The Power of Curiosity

Or, how to structure your business updates like a police procedural.

Welcome to Issue 011 of The Story is the Strategy, a weekly newsletter about becoming a world-class business communicator. My mission is to help you significantly increase your professional impact by telling better stories. Learn more here.

This Week’s Big Idea

The Power of Curiosity. Last time, we looked at Rags to Riches, the single best narrative arc for structuring compelling business updates. We saw how it hooks your audience in and makes your successful solution look even more impressive. Win win.

Attention is highly valuable, especially in professional settings, where much of the content we have to engage with is dull. So let’s look at another powerful technique to keep your audience engaged: dialing up their natural curiosity. 

We are constantly trying to model and make sense of the world around use, and our brains are almost endlessly inquisitive. When presented with information gaps, we have a natural desire to resolve them, even when they pertain to something inconsequential. From Will Storr’s The Science of Storytelling: “The more context we learn about a mystery, the more anxious we become to solve it… Brain scans reveal that curiosity begins as a little kick in the brain’s reward system: we crave to know the answer, or what happens next in the story, the way we might crave drugs or sex or chocolate. This pleasantly unpleasant state, which causes us to squirm with tantalized discomfort at the delicious promise of an answer, is undeniably powerful.”

Storr goes on to say that curiosity is shaped like a lower-case n. It looks a little like this (pardon my terrible drawing):

The sweet spot for maximizing a person’s interest? When they know some of what’s going on, but not the whole story.

Putting It to Work. You can make curiosity work for you in your business presentations or memos, even if your topic is unexciting. Instead of launching into an update, reframe it as a question or pose a puzzle. 

  • “Popsicles, Inc missed its revenue target by 4% in July despite an increased marketing budget.” 😴

  • “July is traditionally our strongest month for popsicle sales. Yet this year, despite spending more money on marketing, we missed our target by 4%. Why?” 🤔

Structure the rest of the update as an examination of possible causes before delivering your conclusion, rather than a matter of fact recounting of what happened. It’s an easy tweak, but it engages your audience’s curiosity and increases the likelihood that they’ll remember what you tell them.  

Do you need help dialing up curiosity with something you’re working on? Reply to this email or hit me up on Twitter.

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