On Season 4, Episode 35 of Unleashed, Karen Eber walks us through the importance of storytelling in business, and the science behind how to structure your stories for maximum impact.

Actions You Can Take Right Now

  1. Start with your audience! Define the outcome you want: what do you want them to know, think, feel or do differently after your story?
  2. Form your story structure. Build 1 sentence each for the context (what’s happening, why should you care), the conflict, the outcome, and a final takeaway message.
  3. Don’t wait for the perfect story. We all have stories but none are birthed perfectly – look for ideas you connect with and work to turn them into the perfect story.

View or listen to this and other past episodes at www.unleashresults.com/unleashed-series

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Episode Highlights and Excerpts

  • Karen told her first story at the age of 5. As a young child she loved the special feeling that came from having 1 brown eye and 1 blue eye. However, when she started school at the age of 5, she attracted attention and began feeling awkward. So she invented a story about being born with two brown eyes, but was colouring in her room one day and ate a green Crayola. It tasted so good she ate all the green ones she could find, and the next morning woke up with a green eye. She told it so well that even adults took pause.
  • The important part of Karen’s early storytelling experience was how it changed the interactions she had with people. She was back to feeling special, she could have fun with her story, and for years people referred to her as the crayon girl (not the odd eye girl).
  • The greatest way to create movement in culture & interaction is through story. The more you start to connect with a story, the more you remember it, and so storytelling is one of the most powerful ways to shape culture and develop leaders. This has been researched through Stanford.
  • We also know we make decisions based on emotion, not fact. Using a story – particularly to explain data – is going to use more or your brain and therefore persuade and create movement more than data alone. Data alone is dangerous because everyone draws their own conclusion based on their own assumptions.
  • Why is this? It’s all about how our brains are wired:
    • Brains are lazy – they want to conserve calories by taking the easy, same path every day. Stories that engage the senses force the brain to spend calories and work instead of jumping to assumptions.
    • We process so much info every day (32 gigabytes!), the brain uses assumptions to file information correctly. When we use story, we connect & help with the filing.
    • Details and surprises in stories can help slow down the assumption jumping by connecting to senses and creating focus.
    • Our survival is dependent on us being in “in groups”, therefore we are always looking for similarities & differences with others. Stories can help build connection by providing similarities with the audience.
  • We all have good stories in us – even introverts. 90% Of building story is introverted – success is all in the planning. Think about your first job, first manager, first concert, best vacation, an obstacle. Whatever excites you will make a good story. Use an exercise called the “draw happy” exercise. Take a piece of paper & draw a scene that makes you happy. Then build a story around it.
  • All good stories start with the audience, and what they need to hear. Ask yourself “what am I helping them think or do differently?” Then map out the beginning (the context), the conflict, the outcome, and a final takeaway sentence. Then you can flush out the details based on whether it’s a written or verbal story.
  • Once complete – walk away! The magic ingredient in a good story is (prep) time. Time to consider the way the brain processes information & then come back to add the details that make it strong. Every piece of the story should play a role: it engages the brain, or is an important detail, or engages senses, or does it need to be cut?
  • Good story tellers slow the brain down. Include unexpected details to do this. Comedians are good at this. Add metaphors & sensory details.
  • If you’re a novice at storytelling and are nervous, focus on two things just as you walk on stage:
    1. Channeling the energy of a child excited to show you their bedroom
    2. Just having a conversation

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Karen Eber

Karen Eber is an international consultant, and keynote speaker. Her talk on TED.com: How your brain responds to stories – and why they’re crucial for leaders, has over 1.7 million views. As the CEO and Chief Storyteller of Eber Leadership Group, Karen helps companies reimagine and evolve how they transform culture. 

Karen works with Fortune 500 companies such as General Electric, ADP, Heinz Kraft, Kate Spade, Facebook and guest lectures in Universities like Emory and Purdue. She is a four-time American Training and Development winner and lives in Atlanta, GA with her family. Karen is writing a book on Storytelling expected early 2023.