karen eber on storytelling, the brain, and emotional response



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A few notes from listening to Karen Eber’s TEDx talk “How your brain responds to stories — and why they’re crucial for leaders”.

Stories as ways to connect.

When it comes to storytelling and data, it’s an and not an either or.

Stories engage far more of your brain and your brain ends up creating that reality for you (it’s a virtual reality). When listening to a story, your brain paints a picture and puts you in that reality.

Neural coupling -> story tellers and their audience are connected through the same feelings / sensations.

Data doesn’t change our behavior, emotions do.

Without being able to experience emotions, people are incapable of making decisions.

Data never speaks for itself.

Ingredients of a great story:

  1. What’s the context?
  2. What’s the conflict?
  3. What’s the outcome?

Great stories do three things

  1. Build and release tension
  2. Build an idea
  3. Communicate value

So, what does data and storytelling look like?

  • Start with why, then pull in the data.
  • Choice: Tell a story about the data itself? or tell a parallel story and pull in data to support it.

Of course, the irony in these notes is that while they’re useful, the parts of the talk that I can recall immediately are:

  1. The story of Charles Schwab’s CEO and Dottie - the woman who cleaned the lecture hall of the only course he didn’t receive an A for.
  2. Karen’s friend who befriended the security guard at the office and as a result was the recipient of a kind gesture when her phone fell through the cracks of the elevator
  3. The final story about a woman presenting data to university officials on graduation rates of students with autism.

Even when retelling someone else’s story, as a member of the audience, when the story is communicated effectively (as Karen did), it’s amazing the ability for a good story to transport you!

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