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Kendall Haven on the Science of Captivating Storytelling


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Kendall Haven is the only internationally recognized expert in the science of story structure. His books have revolutionized our understanding of how stories control human understanding and meaning. Consultant to governments and corporations worldwide.

With 30 years of experience as a performing storyteller, and after two decades leading the research effort for the National Storytelling Association and the International Storytelling Center, Haven has emerged as a Master Storyteller. He’s the nation’s leading Subject Matter Expert on the neuro- and cognitive science of story, on story structure, and on story architectural design.

What is an effective story

A truly effective story is a character-based presentation of the struggles that the character goes through to reach a goal that’s important to them. In those struggles, the character tries to overcome problems and obstacles that create significant risk and danger.

All of that presented in sufficient sensory details so the audience can visualize the events from the character’s journey in their minds.

As goes tension, so goes attention

There always has to be tension in a story. We have to worry about what’s gonna happen next and how are the characters going to achieve the goal. There always has to be a question of tension that holds our attention.

The two elements that create tension are risk and danger. The risk of something going wrong and the probability of failure. While danger is what happens to a character if something goes wrong, the consequences of failure.

When does the audience tune out

A number of factors make people tune out of your presentation. Some have to do with the material, a lot has to do with the presentation of it. Vocal characteristics, vocal patterns, the physical presence of the speaker, etc.

Listen to the full episode!

All of this is discussed thoroughly in the podcast episode, so tune in, subscribe, and let us know what you think! Find Mr. Haven’s books Story Proof and Story Smart on the links here.

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