Stories are a major shaping force in our lives as individuals and as humankind. Since the time of cave drawings, which often depicted a series of connected events, humans have used stories as a way to make sense of the world around them. Children learn cause and effect, the rules of society, and many life lessons from stories told by those who have come to understand the world before them.
Stories, then, are the brain’s first language. As it processes the information in the world around it, the brain reaches for meaning: finding causal relationships and creating narrative from raw data.
But why is it that stories have such a captivating and lasting effect on the listener?
As it turns out, stories are a way to link minds with your audience – to communicate directly to their brains and activate temporal activity that keeps them engaged with your information. It all sounds very sci-fi, I know, but a 2010 study on brain activity between a story-teller and a listener, found just that. “Coupling,” a sort of synchronized dance of brain activity, occurs between the two participants during narrative verbal communication. Moreover, not only did the listeners’ brains react, the reaction itself was a very high predictor of comprehension during communication. The speaker was communicating directly with the listeners’ brains – creating thoughts and images where they previously had not been.
Next time you’re about to put a list of facts up on the screen, remember this: The brain dislikes stand-alone pieces of information and is more likely to discard them out of the working memory. When listening to a presentation of raw data or sets of facts, the brain must engage in processing the information and creating the necessary links among the facts to make information memorable.
As we’ve discussed in other posts, meeting the brains in your audience halfway will not only increase engagement but also comprehension. Weave your information into a distinct narrative that highlights causal relationships, linear order and associations between like information. Instead of listing facts and expecting them to speak for themselves, tell a story. Share a successful use-case scenario. Describe a victim’s harrowing ordeal. Tell a hypothetical story where your recommendations turn out to solve all the problems they are intended to solve.
Narrative story telling has remained pervasive throughout history for a reason, it works. Couple your story with visual aids and avoid text-ridden slides to maximize your engagement with your audience and guarantee that you’re not only connecting with your audience but also seating information in their memories, for easy recall. (For more on creating an effective narrative, see: When You Think Story, Think Structure, from the Persuasive Litigator)