Sticky Stories

March 20, 2017 5:15 PM | Laura Chartier (Administrator)

Written by SEWI-ATD Guest Blogger,  Matt Meuleners

Several times in my career I have coached young leaders who hope to start their careers as keynote speakers. I ask them to come to me with what they have already written and present it for feedback. 100% of them have started out with the same mistake. They spend too much time on the message.

I understand the desire to pack as much data in as possible, but they are trying to share too much information. Every piece of advice, every best practice, and every great quote that ever inspired them makes it onto the page. None of it sticks in my brain.

Instead, I recommend that they aim for a presentation that is closer to 20% content and 80% story. Think about the best speakers you have ever seen. My bet is that they were master storytellers. Stories engage our brains differently and they make our content “sticky” - improving retention.

Stories are sticky for a few reasons.

1. Listening to a story uses more of your brain. A 2006 study published in the journal NeuroImage demonstrated that not only are language processing area engaged when you hear a story, but so too are any other area in the brain that you would use when experiencing the context of the story. So, when you hear a storyteller describe “eating a rapidly melting chocolate ice cream cone on a hot July day,” your brain also lights up in the areas that manage taste, temperature, and time.
This offers a huge potential impact on learning because we suspect that more active brain areas involved in storing memories leads to better retention and recall of information. Not to mention that a more engaged brain means a more engaged audience member.
2. Stories activate mirror neurons. These amazing little brain cells seem to be the key to empathy with other human beings. They light up when we observe another person experiencing something – and engage a similar experience in our own brain. Uri Hasson, Associate Professor of Psychology at the Princeton Neuroscience Institute, shared this example from a study:
“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized.  When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too.  When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”
The power of this effect comes from the fact that our brains create memory based on what the brain is experiencing, not simply based on what is happening in our environment. In other words, if your mirror neurons are causing you to “feel the wind on your face” the way the storyteller did, your brain is likely creating a memory of that experience almost as if you were there. You can’t get that from a PowerPoint slide.
These are not the only reasons that humans learn better from storytelling. I look forward to sharing more about these ideas and other tools of advanced presenters at SEWI-ATD's April 21st Professional Development Event!


About the Author

Matthew Meuleners, is well known in the training community for his great presentation skills. He is Executive Partner and Leadership Trainer at FOCUS Training. As a professional facilitator and keynote speaker for over 15 years, Matt has combined his message of integrity in leadership with a youthful energy and sense of humor that allows him to connect with an audience. Having touched the lives of thousands of people, his experience lends him a credibility that gives every presentation impact.

Through the years he has trained hundreds of business and educational leaders to fulfill their crucial roles within their organizations, delivered his keynote message to thousands of people, and developed valuable leadership curriculum.

Matt holds a M.B.A. and Bachelors in Marketing from the University of Wisconsin and currently teaches Training & Development courses for undergraduate and graduate students at Marquette University. He has served in many leadership positions and continues to lead in alumni and guidance roles.

Matt’s vivid enthusiasm and passion for nurturing leadership skills in others and his articulate and humorous style ensure that no audience will walk away unchanged.

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