Much is spoken about stories and their impact on our day-to-day lives. Most brands use storytelling techniques through their campaigns to define the problem for the consumer and present the solution through their products or services. Sure enough, this method works. But, it is not often that you hear a leadership consultant advise you to tell stories while speaking about how to become a better leader.
This is exactly what Karen Eber does in her TED talk, "How your brain responds to stories—and why they are crucial to leaders." She gives her own example as someone who has found stories to be a great way to connect with people.
Stories hold the power to "light up" your brain, literally!
Karen relies on neuroscience to explain why stories resonate more with listeners rather than data or cold facts. She explains that when someone listens to a story, all parts of the listener’s brains "light up" and a sort of neural coupling happens between the storyteller and the listener.
It is for this reason that when listening to a story, people can experience emotions similar to those being expressed by the storyteller. She further explains that being able to experience similar emotions as the storyteller or the feeling of empathy results in the release of oxytocin (a chemical that makes one feel happy) in the listener's brain, making the storyteller appear more trustworthy to the listener.
Emotions, not data bring changes in behavior
Unlike with storytelling, when a person hears data, only some parts of their brain light up, which is why the entire process of empathy leading to trustworthiness does not take place. The effect of data on listeners differs greatly from that of emotions and it is actually emotions that can lead to behavioral change. Karen explains that decision making starts in the emotional epicenter of the brain (Amygdala), and at this subconscious level, decisions are made. It is later when people become aware of their decisions that they start to rationalize them, giving them the impression that their decisions are based on reason rather than emotion.
You too can improve your storytelling skills
Karen explains that once you understand the importance of storytelling in leadership, the next step is to know what makes a story great. She says a great story has three key ingredients—the context, the conflict, and the outcome. Further, it also has three attributes, which are that the story should build and release tension; it should help the listener see something they can no longer unsee, and it should create value.
Through the power of storytelling backed by data, leaders can create ideas for their listeners, which they cannot unsee. Karen calls this coming up with your "power ballad"—an important quality that will determine your success as a leader.