The Science of Why Storytelling Matters in Business

If you’re trying to wrap your head around the power of storytelling in business, here’s some scientific evidence to back the assertion up.

Scientists have discovered that when we’re presented with cold, hard facts (e.g. Powerpoint bullets), two areas of the brain related to language and words are activated. The first, Broca’s area, is involved in the production of language, or language outputs, while the other, Wernicke’s area, is associated with the processing of words that we hear, or language inputs.However, when we hear or watch a story, other parts of the brain become alive.

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Broca’s Area and Wernicke’s Area in the brain (Image from: thebasisformusic.wikispaces.com)

Amazingly, portions of our brain that are related to aspects of a story are triggered when we experience a story. For instance, if we listen to a portion of a story about an active event, such as “Tom threw the ball” or ”Harriet jumped onto her bed”, the motor cortex part of our brain becomes activated. Curiously, the activity is concentrated in different parts of the motor cortex depending on whether the action described in the story is related to the arm or to the leg. Similarly, the sensory cortex is activated when descriptive metaphors such as “The singer had a velvet voice” and “He had leathery hands” are used. However, that didn’t occur when more mundane phrases such as “The singer had a pleasing voice” and “He had strong hands” were used.

Knowing that more parts of our brains are activated when we use stories means that we can engage our audiences better by using stories.

(image: concerttuning.wordpress.com)

In other research, a team of scientists at Princeton University led by Uri Hasson have discovered that a subject can plant ideas, thoughts and emotions in her listeners’ brains by simply telling a story. In fact, during experiments, their brain patterns were identical to hers when she told them her story!

So what are the practical implications of all this research? The first, naturally, is for you start using stories in business! Whether your focus is marketing, leadership, sales or organizational behavior, the power of being able to make your audience see things the way you do is already in your hands! The second is to make your stories as interesting as possible. Keep your story simple and brief, but don’t be afraid to be descriptive to make it come alive. Storytelling can help you accomplish a lot in your attempt to motivate changes in thought and behavior.