025: The Science Behind Storytelling with Master Storyteller and Author, Kendall Haven.

Kendall Haven is an internationally recognized Subject Matter Expert on the cognitive neuroscience of story and helped create the study of the Neuroscience of Story. A performing master storyteller, Haven has, for over 30 years, led the research effort for the National Storytelling Assn. and International Storytelling Center into effective story structure and into the process of story-based influence and persuasion and has been designated as a Distinguished Visiting Scholar at Stanford University.

Haven’s two seminal works (Story Proof and Story Smart) have revolutionized our understanding of the neural and science aspects of effective story structure. He serves as a story consultant to departments in various U.S. government science agencies (Navy, EPA, NASA, NOAA, and NPS) and to the Singapore Armed Forces as well as with numerous corporations, nonprofits, and educational organizations.

Top Takeaways:

People aren’t interested in ideas, they’re interested in people. If you listened to Episode 12: Water Nerd’s Guide to Storytelling, we introduced Kendall Haven’s research on the neuroscience behind storytelling. We take this convo deeper as we chat with Kendall Haven about:

  • The decades of research that demonstrate the power of story.
  • How our brains are hardwired from birth to process all information by putting it in story form.
  • Why providing information in story form makes your content more memorable and impactful.
  • Your greatest storytelling resource are the people of your organization.


Story Smart: Using the Science of Story to Persuade, Influence, Inspire, and Teach by Kendall Haven

Story Proof: The Science Behind the Startling Power of Story by Kendall Haven


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Show notes:

[4:15] Kendall’s story, a master storyteller who worked for entities like NASA, Boeing, the World Bank.

[10:36] Storytelling is hardwired in your brain even you were born.

[11:46] Key reasons it’s worth it to focus on storytelling.

[13:50] Stephanie’s first intro to storytelling and finding out about Kendall’s research.

[15:40] Kendall gives a sums up his research to develop his two books Story Proof and Story Smart.

[20:50] How your brain processes stories– what reaches your conscience mind.

[27:35] Kendall gives an example from Story Smart of the how the Make Sense Mandate and the Neural Story Net works.

[30:07] Your choice to end stories negatively or positively–emotional impacts occur either way

[32:22] We set up a story from Story Smart: how the use of effective storytelling drastically changed one non-profit’s ability to fundraise and change behavior.

[33:28] Before we get into the story–Kendall breaks down the basic elements of a story. *Write this down and refer back for presentations, posts, publications, etc!!

[36:49] The non-profit story continues–Rotary Club were working with hospital for AIDS children. People need more than the numbers/results, they need the full story, which includes the bad parts, the struggle.

[41:34] United Airlines example that shows you the employees and the behind the scene complexities of a plane ride.

[47:20] Definition Storytelling–Story (noun) and Telling (verb)

[49:48] What happens when we aren’t consistently communicating with our customers and letting them fill in the information gaps with their own “banks of prior knowledge”?

[50:25] The curse of family stories.

[52:00] The curse of knowledge.


[55:06] How do you overcome the two curses?

[57:35] Character writing–have the people who represent your target audience in the room or conversation with you.

[59:12] Kendall breaks down the Make Sense Mandate and the Neural Story Net.

[1:05:17] Stephanie relates this to the “2015 High Water Bill Outrage” in North Texas.

[1:07:42] It’s about understanding the story your audience already has and reframing it.

[1:09:18] Kendall breaks down in-depth how to craft an effective story.

[1:18:15] Arianne kicks off the “lightning round” of questions: Kendall’s favorite books, what drives his productivity and one call to action.

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Thank you for sharing some of your time with us. We know how precious those minutes are. Share your story, you never know who needs to hear it and remember, “Those who tell the stories, rule the world.”

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