Let me tell you a story.

Organizations want to get their messages into the heads of audiences. One method to penetrate the brain uses the oldest communications tool of all.

Uri Hasson, a Princeton University neuroscientist, has done extensive research on the neurological impact of storytelling. In one experiment, he recorded a woman telling a story while in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) machine. Then volunteer subjects listened to the stories while also undergoing fMRI.

What did the scans show? The brain activities of the speaker and the listeners were in sync. The same regions lit up. Hasson says the parties’ brain activity was “spatially and temporally coupled”. They were literally on the same wavelength.

That’s a powerful lesson for communicators. At a time of information overload, stories resonate. The science of storytelling tells us how.

Raymond Mar, a psychology professor at York University in Toronto, analyzed 86 fMRI studies. He found an overlap between the brain networks used to process stories and the networks involved in “interactions in which we’re trying to figure out the thoughts and feelings of others.” In short, stories help people to quickly connect.

Another professor, Paul Zak, is leading the field of neuroeconomics out of Claremont Graduate University in California. He showed that when we absorb stories we release a hormone called oxytocin, which enhances empathy and cooperation. Great goals for any communicator.

None of this should be surprising. “Humans have been communicating through stories for 20,000 years, back when our flat screens were cave walls,” wrote Harrison Monarth in the Harvard Business Review.

Monarth, an executive coach, called storytelling a business strategy to change attitudes and behaviours. “Life happens,” he wrote, “in the narratives we tell one another. A story can go where quantitative analysis is denied admission: our hearts. Data can persuade people but doesn’t inspire them to act; to do that, wrap your vision in a story that fires the imagination and stirs the soul.”

Does your organization tell stories like that?

Communications and marketing people have all sorts of traditional titles, along with newer ones like brand ambassadors and advocates. I simply call myself writer. But maybe the real job is this: storyteller.

Stuart Foxman is a Toronto-based freelance writer, who helps clients’ products, services, ideas and organizations to come alive. Follow me on Twitter @StuartFoxman, connect with me here on LinkedIn, or check me out at foxmancommunications.com. I would love to hear from you. More articles like this coming, with original posts every week about communications, writing, branding, creativity, media, marketing, persuasion, messages, etc., etc.

February 11, 2017

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