Have you heard the parable about truths and facts trying to get heard and being ignored? In the second part of the tale, story comes along: she takes the same information, wraps it in a narrative and is heard. There are many versions of this story, but in all of them story shows fact how to become interesting and welcomed. Click to listen to one version. Read other versions here and here.
Perhaps you have experienced not being able to get your point across no matter how important and accurate. There's a good chance that using a story may increase the chances people will listen. In addition to what we are learning about narrative transportation (how people's attitudes and behaviors may change when engrossed in a story), other research too indicates that using a story to persuade may be wise. In one study (details here), a group of physicians were given clinical guidelines and another group of doctors were given the same information but in the form of a story.
After an hour, researchers asked the doctors to share what they remembered.
"The results were really astonishing," said [Austin] Kilaru. "The level of recall for people who had just read the guideline itself was really quite low. It got to the point where people were making up guidelines because they knew they were supposed to remember something."
"What we find over and over and over is that these stories are really powerful for the brain," said Hasson. "They evoke strong responses in many different parts of the brain that are highly reliable."
Hasson looks at what happens inside our brains when we hear a story - one that we can relate to. He finds that stories activate parts of the brain associated with memory and which are not as active when we hear information that is easier to "tune out."
Click to read more about narrative use in "Narrative vs Evidence-Based Medicine—And, Not Or" (JAMA).
If you read print or online media these days, or any of a whole slew of business and self-help books about story, you will know this method of communication is a topic of much interest. In fact, it may have gotten so much coverage that the communicate-with-stories topic is almost cliche, sometimes even boring. I guess someone needs to write some stories so we begin to pay attention to the topic of stories again! Because of the heavy focus on story, many people are becoming story-leery (although not story-proof). They may feel that a story is being told to get them to do something.
So just make sure your story is worth a listen. Doing so is not that difficult. Don't most of us tell worthy stories everyday and without much effort? For some excellent tips, listen to this short four-part series from Ira Glass; they start here.
What's your story?