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Posted on 14 June 2016

Let me tell you a story

Our brain loves a story.  Numerous studies over the years have proven that our brains are far more engaged by storytelling than the cold, hard facts. This statement is easy to test - what grabs your attention more: a fact that 32 percent of the world’s computers are infected with some type of malware, or a story about poor old John who’s computer was infected and he lost all he had on it, including a video of his son taking his first steps and blowing a candle on his first birthday cake?

So why does a story grab our attention? So much so, that using the word 'story' alone will make us pay attention?  There are couple of reasons:

- Our brain naturally chunks. Stories are way of presenting lots of material in digestible chunks, which is an excellent way for our brain to process and store information. That's why we are more likely to remember a story than anything else told.

- A picture is worth a thousand words. It is proven that we remember about 10% what we hear or read compared to almost 90% of what we see. Not good news for those in telemarketing business?  Fear not – it is also proven that when we listen to a story, our brain turns what we hear into images.  The easier it is to visualise a story – the better.  Paint a picture with words! And tell me about poor old John crying in front of his laptop, rather than about 32 percent.

And if your story is about someone's misfortune, there are other factors at play too. Psychologists call it Identifiable Victim Effect - the tendency to respond more strongly to a single identified person than to a large group of people at risk. This works because of social identification, where we connect and empathise with one person not a faceless mass.  And the more that is done to humanise the individual in the story, the stronger the connection.  Coming back to the example above - who do you feel sorry for more - 32 percent of world's households or poor John still sobbing away at his laptop?

Also, listening to a story involves many parts of the brain: auditory part, all the visual parts (as we picture what we hear) and very often - the emotional part. So when we hear a story our brains are reacting as though we were experiencing the story ourselves. 
The bottom line:
- we are programmed to think in stories
- we remember pictures better, a story helps to visualise
- we feel other peoples pain

So next time you are picking up a phone to make a sale, make sure you have a good story too.


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