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We all know that storytelling is important in business. We completely understand what a powerful tool it is, and the kind of lasting impact it can have … but why?

What is happening in our brains when we hear a story? What is the science … the neurology involved in great storytelling?

In a study at Princeton University, scientists found that, when you listen to a well-told story, the parts of your brain that respond are those that would if you were inside the story.

If somebody talks about the smell of fresh baked cookies, our olfactory cortex lights up.

When a storyteller describes catching a ball, our motor cortex responds since this is the part associated with hand movement.

The most fascinating part is the effects also happen to the person telling the story. When the story is being told in person, both the storyteller’s and the listeners’ brains start lighting up in sync with one another!

This is the electricity you feel in a room, when a story is being well told and the audience is captivated.

In a recent storytelling session at Whirlpool, the guests and the storyteller were reduced to tears as one of the guests shared a heart wrenching personal story about trying to start a family. No one, including the storyteller expected to cry! He approached me at the end of the session and apologized, explaining that he had not planned for that to happen.

I let him know that what happened to him and to the audience is actually a testament to his storytelling skills. When someone is telling a story and our brains respond as if we are inside the story ourselves, we feel a powerful and empathetic connection to the storyteller.

So how do you take the first step in becoming an outstanding storyteller!?

 Think of telling a story as making a movie inside your listener’s head. Make your descriptions rich and incredibly detailed. Activate the sensory cortex in your audience by focusing on smell, touch, sound, and your feelings in the story.

Don’t narrate the story … tell it from a deeply personal place with lots of gritty details. Instead of saying something ‘made you excited’, describe how it made you feel ‘I could feel the butterfly wings deep inside my stomach, my hands were wet and clammy, and I was suddenly short of breath’

The well told personal story at Whirlpool included excruciating detail surrounding preparing the nursery, the smell of the baby wipes, the soft cuddly teddy bears, and the haunting sound of the musical mobile over the crib.

Scientifically, the feeling of empathy releases oxytocin in our system. Oxytocin is nicknamed the ‘bonding chemical’ because it creates feelings of connection and trust.

The top 10 most empathetic companies in the Global Empathy Index are amongst the most profitable and fastest growing in the world. Additionally, the top 10 companies on the index generated 50% more earnings and increased in value more than twice than those in the bottom 10. This shows that there is a strong link between empathy and commercial success.

This month we will focus on both the art and the science of storytelling.

Chapter 2 (next week) will focus on the art of story structure, and its critical importance in keeping your audience on the edge of their seats!

Update your team’s storytelling skills

If it’s time to ramp up your team’s storytelling skills and sales abilities – we can help! Contact us today


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