The Science of Powerful Storytelling

The Science Behind What Makes Stories So Powerful

August 16, 2015

First, unlike facts and figures, stories activate a very different part of the listener”s brain. They invite the storyteller and listener to become a part of one shared experience. The receiver becomes activated in a very powerful and profound way. In this day and age of information overload competing for our shorter attention spans, the ability to achieve a strong connection is very powerful. And as many of us know, powerful conversations and connections lead to transformation.

Second, good stories appeal to the head, the heart and the hands. There are three critical ingredients of successful change management. A story creates a visual picture and an intellectual connection (head), it appeals to the emotional aspects of the listener”s identity (heart) and finally moves the person to action (hands). The ability to impact all three functions simultaneously makes storytelling and its use in coaching and development extremely effective. The use of the three levers also enables the story to have a high level of retention with the listener. Scientific research confirmed this. Not only did all of the listeners show similar brain activity during the story, the speaker and the listeners had very similar brain activity despite the fact that one person was producing language and the others were comprehending it!

Third and finally, a good story is not about the teller but about the listener! Once the listener locates her/himself in the story, the ability to influence and engage the person is much higher.  Organizations are using storytelling in many different ways.  Business and non-profit leaders are now paying attention to these skills for creating more engaged workplaces and  opportunities for coaching, facilitation and building resilience.  Based on my own experience in the field I have noticed that stories alone are not enough. They must be surrounded by supporting action and practices. Be it in coaching or culture change, a practice without a story will die, and a story without a practice is not sustainable.