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The Power Of Story: Creativity, Craft, Communication Workshop Handout

Workshop design and facilitation
by Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT
Well-crafted stories can frame and explain important concepts as well as engage listeners in ways that add color, imagination and emotional significance to important information and in this way make the content memorable and meaningful. "The story is actually just a delivery system for the teller’s agenda," writes Jonathan Gotschall in Why Storytelling Is The Ultimate Weapon. "A story is a trick for sneaking a message into the fortified citadel of the human mind. Research shows that our attitudes, values, hopes and fears are strongly influenced by story...The more absorbed readers are in a story, the more the story changes them." 
The craft of storytelling is key to engaging listeners' rapt attention. "Studies shows that when people are presented with facts and figures, smaller areas of the brain are activated which indicates that information is being processed. However, when those same facts and figures are packaged in a story, the entire brain becomes engaged," according to Inc magazine in What Science Can Teach Us About Capturing An Audience's Attention.
"When you tell your audience a story, the brain lights up like a freaking pinball machine," says communication expert Leslie Ehm, who uses the principles of neuroscience in her leadership and presentation training with executives. "Motor cortex, sensory cortex, frontal cortex -- the whole thing just goes nuts."
The elements of story that maximize its impact:

  • Sensory details;
  • Emotional details and energy;
  • Story structure;
  • Narrative sections mixed with in-the-moment scenes
Research into the science of storytelling and the brain One would think that because stories are expressed through language that they engage the parts of the brain that process it, but neuroscience shows us something more. Research published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience showed that when the brain hears an action word, it responds as if the listener is engaged in that action. So when a storyteller says “I waltz to the door,” the motor cortex lights up. “I straighten the collar of my velvety silk blouse” ignites the sensory cortex. “My heart races with a mix of wild excitement and anxiety as I open the door” triggers these emotions in the listener. 
When a storyteller steps into the character of raging father, reassuring mother, high school crush, or any of the other characters that populate a story, the listener can experience the rush of fear an abused child endures, but from the safety of an observer’s role. When the brain experiences rich imagery and emotionally compelling moments the story has the greatest impact and is more likely to be remembered. (from my article "When Stories Kill: Its The Brain Science That Did It" on
    According to research published by neuroscientist Paul Zak, stories organized according to the 5-beat story structure are most effective for impacting attitudes and motivating behavior. It is the ideal guide for crafting a story that commands attention, generates empathy and impacts change. The 5 beats are:

Set-Up: What is the main character's situation or perspective with regard to this story. Set a story with important details that place the main character in a time, place and emotional state. Use sensory and emotional details to bring the audience into that emotional and physical space as much as possible. 
Inciting Incident: something happens that impacts the main character's situation or perspective, and he/she must respond. A game-changing moment, an upset to the status quo, an unexpected turn of events. Bring immediacy - using imagery and sensory details to this part of the story as much as possible.
Rising Actionas a result of the inciting incident, the main character makes some choices, which have consequences, and impact the main character.
Climax: The rising action leads to a turning point - the emotional tension rises to a heightened intensity, possibly a breakthrough moment, a low point that forces a redirection or a high point that lights the way.
Transformation: Where this emotional journey takes the main character. What is changed as a result of having gone through this process? A shift in perspective, a letting go of an old role or belief, taking up a new approach or behavior.

Some research into the use of storytelling to communicate information and influence behavior change: "Tell Me A Story: A Conceptual Exploration of Storytelling in Health Care Education," Journal of Nurse Education. According to this research, the benefits of storytelling include:
 • development of the skills required to follow a narrative thread, tolerating ambiguity and surrendering to the story;
• the adoption of multiple and contradictory points of view;
• an ability to enter the storytellers' reality and to understand how the story teller makes sense of that reality;
• to gain insight into the use of image and metaphor;
• to acknowledge the use of imagination in being transported to the storytellers' reality."
A longer overview of material from this article is on this link: Nurse

"Stories are an ideal medium for ordering and storing complex human and clinical experiences...Storytelling is not unscientific. On the contrary, a  creative imagination is the scientist's greatest asset and is also the essence of competent clinical and moral decision-making....As clinicians we not only tell stories about patients; we tell them about ourselves."

Jude Treder-Wolff, LCSW, CGP, MT is a consultant/trainer and writer/performer. She is President of Lifetage, Inc a consulting/training company based in Smithtown NY, and host/creator of (mostly) TRUE THINGS, a game wrapped in a show featuring true stories - with a twist. She blogs about Applied Improvisation storytelling and creativity on Follow her by clicking here.


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