Emotive Storytelling: The Art of Simplification

Dr. Gerard Gibbons, Director/Author

I have a thought to share with you. And it’s simple. Over the years, I have been fortunate to create and produce stories for some of the smartest people and best organizations. Along the way, I’ve learned a few things. One of the most important has to do with the topic of complexity, and namely, that it’s a problem for people.

Contrary to popular thinking, cognitive approaches, are not very effective at getting people to understand or do whatever they are supposed to. Yet, this is the primary approach that people, providers, agencies and companies use to communicate and educate.

The art of simplification turns out to be a difficult task. Making things simple is perplexing, and nearly impossible for many trying to reach customers, professionals, employees and patients.

Even Bill Gates called out the need for an “easy button.” What’s his issue? He observed that complexity was keeping people from taking action. He called it the great disabler. I say cognitive information freezes people’s minds more often than not. This applies to most everybody. If individuals aren’t engaged or if they have to work too hard to understand the message, they simply tune out, and they don’t follow through with whatever it is they need.

Think about it. How many times have you seen a flow of printed information, webpages, or powerpoint slides full of graphs, lists, facts, words and numbers clog up a business case, an education course, or a technical presentation.

This overload creates confusion or a blur of detail that you aren’t sure what to do with and all without much benefit.

You know what I’m talking about. Your brains go numb, you lose interest or you get distracted. The glazed eyes set in. You walk away not remembering much of anything.

The bottom line: When it isn’t sticky, it doesn’t last.

Cognitive approaches, though important and supportive, are often secondary. And cognitive information has a very short half life at least without storytelling attached to it. And just because you may be proficient at this type of information, I assure you 90% of the world around you isn’t.

For reasons we explore on emotive storytelling.com, humans are designed to tell and listen to stories. The emotive path is the easiest and best way into the mind. This is especially important if you want to change behavior.

Stories, or Storytelling, provides a framework to build on, where you hang detail and attach meaning. They also establish context, and they are far-far easier to remember.

So consider this: The next time you want to engage people, have them remember, and get them to act — first, try storytelling. It’s the easy button.


Emotive Storytelling™ encourages behavior change through the use of narrative communication, neuroscience, digital media, games and mobility.  Narrative Communication as a source of emotive persuasion and education has a long history and a sound scientific underpinning.  Emotive Storytelling™ integrates the emotional power of the storytelling, cinematic technique, neuroscience, health games, mhealth (mobile health), digital tools and internet technology to drive user engagement, adherence and behavior change in healthcare delivery, marketing, education, and business.
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One Response to Emotive Storytelling: The Art of Simplification

  1. Jane Doe August 8, 2013 at 9:28 pm #

    I know that many decision makers in our agency still struggle with this topic. A couple years ago, the President Obama signed the Plain Writing Act: http://www.plainlanguage.gov/plLaw/ It helps a lot, but it we’re still not 100% on top of the problem. Just wanted to share that website with you.

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