TravnikovStudio/ShutterstockWhen it comes to answering the question, “How was your vacation?” there are two types of people: those who smile and say it was great, and those who smile, say it was great, rattle off a list of every landmark they visited, and describe the turbulence they experienced on their flight home.
If you’re self-conscious that you fall into the latter group, take note: Science says you can tell a compelling vacation story—so long as you do it a certain way. And fortunately, one group of researchers from Harvard University has discovered exactly how.
For the study, which was published in the journal Psychological Science, researchers had participants watch a short video and recount it to a group of listeners. Half of the group had already seen the video and half hadn’t. Each listener was then asked to rate the speaker’s story.
So who enjoyed the story more? The group who hadn’t seen the video before sounds like the obvious choice—of course, they’d want to hear a new and novel idea. But in fact, the group who had already watched the video found the storyteller’s recounting of it more enjoyable.
“Stories leave out far more information than they contain, and listeners can typically understand a story only if they have extensive background knowledge that allows them to fill in the story’s informational gaps,” the researchers wrote.
In other words, it’s not the length of your vacation story that matters, but the type of ground it covers. According to the study’s logic, your listeners might be more interested in hearing about the parts of your trip they can relate to, rather than vague descriptions of the exotic landscapes you visited.
“One of the most important reasons that people listen to each other’s stories is to gain new information—to learn about cities they have never visited, books they have never read, and foods they have never tasted,” they state.
And if you decide to tell a story about something your listener has never experienced, make sure to include enough detail so they can feel familiar with the subject.
“We suspect that speakers often miss this mark,” they wrote, “that they worry too much about boring their listeners and not enough about confusing them.”