04 Dec 2015
3 Scientific Ways Stories Can Improve Your Next Pitch

3 Scientific Ways Stories Can Improve Your Next Pitch

For centuries, humans have been using stories to share experiences and connect with each other and future generations. Today we have more options than ever to communicate our message, and advances in neuroscience have revealed that people respond differently to various types of messaging. Stories that are rich with drama, conflict and sensory language are more engaging, making the audience feel involved. The humble narrative has the power to change someone’s brain chemistry, affect their emotions and shape their actions. Storytelling is a powerful way for businesses to connect with an audience – but only if you’re getting the right message across.

Understanding how storytelling affects your brain will help you use it as a technique for effective communication. Here are three interesting ways stories can have an impact:

Emotional Connections

Professor Paul Zak has done extensive research on stories and their potential to inspire behaviour. In an experiment exploring the influence stories have on audience behaviour, he found when viewers watched an emotional story about a terminally ill child their brains released two neurochemicals; cortisol and oxytocin. Cortisol is produced when we focus our attention on something, and oxytocin is a chemical associated with trust and empathy. Professor Paul Zak also demonstrated that adding tension to a story increases audience attention; combining this with a heightened sense of empathy motivates action amongst viewers. The combination of attention and empathy in audience members increased their level of emotional connectivity to the characters in the story and as a result they were motivated to donate money.

“When you want to motivate, persuade, or be remembered, start with a story of human struggle and eventual triumph. It will capture people’s hearts – by first attracting their brains”- Professor Paul Zak

Neural Coupling

Researchers from Princeton University recorded the brain activity of speakers and listeners and found that during effective communication, the listener’s brain mirrored the brain activity of the speaker. This ‘neural coupling’ even increased with the level of understanding between the parties. This sensation occurs because when listening to stories, we make a connection with the storyteller. It’s the same when we watch movies or read books– we put ourselves in the protagonist’s shoes. When audiences feel that they can relate to a character, a connection is made in their brains. These connections don’t just relate to real life events and experiences but are effective when characters experience emotions that we have all felt. This is why we can form connections with non-human characters who display human emotions and behaviours i.e. why we have so many feels when we watch Finding Nemo.

Brain Activation

Not only are stories much more engaging than PowerPoint presentations, they also activate different regions of your brain, literally using more of your brain than if you were presented with a bunch of facts in dot point form. When we are presented with a series of facts, the information is processed by two parts of the brain, Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area, which are responsible for language processing and comprehension. If the same information is presented in story form, as a series of events, various areas of the brain light up, depending on what is happening in the story. Put simply, when we read or hear about someone running, our motor cortex – which is involved with movement – is activated, even though we aren’t physically moving. For example, learning the events that took place in Gallipoli from the history books at school may have been informative, but it was hardly engaging or emotional. In contrast, when my class watched the award winning movie, a number of students were – unsurprisingly – reduced to tears because they were so involved in the story and had formed an emotional bond with the ANZACS.

What This Means For Your Business

So how can we incorporate storytelling into our communications strategy? We all know that adding a few useful statistics to a presentation makes an impact, but those numbers will mean much more with the inclusion of a case study. Begin all your presentations with an engaging anecdote and you’ll capture audience attention in an instant. Introducing a human element will always build more interest in your audience, whether you’re pitching to a potential new client or speaking at a party – there’s a reason all the great best man speeches have a few good stories about the groom. Lastly, we all know the best way to connect to audiences is to pull on their heart strings (advertising 101) but it’s just as important to ensure you don’t lose your brand or message in the story. Moving campaigns can sometimes be all about establishing a meaningful connection to your characters rather than your product and company. Once you find the perfect balance, you’re onto a winner.

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