The first picture that pops into my head when they say “tell a story” is a campfire. Some of the biggest and best stories have been told around a campfire.
After that, I think to myself that stories are an international language used all over the world. I think, of course, of the Grimm brothers first, and immediately afterwards about my favorite writers, like Tolkien and J.K. Rowling, or George R.R. Martin.
No matter what language a book was written in or the original and local culture of its writer, people around the world recognize great stories.
More importantly, they connect to these stories. Or a good movie or a good TV series – who hasn’t seen “The Matrix,” “Superman,” “Game of Thrones” or, more recently, “The Queen’s Gambit”?
In an article I wrote with my colleague Linda Gross as part of our joint venture Non Data Peeps – which aims to help those who present data to people who are “just not data people” – we bring to light the reasons why it is worth taking advantage of the power of stories, and specifically how to transmit “dry” information in a way that the viewer will connect to and remember.
The science behind storytelling
It turns out that there are very specific reasons why people respond in the way they respond to stories, and neuroscience can explain why – or perhaps more correctly, “how.” In fact, the field of neuroscience deals with how the brain thinks.
Numerous studies show that when a person experiences a feeling of empathy, the brain floods the brain with oxytocin. It is a hormone also known as the “love hormone.” It is one of the hormones that make us “feel good.”
The studies also reveal that watching a movie or listening to a good story makes us feel empathy for the main character. This empathic reaction in turn triggers the release of oxytocin, which makes us feel good and, best of all, very connected to the story.
A story of the individual as a motivating action
In addition, studies have shown that our ability to generate empathy is focused on events that happen to one person and not when the same event happens to many people at the same time. This empathetic relationship happens whether the events are happy, neutral or even negative.
A clear example of this has recently occurred with the Syrian civil war.
Think about when you first heard about the Syrian civil war, how hundreds of thousands of people were displaced and thousands more forced to leave the country and become refugees.
How many news stories have you been exposed to about the hordes of refugees who crashed ashore while trying to escape?
Honestly, how much did you really think about the refugees? More importantly, how much did you feel about this sad, desperate situation?
Many of us can remember that we shook our heads, felt very sorry for the poor boy and his family and … then we continued our daily lives and quickly forgot the refugees.
Now – remember on September 2, 2015, when pictures of a drowned 3-year-old boy, Alan Kurdi, appeared on every TV and was a headline in every newspaper.
Suddenly, we were all shocked. Governments began to talk about how terrible it is and changed their policy of absorbing refugees into Europe.
It is the power of the lone story, of the individual person who managed to provoke empathy, followed by action.
What does this whole sad story have to do with the headline of this article?