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The Power of the Story: How to connect and effectively engage your audience to create a lasting memory

FinnWing's picture

The Power of the Story: How to connect and effectively engage your audience to create a lasting memory

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In a scholarly piece called Different Ways of Remembering: the Example of Storytelling, Mark Oppenneer writes: The telling of a story not only suggests the physical presence of a storyteller and an audience, but the relationship that exists between the two, the relationships between members of the audience, the relationship between humans and the land on which they live and in which the action of the story transpires, etc.

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Oppeneer notes that the tendency to see “story” as text is a “Western information bias,” and Westerners tend to find audio and video recordings “sufficient to capture the telling of a story.” But such manifestations of story strip away “essential components of relationship,” Oppenneer asserts.  Laura S. Packer views storytelling and relationships from a different angle in Storytelling as connective tissue: …[T]he shared experience of listening to a story makes the entire audience into one being. The story is the ligament that binds us. … Regardless of the length of the story, the setting in which it’s told, the experience of the teller or the teller’s background, when we authentically tell a story it binds audience members to each other and to the teller. Stories are connective tissue in culture and families as well. They are how we identify ourselves, how we know that I am of this group, so this is my story. Both authors stress this connective role of storytelling in the act of re-telling. For Packer, listeners “know who they are by the stories they were told and in turn retell.” Oppenneer notes:..[T]he telling of a story interacts with prior tellings remembered by the audience and is infused with embellishments and improvisations that are in tune with the relationships established during the performance and he quotes Rebecca Green: “Repetitive storytelling of the past re-creates, solidifies, and even creates the veracity of events and individuals.”
The underlying message for both authors is that storytelling creates cultural identity, cultural memory, cultural meaning, and knowledge that is passed on from person to person, generation to generation.

Health Care Facts:
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Health Care Facts:
50.7M uninsured people in the USA
116.8M ER visits in the US in 2009
Number of visits per 100 persons: 39.4
Percent of visits with patient seen in fewer than 15 minutes: 18%
The uninsured and emergency room costs




Questions for Reflection:
-Approximately how many people in the United States are uninsured?
-How many ER visits were there in the United States in 2009?
Group Exercise:
  In groups of four, read your assigned point of view on health care reform, and make the case for why it is the correct one/most important point...Become the storyteller...
1)  An uninsured patient (this website includes audio stories):

2)  A pro-reform nurse:

3) An economists perspective:

4) An anti-reform physician:


LinKai_Jiang's picture

Feeling the facts

It's been a while since the session on storytelling. I do not remember any numbers or many facts thrown at me. But I do remember the story that angel told about the charismatic patient. He is charismatic and a favor of the nurses and the doctors there because he speaks English. He spent some time in the U.S. (Texas?) while waiting for treatment. He raced other patients right after the knee surgery. He is definitely a fun spirit. Through him, I saw the impact of health care access on people with less means. While facts are important in making policies. Stories are essential in depicting a fuller picture. Facts detached from the experience of the people are often misleading. Are stories facts? It depends on how we define it. I think the facts a good story convey are not always explicit in the form of clear propositions. A good story tells you why certain things matter in a deeply felt way. That's one of the reasons that it is so memorable: we implicitly feel the facts.  







Evren's picture

Were FinnWing & Angela Teachers?

 At the beginning of last class, Prof. G asked whether we viewed LinKai as a teacher. While I definitely viewed LinKai as a teacher, it was harder for me to view last week's presenters in the same light. For some reason, I thought of FinnWing and Angela as students giving a presentation, not as teachers teaching a lesson. I think it had nothing with the presentation itself, or their ability to present and perform in front of the class. Instead, I believe it's because they were presenting together. It's rare for teachers to teach a lesson together, perhaps mostly for economic reasons (not enough teachers per student), while it is very common for students to give presentations together in a class. Thus, when FinnWing and Angela were presenting together, I subconsciously identified them as students because of my past experiences in school. However, because LinKai was presenting on his own, it was much easier for me to view him as a teacher.

L Cubed's picture

the power of connection through storytelling

I think that the student-facilitated discussion on storytelling went very well. I liked the question raised concerning the difference in the stories told and how that affected our abilities to retell them. This reminded me of my topic in the last paper which discussed the impact of emotion on the ability and willingness to learn. Angela's story engaged our emotions allowing us to better connect and therefore better remember it. While the story on health care is something that directly (or indirectly) affects us, it was presented as sort of this distant issue. It was not until we were asked to read specific opinions on the matter and take on the character and opinion of our given person, that we were able to connect with the issue of health care and grasp how it might directly impact our own lives and the lives of others....drawing on connections through storytelling is critical in grasping and retelling the story itself. If no connection is made it is easy for the story to be pushed aside, sitting atop other countless stories accumulating dust.   

Paul Grobstein's picture

charisma and stories of two different sorts

Very interesting session, and ongoing discussion below.  Nice to have, among other things, Angela's thoughts about the experience of facilitating co-constructive inquiry.

Struck too by the distinction being made (by Jessica among others) between "story telling" and "charisma" (including story telling and role playing).  See Science as Storytelling or Story Telling?  The argument here is that one can use "stories" to make something more appealing/engaging (ie add charisma) or one can acknowledge that all understandings are "stories", ie  local "truths," tentative, revisable.  Whether there is or is not "charisma" in that (I like to think there can be), at least the latter by its very nature avoids the problem of brain washing (and perhaps even helps to immunize people against future encounters with it). 

epeck's picture

I agree that charisma can

I agree that charisma can overpower facts and if you don't know much about something it's easy to be swayed by a charismatic argument.  It is scary how we'll believe anything if the speaker/presenter makes it sound good enough - however, since this is how we seem to take in everyday information (choosing the more appealing presentation over a less attractive option) we have to work within those boundaries.  If we more eagerly accept information delivered charismatically and with an emotional pull, we have to make sure that we teach kids (and adults) to double check their facts and really think about their sources and why they accept certain facts over others.  In order to work the charisma edge to an educational advantage we might want to find more charismatic teachers (in my opinion charisma is the x-factor that makes defining a good teacher so difficult) so that kids will be more eager to learn.  Hopefully by thinking critically about why we are so accepting of certain information - this probably also goes back to whatever is stored in our cog. unconsciousness that gets primed by certain stimulants - we can sort through the information we take in and separate the good information from good presentation.

simonec's picture

so why don't we teach

by presenting facts (lower-case) and then requiring students to think about why a certain perspective or ideology is convincing? i agree with epeck, in that teaching with charisma does not have to be a scary thing - it enables us for yet another tool though which to see and analyze the world, as well as our place in it.

epeck's picture

this was in reply to

this was in reply to Jessica's post...

Roy Nelson's picture

As I am reading all your interesting posts...

I am reminded as a blog Series the NewScientist is running on storytelling... (

What impressed me more than ANYTHING was this about our brains narrator and as fits in with my own feelings about HOW our brains create the "self" which is something that has fascinated me since I was a child... I read about Gazzaniga's experiments years ago and to see him popping up again piqued my interest...

a thought provoking writeup... to be found here!


Angela DiGioia's picture

Thoughts about facilitating...

 Neither facilitating nor teaching are easy to do in a room full of students whose minds may or may not be focused on the topic being discussed. The students often have a lot on their minds that is not relevant to whatever you are telling them. Therefore it is very important to find a way to engage each student and hopefully gain his or attention; storytelling is a good way of doing this. It helps to engage a classroom full of individuals, and provides a forum for them to learn by listening, or by engaging an idea and showing a side of themselves as storytellers (maybe imagined, maybe not) that they may not have otherwise. This form of being both on the receiving end of a story, and on the storytelling side, appeals to people at an emotional (or cognitive neocortex) level that helps one to remember a story later on.

Our experience taught us that part of the difficulty of facilitating is that there are many constraints and opportunities to succeed or fall. There are time limits (thankfully extendable), miscues along the way, and the barrier of getting an audience to trust that what you are telling them is interesting, somehow applicable, and possibly both at once. It is very easy to derail and to feel defeated if the students aren’t engaging with the material or body language is discouraging, etc. There was a point last night when we felt that things could have flown off track very easily, but there are always creative ways to bring students back. Perhaps storytelling and role play are two examples of creative ways to get people to loosen up and have fun being someone who they would not normally be, but they are also great ways to get students to see a topic through the eyes of an individual who they feel that they have no connection to. This is the powerful piece that enables the interaction and growth of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd loops in the brain, and, ultimately, leads to the development of a deeper level of understanding and new knowledge on a given topic.  By allowing students to interact with each other in a more organized fashion, whether though a story that can bind the audiences attention or through leading the students to become the storytellers, the role of the teacher is to guide. This is a trait that can be taught to teachers to a certain extent, but it is best learned and mastered by experience interacting with students. Activities like storytelling and role play are techniques that are meant to make the facilitator’s attempts to convey information and provoke thoughts more effective, as well as to generate new knowledge in the classroom by engaging both the neocortex and the cognitive unconscious.


Questions for Reflections (please engage as many or few of these questions as you like, both depth and breadth are super!):

At what point(s) did you feel most engaged during our presentation/facilitation? When didn’t you? Why?


How could you imagine techniques such as role play and storytelling being used in a lower-level science classroom? Introductory physics class? What are helpful situations? What are barriers? 


Is there a need for balance between creative interactive exercises and a more didactic style of teaching (maybe to incorporate more facts)?  How do you imagine it to shape the dynamic between the students in the classroom and facilitator/teacher? How does the rules and/or decorum differ between the contexts?


Ameneh's picture

I think the balance between

I think the balance between creative interactive exercises and a more didactic style of teaching is exactly what is needed. Like we’ve said many times before, different students work best in different kinds of learning environments. Therefore, while role playing and story telling may spark the interest of one student and make them a better learner, it might do quite the opposite for another, say shy/quiet student, who may find such an activity stressful and consequently may focus too much on the activity and “getting it right” that he or she may not end up learning as much from it, as he or she would have from the much-hated “throwing facts out”. So, a focus of either creative and interactive or didactic alone would place some of the students at a disadvantage. Since the point is to be the most effective teacher/facilitator, the balance between the two styles teaching would we  the most successful.

ellenv's picture

types of activities

 I do think that there is a need for a balance between creative/interactive exercises and a didactic style of teaching. Different students are going to get different things out of each style of teaching and a heavy focus on one over the other creates the possibility for some students to be left behind. At times, I think that didactic styles of teaching are good for taking the key points out of a creative exercise and highlighting which points might be most relevant for the topic that is being discussed. This doesnt meant that each student is expected to get the same thing out of the activities because they are being reduced down to the main points; rather, this allows students to reflect on what they saw as important in the activity as compared to the lessons that others have learned from an activity. I dont think that there is a specific context in which one works 100% of the time, and because of that it is important to include both in a class curriculum. 

jessicarizzo's picture


I think it's important to distinguish between narrativizing (what I initially thought we meant when we introduced "storytelling" in tonight's discussion) and charisma (which is where the concept had migrated to by the end of the evening).  It's absolutely true that a talented politician can give an impassioned speech or, say, wink at the tv cameras during a vice presidential debate and win the support of an uninformed audience in a way that an affectless policy wonk cannot, rendering factual accuracy completely irrelevant.  But I'm going to go ahead and say that this is actually a bad, scary thing.  What I still think a good education does is enable people to think for themselves, and finding ways to manipulate emotion in order to drive a message home is totally sinister.  Just as oppressive as standing in front of a classroom "spewing facts at people."  But this strategy only alienates those who can sense that they're being manipulated. It "works" with those who aren't aware of it... but that's brainwashing, not education.  See Susan Sontag's "Fascinating Fascism" on the aestheticization of politics, if interested.


We're trying to explore different ways of knowing and different ways of communicating,  but just because it's not straight book-learning doesn't have to mean endorsing anti-intellectualism.  And getting rid of Facts doesn't mean getting rid of facts.  If a Fact is something that is true always and everywhere, a fact is something that is true sometimes and somewhere.  These facts shape our reality, have a profound impact on the way our world works right now.  To be useful, responsible co-constructive inquirers, our first duty is to make observations, take a thorough inventory of the facts.  I think all kinds of experimentation can be unfairly perceived as just messing around.  There aren't any rules.  Because you're looking for something and you don't know what it is yet.  And you don't know how to get to where you don't know you're going.  But experimentation, thought experimentation, artistic experimentation, policy experimentation can be rigorous and must, I think, be rigorous if it's to be truly generative. 

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