I believe in the power of narrative, and how it serves to connect human beings who think they have nothing in common.
Several of my public speaking opportunities have focused on this message.
How to Tell Better Stories
On October 17, 2015, I presented a keynote at conference for travel writers and photographers about the power of story. I spoke about how you need to include a concerted effort to include important narrative elements in order to build a remarkable, sustainable business online. More importantly, it is stories that effect change and create an emotional response in readers, one that can help them reframe the way they see the world.
At the NAFSA 2016 conference in Denver, the focus was on storytelling as a way to bridge cultural dissonance. I focused on the social aspect of narrative, and how making yourself vulnerable as you tell stories goes a long way to opening the space for others to connect better with you and the world as a whole.
TBEX Asia Keynote – Power of Story
The speech was divided into three main points:
1. That as a travel writer or photographer, stories are what inspire people to see a place differently.
- The stories we can tell help illuminate what we take as a universal truth: that travel changes lives.
- Neuroscience of storytelling helps us understand why stories have this kind of effect: good narrative has the ability to put your whole brain to work, and push the confines of what we know as possible.
- Example: the inspired understanding from Humans of New York.
2. Storytelling is amplified by technology. We have the ability to tell stories and potentially make a change for millions of people if we work hard to better our craft and to talk about things that matter.
- We are living in an era of unprecedented access to information.
- Social media can be a lot more than “what I ate today” and actually foster understanding by distributing images that contribute to the shared history of humanity.
- Gone are the days when you need to hire a PR firm or a traditional publisher. With this increased access to information comes an increased responsibility to share stories that change lives.
- Stories are remembered by people up to 50% more than “regular” text or prose. From storytelling expert Anne Murphy Paul, “Cognitive scientists refer to stories as “psychologically privileged,” meaning they are granted special treatment by our brains. Compared to other informational formats, we attend to stories more closely. We understand them more readily. And we remember them more accurately.”
3. That a remarkable and successful business is not one that solely comprises of top 10 lists or guides, but they too are helpful in serving audience. A remarkable business includes both stories that can change people’s minds about a place, as well as informational components.
- I respect that people build their businesses in different ways. When I started out I focused only on stories and shunned guides for food or posts that were more informational in nature. But my readers started asking for them, both for celiacs who were worried about travelling and getting sick, and other readers who wanted to share in the experience of food from places I visited.
- A remarkable business contains both those informational posts, but also the longer narratives that impact an opinion about the world. These narratives can take the form of written stories, photography with or without captions, or video, or more. The point is that the goal is to use the platform you have from the informational posts that bring in SEO traffic or pageviews and then hook them with interesting, unique stories that you alone are capable of telling.
- Example: Wait but Why does very well with posts about finding a life partner and procrastination, but also synthesizes complex concepts like artificial intelligence, or Elon Musk’s ambitious projects, into words that anyone can understand. Because of his unique voice and his desire to break down these more complicated topics, he brings his audience — likely many of whom would not search for a post about AI — into his world, teaching them as he writes.
And at the end of the talk I promised a few resources for storytellers. I’ve divided these into two sections. They are in addition to the great many writing courses, narrative workshops, and other tools available online today.
Resources for Storytellers
Photography, Hello, Craig Mod
How Stories Change Hearts and Brains, Aeon Magazine
The Ethical Implications of Storytelling, Mars Hill Press
The Neuroscience of your Brain on Fiction New York Times
The Science Behind Storytelling Melcrum
Big Book Of Narrative, Nieman Storyboard, aggregating their top posts about storytelling on the site.
The Shape Of Stories, Kurt Vonnegut
Wired for Story: The Writer’s Guide to Using Brain Science to Hook Readers from the Very First Sentence Lisa Cron. Writing well and telling a story are not the same thing. To tell a good story, one must – as Lisa says, “ignite the brain’s hardwired desire to learn what happens next.” Backed by recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and substantiated with case studies, Wired for Story is a book about how the brain experiences storytelling, and then tells us how to apply that to our writing to make it better.
Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide The Nieman Foundation at Harvard University. Prominent journalists and nonfiction authors gather each year at Harvard’s Nieman Conference on Narrative Journalism, and Telling True Stories presents their best advice, from how to find a good topic, to structure, writing, and selling the product of your labours. 50 writers participated, including Malcom Gladwell, Nora Ephron, Alma Guillermoprieto, Tom Wolfe, and more.
Contagious: Why Things Catch On Jonah Berger. These days, word of mouth has more authentic weight than PR or ads. But why do people start recommending one product over another? This book addresses this central question, as well as the corollary ones about infectious and viral information and how to ensure you leverage this phenomenon for your own work.
The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human Jonathan Gottschall. A great companion to “Wired for Story,” Gottschall offers a unified theory of storytelling. He argues that stories aren’t just great to listen to or learn from, but also that they help us navigate life’s complex social problems – the same way flight simulators prepare pilots for difficult situations. Storytelling has evolved, like other behaviours, to ensure our survival.
On Writing: 10th Anniversary Edition: A Memoir of the Craft Stephen King A classic read for anyone looking to improve their craft.
Story: Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting Robert McKee. McKee is known for his in-person story and screenwriting seminars, and this book expands on the workshop to provide ac comprehensive understanding of screenwriting. “No one better understands how all the elements of a screenplay fit together, and no one is better qualified to explain the “magic” of story construction and the relationship between structure and character than Robert McKee.”
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, Yuval Noah Harari, included because of his assertion that a cognitive revolution and the ability to tell stories was why humans are as evolved as they are today.
The Writers Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers Christopher Vogler. A great book about mythology’s influence on popular culture, the stories we tell ourselves, our films and books, and the human race overall.
For other writing and social media resources on this website please see:
My page about building a sustainable business beyond your blog.
My resources page for building authority by curating good work on social media
As always, please feel free to send any questions to me via the contact form on the menu bar above!