We all love a good story. Since the dawn of man, we have shared them with others, whether around a campfire or a dinner table. They are the most primal form of communication, linking the past with our present, shaping myths, establishing legends and helping us understand the world around us and the one within us.
Stories connect us to others. They engage us by touching our emotions, allowing us to share with others a common feeling, meaning and purpose. They serve as the common ground for communication, across generations, across continents and across cultures. They give us commonality and connection. And they shape how we think. Whether a story is told orally, in writing, filmed or posted on Facebook, it helps us map the world cognitively. It gives our life meaning, creating a context for our own life and perhaps, even our own existence.
Stories also create order in our lives. We crave structure. Through the arc of a story, our brain creates order out of chaos. We are able to experience emotions that are safe; we can experience situations we may never come across in real life and still come away with understanding, because a story is a safety net that lets us step into the unknown and learn from it without any risk to ourselves.
Only recently has science confirmed the lasting impression stories have on us. They have discovered that our brains are wired for stories. The brain can’t tell the difference between what is real and what is imagined. The emotions, sense of being and behavioral responses are the same, whether we are experiencing something in real life or in a story.
By engaging our imagination, we become part of the story. We can see the world through the eyes of others, which leads to greater understanding, self-discovery and eventually, change.
The brain on story
If you watch a typical PowerPoint presentation, your brain taps into the language centers in the brain, decoding the meaning of what we are seeing. These areas of the brain are called the Broca and Wernicke regions.
When we are told a story, however, we not only activate these parts of our brain, but other regions as well. If we are talking about a certain food and how flavorful it is, our sensory cortex lights up. If we’re told about a certain motion, our motor cortex activates.
In short, a good story can put your entire brain to work. Not only that, but studies have also begun to show that stories can synchronize the brains of two or more people. When someone tells a story and it activates their frontal cortex, this part of the brain in listeners lights up the same way. We share ideas, emotions and thoughts in this manner.
It’s an evolutionary thing
Our primitive brains were wired for storytelling. In fact, 65% of all our communications with others are either stories or gossip. In its simplest form, a story creates a connection between cause and effect. Without even being aware of it, we create short stories all day long about the world around us. It helps us process our environment so that we can go about our lives safely and confidently. It creates order out of chaos.
When we hear someone else tell a story, we try to match it to our own database of stories, our own private library if you will. This allows us to experience the emotions of the moment. We know the emotion conveyed in the story because we have experienced it before – it’s already in our database. We connect the dots, so to speak.
Why you need to share your story
The brain loves a good story. Not only will we remember it, but we will share it with others. Our brain will hear a story and then make it our own. Again, it’s wired to do this without us even consciously thinking about it.
But don’t think any old story will do. While it may be relatively easy to convey basic information, telling a great story is an exacting process. Audiences readily tune out a lot of words and phrases that are overused, even if these same words or phrases once made a story awesome. Stories can’t be filled with jargon or get lost in complexity. They need to be simple, uncomplicated and connect to the audience’s own experiences and ideas.
You can’t touch people if you don’t know how to tell them your story. That’s why it’s important to turn to an expert in storytelling, one who knows how to engage a person’s brain through words, imagery and shared experiences, values, emotions and concepts. Only then will your story ring true and loud and clear, being shared over an over on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, blogs, conversations and mass media.
A good story is worth telling over and over again. What’s your story?