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How to tell a stunning scientific story

Have you ever been on a stunning scientific talk that kept your attention throughout? Sure you did, but on how many? While most of Scientist are presenting their data on seminars and conferences, only few are presenting their stories, build by data. And those are the exciting scientific talks. Here I present few tips how to build a scientific story and what to avoid while telling it. Using these tips, together with your powerful first three minutes and practicing three golden rules, I guarantee you will become a powerful storyteller and will be able to easily “infect” others with your Science.

Why You Must Tell Stories, Not Dump Information, In Your Presentations 

by Nick Morgan (adopted from Forbes.com)

People often ask me about storytelling in speeches – why should they go to the trouble to come up with good stories, what does it mean to tell a story, and how do you do it.

They’re all good questions.  Let me take them in turn.

Why go to the trouble?  Because if you take the other road – informing the audience of something – no matter how interesting the information, you’ll run up against the limitation of the brain and quickly overtax your audience. We can only remember, they say, 7 plus or minus 2 things.  Most of the time, I think you only get to tell an audience 4 or 5 because they’ve already got 2 or 3 things rattling around in their brains before you start talking.

What happens is that audiences attempt to store your information in their frontal lobes as a list, and within about 30 seconds, their mental hoppers are full.

If instead you tell your audience a story, you get to jump right into the deeper parts of their brain, where emotion and memory work together, the hippocampus and amygdala.  They hear your words differently, because they compare them with stories they’ve heard before and log them in along with The Lord of the Rings, Iron Man 3, and Bambi.

So tell stories because you greatly increase the likelihood that they’ll remember what you say.  If you do it well – by telling a great story.  As I’ve blogged before (see below), there are 5 great stories – the Quest, Stranger in a Strange Land, Revenge, Rags to Riches and Love Story.  You want to tell one of those.  Well.

What does it mean to tell a story?  Telling a story means first of all making your audience the hero.  Then, taking your audience on a journey – one of those 5 great journeys I mentioned above, a journey with complications, danger, struggle, and above all decisions.  In other words, a story arc.  Because it’s a speech and the audience is the hero, you want to arrive at a happy ending – that’s the end of the arc.  You and your audience make the right decision, and the division is saved, the product is launched, or the prize is won. But first you and your audience have to get through the struggle, the peril, and the agonies of a great tale.  Think about The Lord of the Rings or Iron Man 3 or Bambi – how much peril each of those stories puts its heroes in.  That’s what it means to tell a story.

How do you do it? If you’re talking about a product, don’t list features.  That’s not a story.  Instead, find an unusual customer usage case and talk about that.  How did the product change that customer’s life for the better?  Or talk about the personas of customers that might buy the product and how they might use it.  Or put the product at the climax of the story arc – like those old Mr. Clean TV ads where the product saves the day by cleaning up the spill.  Or talk about how the product will change the audience’s life.  Find the story arc, the tension and release, the problem and solution.  That’s how you do it.

Telling stories makes the difference between boring, forgettable speeches, and speeches that people remember.  Do the hard work.  Find the story.  Tell it like only you know how.

For those that want to look at each of those stories in a little more detail.


The Quest is probably the most fundamental way we have of shaping our own experience and ways of relating to the world. In a Quest, like Star Wars, a hero sets forth—often reluctantly—to achieve some difficult goal. Along the way, she encounters obstacles (dangers, enemies, roadblocks, and the like) that she has to overcome in order to reach the goal. She may acquire a mentor who helps at crucial moments with wisdom or advice to get around particular difficulties, or to close in finally on the real goal at journey’s end.

The overwhelming emotional condition is hunger or longing for the goal. The hero may be reluctant at first, but eventually does get caught up in the need to reach the end, the point, the prize. The Holy Grail is one of our society’s basic Quest stories. It is typical in nearly all respects—it has heroes, mentors, obstacles, and the like—except for one.

In the typical Quest, the hero achieves the goal and then returns to celebrate her victory and explain what she has achieved. In most versions of the grail story, all the knights but one die in the attempt to find the grail, and that knight often doesn’t return, but rather goes straight up to heaven.

One of the deep lessons of Quest stories is that you can’t go home again – or if you do go home, it’s to a different place, because you’ve changed. A cliché, to be sure, but precisely because there are so many stories that follow this form. The values that underlie the Quest story are pluck, determination, luck, courage in the face of overwhelming odds – in short, a celebration of the underdog. People love Quests.

Quest stories work well for all kinds of business situations. Whether it is trying to reach some sales figures, or bring out a new product, or open a new plant, Quests are everywhere in modern corporate life.

One great Quest speech came in 1997, when Steve Jobs explicitly tried to get his audience to lay aside the Revenge motif of conceiving of Bill Gates and Microsoft as the enemy, and instead focus on making Apple excellent (Macworld Boston, 1997).

Stranger in a Strange Land

The hero of a Strange Land story is in a different pickle altogether. She’s thrown into a new situation, literally a strange land or terrain. She doesn’t know the local customs, the language, the rules, the path forward, or all of the above. Her emotional state is one of loss and confusion. Her goal is not necessarily to get to someplace, but rather to achieve knowledge, understanding, or competence in this strange new place.

Once again she may encounter mentors who help her find her bearings. But her primary struggle is to begin to achieve mastery after having all her mastery stripped away. The best Stranger in a Strange Land stories involve recognition at the end that the strange land is in fact not strange, but one you’ve known all along.

Planet of the Apes is a great example of a Strange Land story. When Charlton Heston sinks to his knees at the end of the movie, recognizing this strange ape-country for an America of the distant future (after seeing the Statue of Liberty half buried in the sand), the story has come full circle. Heston’s character has not only learned the ways of this new land, but he now knows it, because he recognizes it. That is not to underestimate the importance of all the learning Heston’s character has undergone while among the apes. That is indeed the heart of the Stranger in a Strange Land story, where most of the fun and the challenges lie – and therefore the interest.

Strange Land heroes can be experts in their own arcane knowledge. The values celebrated in these stories have to do with intelligence, quickness on your feet, the ability to improvise, coolness and poise, and learning.

Businesses that are trying to master a new marketplace, or to grow overseas, or to react to new competitive situations in familiar markets are involved in Stranger in a Strange Land stories. A wonderful example of a Stranger in a Strange Land speech comes from Steve Jobs again, in his “don’t settle” 2005 Stanford Commencement Address.

Rags to Riches

Rags to Riches stories are relatively simple and straightforward. The hero begins in a state of privation, and by luck or hard work or some combination thereof wins security and riches. Power and fame can also be the prizes at the end of the rainbow and the story. The best Rags to Riches stories involve heroes who possess ordinary qualities and extraordinary luck. We can infer that, because these deep cultural stories usually have some form of an Everyman or Everywoman as the main character, we don’t like to reward our heroes for their skill as much as for being in the right place at the right time and having the wit and luck to realize it, or at least to capitalize on it. If the hero were truly exceptional, we wouldn’t be able to identify as readily with him or her. Bill Gates can’t tell one of these stories, because we perceive him to be extraordinary. Most of us couldn’t have done what he did.

The emotions involved in a Rags to Riches story are hunger, greed, loneliness, and alienation. The values associated with the story are similar to the Quest: pluck, grit, determination. And additionally, a few that are unique to this particular story: order, rationality, and hard (routine) work. Annie is a classic Rags to Riches story that most people know.

Entrepreneurs that aren’t on Quests are usually involved in Rags to Riches stories. These stories work well for small companies trying to grow big, and divisions of companies trying to get established. Quest stories have an end, so they have to be used with care. If you convince your listeners that they must achieve some goal, they will feel complete when they do so. The story, and their effort, will be over. It’s why successful start-ups have such a hard time sustaining their energy after the first success is reached. The advantage of a Rags to Riches story is that it doesn’t come to an abrupt end. Keeping and enjoying the riches can go on forever. One of my favorite Rags to Riches stories comes from Gurbaksh Chahal, an Internet multi-millionaire in his twenties, whose book detailing his Rags to Riches life, The Dream, came out in 2009.


Revenge stories are universal. We all love a good enemy. Witness the success of The Social Network, a recent Revenge story. The structure of the typical Revenge story is again straightforward. There’s the wrong done to the hero, who loses everything, or almost everything, and then sets out to avenge the wrong. But the best stories involve not only simple revenge, but also a psychological component that involves not being able to achieve revenge until you fully know or understand your enemy.

Star Wars VI (The Return of the Jedi) is an excellent example of this kind of Revenge tale. Luke Skywalker is not in a position to take his revenge against Darth Vader until he learns the full identity of his enemy. Then, of course, the nature of the revenge changes entirely as he learns that Vader is his father – the recognition of the true nature of his enemy.

The underlying emotion of the Revenge story is of course the hero’s anger and the villain’s hatred. But those emotions can change suddenly, as in Star Wars, if there’s a recognition that the true nature of the villain is different from what the hero has hitherto believed.

The values of the Revenge story have to do with justice, right and wrong, the order of the community, and respect for individual human lives.

Many businesses (like Intel and every software company that takes on Microsoft) seem to have an affinity for Revenge stories. Apple got a great deal of initial momentum out of taking on the PC world in a classic Revenge story. In fact, whenever a company has a rival to take on (especially a bigger one) Revenge is a good story to invoke. We do love to see an underdog triumph over a larger enemy! What Apple will do now that it is no longer the underdog remains to be seen. It needs a new story. A Quest for clean, beautiful, elegant design, perhaps?

Love Story

Love stories need little explanation. The structure is circular, since the boy falls in love upon meeting the girl, loses the girl through misunderstanding or plot complication, and then finally wins her back in the end. Typically, though, the boy wins the girl by achieving a level of honesty or revelation that he hasn’t had before.

In comedic treatments of the story, for example, the boy will be concealing some appalling secret that, if revealed, could jeopardize the relationship. It is not until the secret is out, and the complications are worked through, that the two can get together. And the point is that they are both different because of the experience. The boy has learned (if the story is true to form) something about the importance of commitment and honesty. The girl has learned that her boy is not perfect, but still worthy of love. Community values are expressed or reestablished.

Of course, for “boy” and “girl” we can substitute “any life form” in this enlightened age, but the basic circle of love, loss, and love reestablished cannot be violated for the story to be satisfying. The basic emotional state is love and longing. The values underlying the story have to do with the importance of community, trust, and honesty, and the twin polarities of loneliness and longing, happiness and satisfaction.

The modern business world is full of mergers, partnerships, joint ventures, and the like – all of which are potential love stories.

Incorporating a story into your presentation

OK, so those are the five basic stories. You know these stories; they’re baked into us all by the time we’re out of middle school. How do they in fact relate specifically to transforming your ordinary presentation into something profound?

It’s simple really. The audience needs to understand what you, the speaker, are up to as quickly as possible. After all, listening to presentations is hard work. Research indicates that most people only remember something like 30% of what they hear. So you want to hook them with these mythic stories that they know already, deeply and powerfully, from their cultural understandings developed over a lifetime. You want to frame the information you have to give in a persuasive package of fundamental story. That way, they’ll remember what you’re saying, because they know part of it already.

And, of course, by drawing them in with these fundamental stories, you will increase their emotional investment in your presentation, as well as their retention of it.

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