Remember the old egg in the frying pan image for the big
anti-drugs campaign in the late 80’s, this is your brain, and now this is your brain on drugs?
Your brain on story is the complete opposite, as both hemispheres are engaged, neurons are firing, and listening and retention of information are at peak levels.
As a psychologist, with some (albeit rusty) statistics knowledge, I tend to suspend belief in any new theory or method that is presented to me until I see some form of evidence-based proof.
My friends might even call me a skeptic.
Let’s just say I am much more comfortable adopting a new practice when I clearly understand the why behind the concept.
When I was first introduced to the concept of using story in the professional context by Mike Bosworth, I admittedly was a little dubious.
A huge fan of film and fiction novels, I get the power of story, but did not at first, understand how and why integrating such an approach would be advantageous in business.
Understanding the brain science behind why story is so effective on the human mind convinced me that story is not just for entertainment and sharing among friends, but storytelling is integral to business in the forming of sincere and authentic connections.
As a species we have co-evolved with story and it has been our main method of communication for almost 200,000 years.
So, what is the impact of story on the brain? Well, to start, our brain is comprised of two almost completely separate right and left hemispheres, only connected by a small bridge-like structure called the corpus collosum.
Each side of our brain is responsible for radically different functioning.
The left side of our brain is analytical, data driven, and concerned with events of the past and the future.
Those of us who are fans of the good old to-do list are probably spending quite a bit of time in our left hemisphere.
Also, we process language on the left side of the brain, so we can easily articulate the data and synthesis of that data as it pours into our minds from the external environment.
In complete contrast, the right hemisphere is responsible for our creativity, emotions, decision-making, and presence of mind.
Sometimes I envy those who seem right hemisphere dominant as they skip through life with few worries and an effortless ease of mind. While it is easy to imagine that the right side of the brain seems to be fun and carefree, we need ready access to both sides of the brain to process and act on information effectively.
The offer of a story prepares the mind for an optimal state of listening and retention because it accesses both the left and right hemispheres.
When you ask someone if you can share a story, that person realizes that she can sit back and relax on the one hand, but also recognizes that the message might be important and requires attention.
Think back to your most dreaded school days of data laden lectures full of bullet points and timelines.
Did you enjoy those classes, or even remember any of that presented information?
The reason why we don’t remember dryly presented material is because our brains are not wired to retain data that way for long periods of time.
In contrast, recall one of your favorite teachers or favorite documentaries of all time and try to recap some main points.
Most of us find this a relatively easy task because our brains crave context to wrap around facts, which is the definition of story.
If facts are the fabric, then story is the thread that weaves the fabric together.
Story is an integrated whole brain process, and while it is nothing new, the effective use and harnessing of the power of story helps us to connect and influence at a whole new level.
In his research on how stories change the brain, Paul Zak has identified the two key components to creating engaging stories and demonstrates what that looks like from a neurochemical perspective:
- A compelling story must grab our attention.
- We must feel an emotional connection to the characters and we experience “transportation,” or the feeling that we are living the moment ourselves. Zak's 6 minute video about Ben, who has brain cancer will bring a lump to your throat and illustrate the power of empathy within story.
Every great film has these ingredients, and triggers the release of specific neurochemicals in our brain.
When we are paying attention to a story we release stress hormones such as cortisol, and our focus is quite high.
Once our attention has been captured, a great story will release oxytocin in our brain.
Oxytocin is sometimes called the “love hormone,” and is responsible for our levels of empathy and sensitivity to social cues.
By understanding the brain science and the why behind effective stories, we have created a framework to help professionals leverage this skill to influence and emotionally connect with buyers in a short time.
Learn how to effectively craft, tell, and tend stories in your profession to influence positive change and generate more business at our next Open workshop in San Diego, CA this February 10th-12th, 2015.
About Deborah Baum
Deborah is part of the founding team that leads a workshop based on Michael Bosworth's book, "What Great Salespeople Do." The StorySeekers™ workshop is focused on developing trust and emotional connection within sales teams and organizations as a whole. We guide participants through 2.5 days of experiential learning where they learn how to generate connection and build trust through the power of story. Participants leave this workshop with a framework for connection and a collective understanding of their corporate identity and culture.
Image C/- Wikipedia