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OK. It’s a fact…storytelling works. Here’s the proof. At the ARF Industry Leader Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday, a number of presenters (including yours truly) used stories…specifically creation stories (for example, I described the meeting and the moment when the research transformation initiative was born on July 15th at the ARF). At our SF event, we had a live biometric experiment courtesy of Innerscope who measured 4 biometric functions from 20 volunteer attendees wearing a lightweight vest that transmits wirelessly. The highest attentiveness and arousal readings of the whole morning occurred during storytelling moments! Michael Perman from levi Strauss started his talk about the creation of a certain type of orange and handed out oranges to 140 attendees – OFF THE CHARTS!!

Sometimes the key to having an impact isn’t better math, but better psychology – understanding how people process ideas and stimuli and what makes something memorable. More on a new vision for research in future postings, but for now, think story not data reporting completeness.

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13 Responses to “Proving the power of storytelling”

  1. Stories (well told, well crafted, used correctly) always work. I have never seen story fail. The more esoteric one’s work or one’s product, the deeper the need for story.

    Thanks for this quick and informative posting. Love the biometric feedback.


  2. Joel,

    Great piece and what an exciting opportunity to be part of the largest live biometric monitoring experiment in conference history!

    Innerscope is proud to be a part of the transformation. We agree wholeheartedly with Sean. We consistently see the importance of well told and well constructed stories to inspire and lift audiences, whether it is a talk at a conference, a scripted network drama, or a 30 second ad. Our brains are hard wired to connect to stories.

    Keep up the great posts.

    Best, Carl
    CEO Innerscope Research

  3. Wonderful, inspiring, moving event…even better than NY. Feel like the needle is moving in a great direction for market research community.

    But one critical question:


    – Pete

  4. I was thinking about story-telling thing recently and MR recently and it occurred to me that it would be useful for mainstream MR practitioners to have cartoonist skills.

  5. Storytelling is still the needed skill even if one adds cartooning to the quiver of talents. Storytelling is the bow, not one of the arrows.


  6. What a pleasure to attend an event that both inspires and educates… I think the conference drove home the importance of broadening research efforts to include the customer’s voice at every turn. There is little doubt that the industry is at a crossroads, and it was refreshing to see its leaders so open to new approaches and fresh ideas. Moving forward, we all must continue to share our successes in this arena and help each other become effective listening practitioners.

  7. Sean, aren’t cartoonists storytellers? IMHO their skills are well suited to the task that mainstream researchers face in communicating. “Good” cartoons are graphical and to the point, effective at grabbing attention, and appropriate for audiences with limited attention spans. Very appropriate for a world in which Powerpoint decks serve as reports.

  8. Wow! Excellent post and question, Lynd. Storytelling is storytelling- the “verbal” (which includes ASL and other manual languages as well as spoken word) skill that conveys a narrative.

    Cartooning is build upon storytelling, as is film making. They are not the same. I would say, generally, that most art forms are the child of the parent art of storytelling.

    This doesn’t diminish film, animation, writing and so forth. They all use story but are not storytelling. My thought is that all artists need good training in storytelling in order to further grow their art excellent art forms. Cartooning serves a great purpose and should be utilized and explored by those who have those gifts.

    Of course, I think that PowerPoint decks shouldn’t serve as reports. Sadly, I think too many people have let PP presentations be central instead of adjunct to their presentations.

    Also, a good storyteller does not have a problem with short attention spans in any setting they are working with, from corporate meetings to jaded teens to wriggly preschoolers. Attention span is not an issue.

    What a great thread this is.

  9. Really? I’d say that verbal or written story telling are ways of expressing meaning, as are cartooning, film-making, and other forms of expression. Just a different point of view, I guess. Mine’s mostly from cognitive and neuropsychology. There are several different perspectives on what meaning is and how it is communicated.

    The mainstream practice in commercial marketing research is to use PowerPoint decks as reports, and usually also for proposals. By “mainstream” I’m referring to the vast majority of the work that’s done.

  10. Yes, agreed. There are many interpretations of meaning.

    One of my most interesting corporate training sessions was with the market research department of a major world-wide marketing organization. Huge company. They hired me to help them take their reports off the wall (ie Powerpoint) and imbue connection and story into the data before it was presented. The thought was to take this boatload of stats and verbatim and translate these items into presentations where story would give life, connection and meaning to their proposals.

    Powerful afternoon and its always good when one of the VP’s looks up and says loudly, “I get it!”

    Of course, storytelling has always had as a purpose the conveyance of information and standards, so that project wasn’t too new.

    Thanks for this fun set of comments. You are taking me away from my self-employed tax forms to come here and dump thoughts. LOL!


  11. Nice story! 🙂

    I’m not condoning the use of PowerPoint reports, BTW. I avoid projects that require PowerPoint final reports like the plague. Slides are great for talks and presentations, of course.

    Hm. I wonder why the links I get in email from this blog are bad? They show up in messages looking like:


    URL’s doubled up.

  12. wow! I wondered how I got 11 comments and now I know! I was talking with someone about our favorite songs. I mentioned:
    –El paso
    –Devil Went down to Georgia
    –Sympathy for the Devil
    –Pancho and Lefty
    …when I realized, “Omigod, they’re all great stories!”

    Now, the question is, do all research projects lend themselves to story telling? How about concept or commercial testing–the report card stuff? how about brand trackers? Just asking…

  13. […] done to prove just how powerful a captivating story can be, even in a business presentation, in a blog on research by Joel Rubinson: “At the ARF Industry Leader Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday … we […]