The Fast Track To Connection
Humans love stories! We love stories so much that we unconsciously create story all the time to make sense of, or give context to what we are experiencing. In part 1 of this series I talked about how neurobiology and how story enables our brain to store and sort memories, experiences and emotions. When we don’t have the whole picture, we simply fill in the gaps – fact or truth has little to do with it.
Ever discussed past events with a sibling or old school friend? Then you’ll probably know what I mean. yYou know for a fact you were both at the same thing at the same time, yet you remember different things, or even you remember the same thing very differently. This is because of your individual neurological filters, the way you process and store information you are presented with. Essentially you each exist in the reality you have created through your own stories.
You might be wondering where I’m going with this, if your siblings / friends are anything like mine, a heated debate often ensues about who’s memory is correct – in fact we might feel anything but connected at this point. Here’s the thing though – we might create different story, but we share the same physiological reactions to stimuli we find happy, sad, exciting, scary and this is where story becomes an important part of connection.
Understanding some of the physiological impact of storytelling enhances your ability to engage people, to have influence and truly connect. The fact is our brains respond to story by producing chemicals – hormones, sometimes adrenaline or cortisol, but most often oxytocin – the hormone most responsible for empathy.
“We are all capable of telling great stories – great stories are simple, focused and
Here is an unpalatable fact – people are not interested in your business. They might be interested in you as a person, a fellow human being, they are most likely interested in what your business can do for them. I’m not just talking about sales and services here, I’m talking about relatability, shared beliefs, confidence, trust and a whole load of less tangible markers of whether you are a good fit for them.
Story is your fast track to connection. When we connect with something it happens sequentially – physiologically, emotionally then logically. This might be so rapid a sequence that it’s undetectable – but it is sequential all the same. Story gives people the context they would otherwise make up. It engages them emotionally and enables the limbic brain to explore and connect.
There are a few rules – your job is to tell stories that make people feel things, to evoke emotion and to influence thinking. This means your story needs structure, often referred to as a story arc – a beginning, middle and end. This might be an intro to the situation, then a hero (or key character), a conflict or struggle (the middle), that gets resolved – not necessarily happily, but there is an outcome or ‘end’.
A great example of this comes from neuroscientist, Paul Zak’s research in 2004, he discovered the impact of oxytocin on the brain. During the course of his experiments he told the story of a father of a sick child – a true story, see Ben’s Story.
The gist of the plot is that the father struggles to be with his terminally ill son – it is just too painful. In the first video the father talks to camera while Ben plays in the background, he talks of his pain, how hard it is to be joyful around Ben and ends with the father vowing to be emotionally connected “until he takes his last breath.” In the second video Ben and his father are spending a day at the zoo, it’s clear the boy is unwell, his head bald from chemo, and he is referred to a miracle boy once during the video, it doesn’t talk about cancer or death.
Participants had blood taken prior to watching one of the two videos. The blood tests were repeated after the video. The first video, which demonstrates a classic dramatic story arch – intro key character with a struggle, a solution resulted in a rise in oxytocin and cortisol. The second video which lacked the tension and was more matter of fact than the first video did not create a rise in oxytocin or cortisol and participants did not share the level of empathy with the father that was demonstrated from the first video.
Remember, story is simply the context around your message, the bit that helps people to get it. This will only work if you are both clear and focussed on impact you want that message to have. It also requires you to be honest and authentic. People will quickly see through you if you are trying to be something you are not – and I’m not just talking about the BS lives people portray on social media here. If you are uncomfortable with your story it will show. If your behaviour, body language or tone are not what you are feeling it will show and those listening will feel uncomfortable at best and distrust you at worst. You might bluff your way through for a bit, but you won’t truly connect.
Being able to use story effectively takes the following:
- Courage – you have to commit, be all in and vulnerable in your story – this is not the same as baring your soul and dumping all of your problems, woes and failures on the listener, by the way. Vulnerability in this context is about honesty, dropping the mask and being yourself.
- Clarity – plan your story, look at the emotion you want to evoke, the message you are sharing and the value to the listener.
- Structure – use a story arc, create a set up conflict and resolution.
- Credibility – see the last paragraph! Your aim is to create a story that helps your listener along their journey, make sure it is simple enough to be understood and relevant enough to be relatable, and congruent enough to be believed.
- Practice – start using story in your every day interactions, get into the habit of using it to illustrate facts, information you share and influence you want to create. Again, I’m not talking about over sharing personal stories, or worse, other’s stories, I’m talking about the stuff that adds value and helps others along their journey. The more you use story the better you will become at being authentic, impactful and compelling.
In the end, story is simply about providing context for people to help them understand their journey and how it might intertwine with you, or your services. If you don’t provide that context, they – or their brains, will make it up.
Finally, remember we were born great story tellers – we may have become rusty over the years, but we know how to use stories to get our point across – just watch any small child, and chances are you were like that once too.
If you want to have a go at crafting some story for your business and you’d like some feedback join the Braver Business community on Facebook