Positive Change” posted July 20, 2015 on “Stories Shape Our Thinking and Our Choices-Especially The Ones We Tell Ourselves” posted June 16, 2015 on “Hearing Is Believing: Why We Are Suckers For An Absorbing Story” posted on April 23, 2015 on "Why Your Brain Loves A Good Story" Harvard Business Review, Oct. 28, 2014 The Power of Personal Storytelling In Design and Innovation” by Soren Petersen on The Huffington Post 1/10/2015
  24. 24. Lifestage, Inc • Applied Improvisation workshops • Story Development workshops and classes • Workshop design consultation • Personal and professional development 496 Smithtown Bypass Suite 202 Smithtown, NY 11787 631-366-4265