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How to Tell Better Stories

This summer I decided to enrol in a course so that I could complete a prerequisite for my program. Before that, I’ve never taken a course in the summer. I was nervous because not only was this course going to be fully taught asynchronously, but also that courses are taught at a much faster pace during the summer. I also was not keen on spending my summer studying.
But my worries were automatically alleviated when I realized one minor detail. I found out that my favourite professor teaches the course. I almost always look forward to sitting through his one hour and a half (online) lectures, and I know I’m not the only one. There is something about the way he teaches content that stick.
Many of the first few lectures included concepts that I learned from his previous course. Going through them felt like a breeze, because I could recall concepts that he taught me almost two years ago.
What makes the way he teaches so compelling?
My favourite professor uses storytelling as a tool. Thanks to his funny stories as a college student and his experiences getting fMRI scans, it’s going to be hard for me to forget the function of the sympathetic nervous system and how an fMRI works.
It has been shown through fMRI scans that many different areas of the brain light up when listening to a compelling narrative. Stories have the compelling ability to change and rewire our brains. Stories have the ability to change our attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours.
Many successful business leaders and entrepreneurs rely on storytelling to sell. And I believe that science communication would benefit with more storytelling.
Why does storytelling work?
  • Brain regions involved in predicting what happens next during storytelling are activated, increasing the likelihood for better memory recall.
  • Stories trigger the release of oxytocin in the brain, a key neurotransmitter for empathy, trust, generosity, and compassion. When stories relate to a listeners experiences, they’re more likely to trust and empathize with the storyteller.
  • Great stories emotionally affect listeners through narrative transport.
  • As social creatures, stories serve as an evolutionarily effective way to deliver important information and values from one individual or community to the next.
We’re wired for story. In a culture of scarcity and perfectionism, there’s a surprisingly simple reason we want to own, integrate, and share our stories of struggle. We do this because we feel the most alive when we’re connecting with others and being brave with our stories - it’s in our biology. - Brené Brown
It is no wonder that my professor of neuroscience and psychology has mastered the art of storytelling.
How do you tell better stories?
If you’re still reading this newsletter, then chances are that I did something right. I was either able to capture your attention, or you decided to continue reading through a boring newsletter. I want to believe that the first option is true, because I want to tell you something.
I am not an expert on storytelling. I’ve been fascinated by the tool of storytelling for a while, and that’s why I decided to tell the story of my favourite professor.
The thing is, you already know how to tell a great story. If you’re a human being with personal experiences, you have all the tools you need to tell a great story. The only difference is that you would be learning to do this intentionally. And the hard part is the vulnerability of telling the story.
I do not believe that there is an ideal structure for telling a story, and that’s part of what makes a story stick. Everyone has experiences. Everyone has a great story to tell.
I think that there are many notable people and frameworks we could use as inspiration. And I think that there are general principles to tell stories more effectively. But I believe that the main storytelling skill is something you already have, and have been using for years.
So, what’s your story?
With love,
Reema
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Reema AlYousef

sharing stories and exploring human emotion

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