Hope Jahren, a geobiologist, is breaking the rules of science for a purpose— effective storytelling.

Science requires precise terms and follows a golden rule: keep it clinical. Jahren does the opposite. In her recent book Lab Girl: An Homage To The Wonders Of All Things Green she describes a leaf as "a platter of pigments strung with vascular lace.”

As detailed in her NPR interview, examples of Jahren's powerful storytelling verses correct scientific terminology include:

Jahren: Plants are capable of sweating.
Science: Leaves evapotranspirate.

Jahren: Deciduous trees throw away their possessions once a year.
Science: Leaves scinasse (ph) during the autumn.

Wouldn’t you rather hear Jahren’s version? This may seem obvious, but professionals in complex industries fall into traps of science-business-tech speak everyday. 

Here’s why— When our brains learn technical terms, it feels 100% natural to always use the correct term. It is a socially acceptable way of speaking.

Here’s the problem— even if the listener understands you, technical terms fail to evoke interest. As pictured above, people don’t care unless you spark their curiosity. 

Jahren is radically effective because she uses language associated with everyday things in an evocative way. It makes people lean forward when she starts talking. 

How can you transform your story to make people care? 

  1. Redefine your role as a storyteller. People think building good relationships is enough to counter boring presentations. It’s not. You must paint a picture that the listener cares about.
  2. Consider listeners' interests. Think about ways to explain complex ideas with metaphors and stories that will appeal to them. It takes pre-work, but pays off with huge dividends.