True Story: stories communicate better than facts

Why do so many of us believe fake news and act on dubious sources of information?

Likely because the individuals communicating the info tell a better story than the real experts.

The work of respected educators, researchers, scientists, entrepreneurs, business and nonprofit leaders may be based on facts – but their communications with non-experts should be based on stories. Because facts don’t make people change their thinking or behaviour. Stories do.

As social media increasingly muddles fact and fiction, the way we frame information when we communicate has a dramatic impact on whether the intended recipients pay attention to it and how they process it.

In my last blog post, I mentioned how neuroscience research shows that when receiving communications our brains pay attention and respond according to filters. As far as our minds are concerned – truth, facts, accuracy –  these are not top filters. Our brains are more engaged by emotionally compelling stories. The reason? Neuroscience also tells us our need to connect with one another is as strong as our instinct to survive.

Stories connect us by developing common ground and understanding. When people relate to a story, they are more receptive to the ideas being communicated.

Unlike facts, powerful stories establish tension that needs to be resolved. They show us a better place and a way to get there. This tension helps to persuade people to change thinking or behaviour in order to move to that better place.

So if you want to influence how people think, feel or act, before stating the facts, start with a great story.

Here are the principles of captivating storytelling.

Present a problem that encourages your audience to keep reading/listening/ watching – capture their attention and imagination with a fascinating story that introduces the context and a relatable challenge. Align the problem with something your audience has, or could, experience.

Show what’s possible  –  the beneficial end result of what it would be like if the problem were solved. How could it make life/work better? Show how it will be worth the effort to get there.

Explain how to  get there –  your solution to the problem. Make your key points. What’s special or transformative about the resolution? How does it address the problem or challenge? Demonstrate this with an example.

Describe the impact  your solution has or could have. Now you can support your story with facts, but also include an example or two as part of the story to illustrate the impact. How were people affected by the solution to the problem? What positive differences did it make?

Conclude with a call to action – consider what you want your audience to think or do after hearing your story.   As you wrap up, invite them to do it.

Ready to educate, motivate or persuade? Begin with a story of struggle and triumph. It will engage the brain, capture the heart, and make change happen.

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