Stories can inform, entertain, amuse, challenge, and motivate us. They can draw us into the most personal aspects of our lives and known experiences or take us on journeys we never before imagined, offering encounters more vivid and powerful than mere facts and figures can convey.
And there’s a good reason for it: We’re storytelling animals. We’re surrounded by stories and images. We think in these stories and images. We essentially live our lives from cradle to grave hearing and telling stories to those around us.
Jennifer Aaker, social psychologist, award-winning author, and professor of marketing at Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business, sums up well the research on the significance and power of stories in our communication, “Stories are remembered up to 22 times more than facts alone.”
So, if you want to communicate information, sway opinions, and affect significant change especially in your business presentations, your mastery of the art of storytelling is essential. It will not only make a profound difference in your day-to-day interactions, but also determine whether your communication is merely ordinary or truly unforgettable.
Before we get too far into a series on maximizing storytelling in your business presentations, it might be wise as well as in keeping with good storytelling mechanics to start at the beginning and understand why stories are so powerful and effective with audiences.
Physiology – your brain responds more to stories
Quite simply, you’re utilizing more of your brain’s capabilities in the process of storytelling. You’ve probably seen the multi-colored pictures of the lit-up parts of the brain from fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) scans. What those tests reveal is that not only is more total brain mass used during the process of hearing a story, but more individual brain parts are being affected as well.
When someone is hearing merely facts and figures, only two parts of his brain is being activated, the Wernicke’s area and the Broca’s area, both instrumental in language processing and comprehension. But when someone hears a story, five additional senses are activated for a fuller, more involved experience: the visual cortex, auditory cortex, olfactory cortex, motor cortex, and sensory cortex.
The more senses that are being employed, the richer the experience.
Process – your brain is looking for ways to develop stories
Not only is your brain more interested in stories from a biological perspective, it is also more attracted to stories from a process standpoint. Your brain is an active, curious organ, like a hungry shark roaming the waters searching for food. And like a computer, your brain is constantly taking in information, processing it, and looking for ways to compare, contrast, combine, and collaborate data into more manageable and understandable pieces.
So when your brain hears a list of facts and figures, it primarily only collects, sorts, and analyzes that data. But when your brain hears a story, it collects, sorts, analyzes and also pulls information and experiences from your past, looks to make correlations between all the additional aspects of the story, and seeks to add to and make a larger story than what currently exists.
The more senses that are being employed, the grander the story gets.
Connection – your brain wants to engage others
As interesting as all the above data is, perhaps the most fascinating findings in brain research today centers around what happens in the brains of both speaker and listener at the time of communication. In other words, what’s going through the mind of the speaker and the listener, literally, while the communication is taking place.
Interestingly enough, when the brain activities of subjects (both speaker and listener) are monitored, the same parts of the brain are being activated simultaneously. The process is called neural coupling and as its name suggests, when a story is being told, the neural patterns of both speaker ad listener are coupled or mirrored. They’re literally on the same wavelength, experiencing the same sensations.
So when the speaker is relaying facts and figures, the listener’s identical language and comprehension brain parts are activated. When the speaker is telling a story, the added areas of visual, auditory, olfactory, motor, and sensory are included.
The more senses that are being employed, the more connectivity between speaker and listener.
That’s why your brain loves a story: It’s more engaged (more of the brain’s mass is utilized), it’s more fulfilled (satisfying the brain’s need to process and correlate data), and it’s more connected to the speaker’s story (mirroring the actual events of the story as it’s being told).
In the next installment in this series, we’ll look at which types of stories are most effective for your presentation.