Why Storytelling Matters

If you tell me a statistic I’ll make up a story to explain why it’s true. Our brains are organized by narrative and image
— Gloria Steinem from My Life on the Road

Numerous reports in the past decade have proven what great storytellers have known since ancient times – the human brain is wired for story. It’s how we best make sense of the world around us. Let’s delve into why.

In a 2012 article in The New York Times Sunday Review section Annie Murphy Paul wrote an insightful article along these lines entitled Your Brain on Fiction:

“Brain scans are revealing what happens in our heads when we read a detailed description, an evocative metaphor or an emotional exchange between characters. Stories, this research is showing, stimulate the brain and even change how we act in life.."

Data alone can equal overwhelm for those watching our presentations, reading articles, and listening to interviews. Stories instead, engage hearts and minds and allow watchers, readers and listeners to relax into the moment.

So why do stories work so much better than just the facts mam? In 2014 Adam Weinroth, CMO of the content marketing site OneSpot.com created a compelling infographic “The Science of Storytelling” using the information and sources shared in The New York Times “Your Brain on Fiction” article I quoted above, as well as piece on Buffer.com called The Science of Storytelling: What Listening to Stories Does to Our Brains.” In the infographic, Weinroth draws attention to four key things that a story does that data and facts alone don’t:

1. Neural Coupling

When listening to, reading or watching a story the part of the brain activates that allows the listener, reader or watcher to turn the story into their own ideas and experience.

This is why so many of us feel the “force” within for Star Wars.

2. Mirroring

When listening to. reading or watching a story listeners not only have similar brain activity to each other, but to the storyteller as well if the storytelling is live.

Storytelling breeds compassion.

3. Dopamine

When the brain encounters an emotionally charged event (i.e. a story) it releases dopamine which makes it easier and more accurate to remember.

Emotion drives giving.

4. Cortex Activity

Watching, listening, reading an emotionally engaging story activates more parts of the brain than when the brain is processing facts.

An activated brain is an engaged mind.

Each of these four actions in the brain prove that in order to change behavior we need to engage the emotions of our audiences first through story. And there's one more important reason storytelling is so important...

5. Storytelling Quiets Your Audience's Inner Critic

According to Robert McKee, one of the world’s most respected screenwriters and storytelling coaches, the problem with sticking to the facts in your presentations to your professional colleagues is that while you’re presenting your data your audience will be arguing in their heads with you with their own facts and figures.

Next we'll take a look at what great stories do and how to become a masterful storyteller yourself.

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