That clever little story may not be as engaging as you think it is.
When neuroscientist Paul Zak discovered the power of a compelling story to stimulate the production of oxytocin in the same manner as “real life” interactions, he unleashed a new best practice for leaders, speakers, trainers, teachers and everyone else. It is nearly impossible to miss his influence at professional conferences and YouTube sales videos, where almost every speaker begins the presentation with a story that is meant to draw us to their topic and create a deep connection with the audience.
In addition, a disproportionately large number of the sessions at the conferences I’m attending are dedicated to telling us how to use stories to engage, motivate and change behavior. I don’t disagree with the science behind this practice. Stories have a powerful effect on the brain. Through the stimulation of oxytocin, they have the power to immerse us in another person’s experience, to the point that our brain cannot tell the difference between this imagined experience and one that has happened to us directly. For learning professionals, this discovery has powerful implications – if it is done well.
I believe in the power of science to change the way we see and interact with the world; as learning professionals, we have an obligation to apply the scientific method to make our learning experiences as effective, compelling and memorable as possible. So, when I noticed my own reaction to a practice that is supposed to be based on science, I had to ask myself, “What is going on here?” Here are a couple of hypotheses I’ve developed. I’m calling on all my fellow scholar-practitioners to weigh in and help me figure this out.
Do we need some help developing more compelling stories?
Are we over-simplifying the science?
- Explain things in plain English
- Draw clear connections between research and application
- Provide references to the source documents for more information.
Of course, let’s not forget all the resources you have as a member of ATD. If you think of your membership as an app you’ve “installed” on your professional life, research suggests that you’re probably only using four or five of the dozens of benefits available to you.
We need to get this right
When you invest a little time in understanding what makes that “shiny thing” so shiny, you often come away with a deeper understanding of how to apply the information to enhance learning and performance. Based on what I’ve been experiencing from speakers and presenters, I’d say a few more of us need to make this investment more often. After all, we’re all science workers – so let’s get the science right – together.