Dancing with the Bards

"I know what you're thinking and I swear to God my hand just slipped." The art of storytelling is often presented as a series of steps one must take to get from the beginning of a tale to the end, as if performing the Hesitation Waltz.

“Open, two, three … plot, two, three … turn, two, three … twist, two, three …”

Master the steps and you’ve mastered storytelling. Except you haven’t.

Great storytelling, like great dancing, is an art that requires an almost spiritual connection with your partner, the audience. You can master the moves, but unless you can interpret and adjust to the subtle—sometimes nearly imperceptible—reactions of your audience to your story, you’re not a storyteller. You’re an iPod.

Naturally empathetic people, or empaths, are particularly good at reading their audience, as if they were born with exquisitely tuned radar. On the other end of the spectrum are sociopaths, whose radars were never properly installed. Most people fall somewhere in between.

If you’re not a naturally empathetic person, there are steps to take to better read your audience. Transformation Academy founder Rita Rocker wrote a terrific synopsis of the warning signs that you’re losing your audience.

But if you are a naturally empathetic person, or if you want to see what it feels like to be one, check out this video about new technology that lets anyone “find the visible in the invisible.”

New software technology developed by researchers at MIT can detect the almost imperceptible changes in the color and movement in the pixels of videos of people, allowing us to see activity we couldn’t otherwise see—like blood pulsating in a newborn baby’s head.

This “big world of small motions,” as they describe it, throws off information that can be extremely helpful to doctors, much the same way audiences throw of information that is vital to storytellers.

It can be a bit much, as you can imagine, picking up subtle physical cues that tell you much more about someone's genuine state of mind than they want you to know. It can be exhausting, really. But it is an invaluable trait that has helped--and created--brilliant storytellers for generations.