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What storytelling does to our brains (bufferapp.com)
175 points by joeyespo 1580 days ago | hide | past | web | 32 comments | favorite

About a year ago I starting becoming incredibly interested in making ideas spread. I decided to read books on how to present myself and my ideas in a way that builds my own credibility, trustworthiness, and helps people to take on my ideas.

If you are interested in these things, I highly recommend Made to Stick by the Heath Brothers [1]. It focuses on the SUCCESs framework:

S - Short

U - Unexpected

C - Credible

C - Concrete

E - Emotional

S - Stories

They elaborate in excellent detail on each of these ideas and the acronym that they coined is a perfect example.

In terms of building your own credibility, I suggest reading How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie. [2] This book is instrumental in understanding the basic concepts that can have a material impact on your life. I think that Autobiography of Ben Franklin [3] teaches a few key lessons in the use of diffidence that harmonizes well with Carnegie's ideas.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Made-Stick-Ideas-Survive-Others/dp/140...

[2] http://www.amazon.com/How-Win-Friends-Influence-People/dp/06...

[3] http://www.classicly.com/download-autobiography-of-benjamin-...

Tyler Cowen has a great TEDx talk (from a while back!) that hits many of the same points, in an arguably clearer way.


Our brain learns to ignore certain overused words and phrases that are used to make stories awesome

This applies tremendously in marketing, and is one of the reasons why marketing speak has to change constantly. Otherwise people start ignoring the cliché ad speak.

If only the author used this insight to look at the "what X does to our brains" framework that he organized his post with.

"Make others come up with your idea. / The next time you struggle with getting people on board with your projects and ideas, simply tell them a story, where the outcome is that doing what you had in mind, is the best thing to do."

Sounds like Inception!

I have a friend who does this to me occasionally. It pisses me off. Just get to the point, man! ;) When you know the magic trick, and when you can see the motivation while the story is being told, it's a lot less impressive.

well, story telling has its place and timing. If all he does is telling stories people. It becomes annoying, unless he is really good at it.


Better quote from the article would be:

storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds.

This is way easier than recursively going into someone's dream, only to meet your ex-wife as base condition.

I decided to abandon bullet-based decks a few years ago for images and narratives (even when dealing with programming), followed by a live-coding demonstration; anecdotally, the response to talks I've given in this format has been great.

Years later, people will spontaneously write and reminisce about such and such a talk on e.g. extending Roxygen.

This is, incidentally, the same format as my daughter's bed-time stories; coincidence?

There's actually a book on writing that came out somewhat recently that talks about this topic in great detail. Was an interesting read from a writer perspective as well as general thoughts on how storytelling impacts people.

If you're interested you can search for Wired for Story.

Thanks for sharing. I've been looking for a book like this for a few weeks.

So, we're vulnerable to persuasion by storytelling. Try to stay skeptical when someone tells you a compelling story.

Also pay attention to the story that you tell yourself. We often create elaborate stories to justify to ourselves why we can't do something.


Wired for Story is a great book about the science of story. I think it applies to a lot more than writing.

Bought the book on your recommendation. Thanks.

OK, we know language is good communication medium for dealing with humans, hopefully. Metaphor, drama, sensory-rich descriptions and so-forth are good tools for the language. These may or may not work well put together into a story.

And consider, a "hook" like "what X does to your brain" indeed combines interest-in-your-favorite-person-yourself and the crunchy authority of science. Those can work well till they get old and start to sound thin, formulaic and manipulative.

My next blog post will be: "What crude simplifications do to ours brains"

" Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but any other area in our brain, that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are too."

It's good to be reminded of this...

Try for example to reduce the number adjectives or complicated nouns in a presentation or article and exchange them with more simple, yet heartfelt language.

But... what if one has developed a rich vocabulary, and truly does feel those more complicated sentence structures and Five-dollar words from the heart? Is it better to dumb down my storytelling language so the listener can more rapidly assimilate the message, if by doing so, it is no longer my linguistic passion that ignites the tale?

If the point is to communicate then yes, doing something that helps the listener more rapidly assimilate the message is the right thing to do.

If the point is for you to express yourself in the way that ignites your passion, whether or not anyone else cares or understands, then the answer is no, do not compromise your desires.

Are you writing for you, or for your reader? Which do you think matters more?

Also, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purple_prose

Not writing; speaking. Now it's not as if I deliberately employ sesquipedalian graphology for the express purpose of obfuscation. But I've spent a lifetime developing a rich, meaty vocabulary, and I'll be damned if I'm going to talk like a public high school sophomore with a sub-20 ACT score.

Just sayin'.

I am (or at least was) an experienced assembly programmer. I'm familiar with numerous obscure x86 opcodes that take dozens of machine cycles to execute.

This knowledge comes in handy when reading other peoples' code, but I don't use those instructions myself. Why? Because I know how to achieve the same effect through carefully-scheduled combinations of smaller, faster opcodes.

Exactly the same principle applies in English composition. Use an awkward or unusual word, or a flowery modifier? That's an L1 cache miss. It'll cost a few cycles of wasted execution time, if viewed in terms of the reader's attention span. How about a word that sends the reader to the dictionary? That's an L2 miss. Those can waste thousands of cycles.

You can tolerate a few L1 misses here and there, but those L2 misses that have to be fetched from DRAM will make your "code" run like shit.

One of my team members actually ran out on her lunch break to buy a dictionary. She told me this a month or two after the fact. She needed to look up something I'd written in an e-mail. I apologized for causing her to go to the extra effort--and expense--but she wouldn't accept it. She enjoyed the verbal challenge and the sense that came with it of becoming a more literate person.

Good communication is not always about passing the message in the optimal way.

You may have built up a huge arsenal of words, but it is still important to choose the ones that best get your point across to your intended audience, whether simple or complex. The real challenge is being understood, not using awesome words, and there are plenty of circumstances where the simple words will not be sufficient for what you are trying to do.

One of the neat things about storytelling, in the verbal sense, is that, when done well, it's not just repetition of words. There are inflections, emphasis, physical gesture, posture, facial expressions, and a plethora of other nonverbal factors that go into communicating one's message. I can use words like "lugubrious" or "palliative," and by expression and action, communicate their meanings to my listeners nonverbally.

I don't think using a rich vocabulary is in diametric opposition to being understood. I think you can achieve both ends simultaneously.

When I read this I realized that ministers have been using this tactic effectively for hundreds of years (if not more--I have only read from people from the last 400 years or so). I think this component is what is missing in my own presentations. I have never liked telling stories but maybe it is time to learn a new tactic.

Even if you look at Jesus as a secular historical figure (Thomas Jefferson-style) it's pretty clear that he was a master storyteller.


User vs. the designer. Audience vs. the singer. Critic vs. the creator.

Don't you like it when a blog post about storytelling finishes with the obligatory 5 lines on "oh by the way, we want comments to make it seem like our blog is hugely popular. tell us your comments on the subject!"

Looks like they forgot to tell the story of why comments would enhance their content. Fail.

Wow. The first comment on HN in a long while that made we wish for a down arrow.

Bloggers who want engagement often make the request for comments appear very cliched. It's a key spot for improvement in many blogs, and your point "tell the story of why comments would enhance [this] content" seems like a good direction to give to bloggers.

Do you have an example of this done well?

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