whats your storyTelling stories have always been a part of every facet of our lives. Stories are in fact so integrated with our daily lives that we easily overlook just how powerful it actually is. You go home from work and share stories of how your day was with your family while your kids might tell you stories from their day at school. Or perhaps you’re sharing some tales from your teenage years with colleagues after work at some local bar. Some ghost stories maybe? Those always tend to stick.

In fact, for over 27 thousand years, since cave paintings were discovered, we have been storytelling. It’s the most fundamental method of communication we know of and scientific research has shown us why storytelling is so powerful; what it does to our brains and why it’s today’s digital content marketer’s best friend.

Everyone enjoys a good story. Could be a movie, book or just an event a friend shares with us but the question is: why do we feel so much more engaged and interested when it is a story that’s being told. Why not a lecture? It all has to do with how the human brain works. If you’re to sit in on a PowerPoint presentation full of bullet points or a lecturer reciting items from a textbook, a certain part of our brains gets activated. It’s the area of the brain that has to do with language and meanings called the Broca and Wernicke’s area. Here it’s all intellectual. There’s no connection to feelings and emotions. So far, all that happens when we sit through bullet point presentations is information processing.

When you’re listening to a story, a different part of the brain gets engaged: the sensory cortex. Reason being, when the story teller uses sensory phrases like, “the food tasted deliciously sweet”, our brains tell us it has to do with the senses and not just information processing. A good story could in fact put our entire brain on an active high.

And it gets even better. According to Uri Hasson from Princeton (Department of Psychology):

“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”

In short, our human brains are hard-wired to storytelling. If you make some observation on the way you think, it’s always about cause-and-effect. In business world, it’s always about learning from mistakes, risk management, trial and errors. All of these are elements of cause-and-effect. As kids, you get timeout for doing bad things and rewards for good things. This is how we are wired to cognitively process our environment.

A story is everything about cause-and-effect. There’s a plot, a protagonist, antagonist and a story ending (conclusion) that resulted from a series of events. Try this short exercise: spend a few minutes paying close attention to your thoughts, most likely you’ll discover that you’re thinking in narratives. And this is no surprise! This is exactly how you think all day long. For example, you might be at the supermarket thinking: “Salad for 2, should I buy 4 or 8 tomatoes. What if he brings a friend, maybe I should by 10 just in case. And if it’s too much? I can keep it for spaghetti tomorrow….”

When we hear a story, we naturally want to relate it to our own experiences. This natural phenomenon activates a part of our brain called the insula that helps us relate to various feelings of joy, pain and disgust. To demonstrate, John Bargh at Yale conducted an experiment and found the following:

“Volunteers would meet one of the experimenters, believing that they would be starting the experiment shortly. In reality, the experiment began when the experimenter, seemingly struggling with an armful of folders, asks the volunteer to briefly hold their coffee. As the key experimental manipulation, the coffee was either hot or iced. Subjects then read a description of some individual, and those who had held the warmer cup tended to rate the individual as having a warmer personality, with no change in ratings of other attributes.”
According to Uri Hasson, “a story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.”

Coming back to the world of digital marketing; it is without doubt that content marketing is on a huge rise. So you might question: with everyone churning out content is its various forms, from articles, infographics, and podcasts to videos, how do you create content that stands out from the crowd? My simple answer to you is to just tell your story. List and bullet points are great of course, but your secret weapon should always be storytelling.

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