Storytelling is the foundation for effective, memorable communication. Do it properly to hook your reader, draw them in, and keep their attention through the end. Get-It-Done Guy explains how.
Listener Andreas from Munich, Germany writes in:
"I really enjoy the little humorous side stories you create to enforce your topics. These make your podcasts special and easy to listen to. How do you do it? Is it just genius?"
Well Andreas, I’m so modest that I would never claim it’s genius. Or at least, it isn’t just genius. Once upon a time, Harvard Business School hired me to help redesign their curriculum. Step one: learn how humans learn. I spent a year reading everything the human race knows on learning theory. Stories figure prominently! So step behind the curtain and join me for a storytelling journey.
Humans Remember Stories
According to the book Making Connections by Geoffrey and Renate Caine, humans have two separate memory systems. The one we usually think of is the taxon memory system, which is the one that remembers words, ideas, abstractions, facts, and figures. It’s the one that keeps forgetting your boyfriend, girlfriend, spousal equivalent, or polyamorous family unit’s birthday. Taxon memory requires study, repetition, and effort to use.
Memory system two is the locale memory system. It’s always on. What did you have for dinner last night? Where? You can remember these things easily, with no rehearsal. Your locale memory system records how you move through space and time. It records the story of your life, effortlessly. You can sit in a darkened theater, watching oil tankers explode as supervillian Magneto battles Professor X for control of the X-Men, and remember the plot in detail. Because your locale memory system remembers stories, and it doesn’t really distinguish between your life story and the story of the X-Men. (More on that in Part 2 of this series.)
Make your communication vivid and memorable by using stories to activate the locale memory system!
(Let’s stop and reflect for a moment. Which is more memorable right this second? The idea of using a locale memory system, or the image of exploding oil tankers? See how well it works?)
Start with Plot
I start planning my stories with the plot. In a Get-It-Done Guy podcast episode, it’s easy. The plot is just the tip. With other kinds of presentations, the plot could be a course of action you’re recommending, or what you fear will happen if the company doesn’t take action, or how global warming will lead to the zombie apocalypse.
See also: The Rules of Story
A plot on its own doesn’t engage people. Humans need reasons for things. We basically would be happy to spend our days lounging on Caribbean beaches, munching bananas and mangos, drinking fruit-flavored beverages, and laughing and dancing with our friends. If we’re going to distract ourselves from that, say, by listening to a tip about making a to-do list, there better be a darned good reason!
(What’s in your mind right now? The idea that a plot doesn’t engage people, or images of palm trees, beverages, and dancing?)