Why do we tell our children bedtime stories for comfort? What is it about storytelling that can instantly transform a room full of people from passive listeners to actively engaged participants? The answer lies within the narrative of our very existence.
The cultural and historical significance of this tradition is the very reason why it has become such a powerfully effective tool in the field of communications.
The origins of storytelling date back thousands of years. The first ever incident, discovered by an archeologist named George Smith in the 1870s, dated back to ancient Mesopotamia and was none other than The Epic of Gigamesh. Humans have been telling stories for millennia for reasons spanning everywhere from entertainment to awareness, news and most importantly—survival.
It is an evolutionary mechanism which facilitates Theory of Mind (ToM)—and our brains heavily identify with storytelling as a result. When discussing recent conclusions published in The Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, researchers Keith Keith Quesenberry & Michael Coolsen noted how strongly we are attracted to storytelling because at our very nature, “…we’re social creatures and we relate to other people.”
Think of the climax as the selling point in your message. It is the culmination of conflict, perhaps the single biggest take away that an audience will remember.
Through this method we are able to influence, impact and invoke emotional responses in our viewers, listeners and readers. By doing this, we markedly increase levels of engagement and active participation in our audience, regardless of the method of delivery.
Physiological, Psychological and Emotional Impact
Storytelling is such an effective tool when communicating messages due to the degree of emotional and psychological response that it engenders. When we tell a gripping or poignant story, we are literally invoking a physiological response in the audience. Cortisol is released in the brain, a byproduct of stress. When we tell stories of happiness and joy, the limbic system is triggered to reduce neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine, which induce a euphoric, jubilant feeling. These are the very processes which fuel our emotional states.
Our drive for existential problem solving and finding deeper meaning in messages is also marked. One 1944 Smith College study discovered just how deeply embedded this instinct really is. Participants were shown a moving picture film of geometric objects and asked to interpret the message in the film. What the researchers found, was that the participants consistently identified human actions and personal narratives, similar in plot to the actions of these geometric objects. This demonstrated our strong collective instinct to personalize and identify with messages to the point that we will even anthropomorphize inanimate objects.
This process gives us comfort, meaning and a collective sense of unity. Through storytelling, we are able to expound on this, to lift “the skeptical veil” that we must so often overcome, and help facilitate a more comfortable relationship with the audience and build trust.
The origins of storytelling lead us back to our most primal beginnings. The identification of this evolutionary mechanism has been passed down from generation to generation of peoples from all ethnic backgrounds and cultures. As a result, social science research has proven that we are literally hard-wired to identify more strongly with messages when communicated in the form of storytelling. It is for this very reason that it is an essential tool to strategically incorporate into our methods of communications.
Tell us about your some of your past experiences with communicating via storytelling!
by Board Member & Advisor to the Minister – Media Affairs, Office of The Foreign Affairs Minister, Hend Al Otaiba