The power of storytelling

Storytelling is such a powerful tool that marketing professionals routinely monitor our emotional responses to their work, ensuring that their ads resonate emotionally with their audience to increase sales. Studies reveal that when an ad tells a story which creates a positive emotion for the customer, the brand’s sale increases. Ad companies are not just using guess work here, storytelling has attracted huge interest from the fields of psychology and neuroscience.

Storytelling engages our senses by activating the brain

Neuroscientists studying how the brain responds to storytelling have discovered that the areas of the brain that are engaged by a story go way beyond mere recognition of language. When a story includes the words ‘cinnamon’, ‘lavender’ and ‘soap’, the area of the brain that processes smells is activated along with the language centres of the brain. Similarly, when action words are used in a story, they activate the motor cortex, the area of the brain used for movement. In other words, when we hear a well told story, our brain reacts as though we are in the thick of the action. The evidence is clear, if you want to inspire action and fuel the fire of enthusiasm in others, then storytelling is the way to go.

3 steps to great storytelling

World renowned screenwriter, lecturer and all round doyenne of storytelling (his students have probably written some of your favourite films) Robert McKee, advises that the most powerful way to motivate and inspire others is by tying an idea to a story. Here are his three tips to get you started:

1. Link your idea to your story

Uniting your idea to a story engages the emotions and energises your audience. At the same time, storytelling enables you to weave a huge amount of information into the narrative. If you want to make a significant change in your organisation, use storytelling to paint a vivid picture of the future you envision to engage others and motivate them to act.

2. Throw your audience off balance

You can use your story to set the scene of the situation, starting with the status quo, where a balance and predictability exists. We tend to expect that things will stay the same but then a new event occurs, what screenwriters like McKee call the ‘inciting incident’, something that throws us off balance. The new event could be a change of leader, a merger, the loss of a contract or any challenge that needs to be overcome.

3. Demonstrate resilience by overcoming challenge

The protagonist of the story’s job is to overcome challenge and deal with the reality of the situation compared to their expectations. The protagonist ultimately digs deep and finds a resilience to overcome all challenges and succeed.

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