influence

Storytelling 1: The Science of Storytelling

By Nevit Dilmen (talk) and Tekks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via  Wikimedia Commons

By Nevit Dilmen (talk) and Tekks (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Our world is awash with stories.

Not only ones we seek out, but others we're confronted with whether we like it or not. True stories, fictional stories, fictional stories purporting to be true stories… They feature in every aspect of our daily lives, from business to politics to leisure.

And for good reason. Storytelling is an extremely powerful tool. It alters the activity in your brain, influencing not only what you think and feel, but how you act. Which is quite useful if you’ve ever needed to convince someone of something – whether it’s that they should donate to charity or hire you for your dream job.

There’s a fascinating – and growing – body of research into the science behind storytelling. Labs across the world are exploring how stories impact on the human brain – from how we understand them to their role in communication.

Curious? Read on for three examples (referenced below) you might find useful when telling your own stories. And for insightful analysis of what to do with this all storytelling, do check out Sisonke Msimang's excellent Ted talk.

1. Simulation of reality

Hearing or reading a story creates a simulation of reality in your brain. In other words, your brain processes the story as if you were actually experiencing its events first-hand.[i] That ‘real’ experience can provide a useful short-cut to improving understanding and emotional connection between storyteller and audience.

2. Emotion and empathy

Emotionally arousing stories raise the pain thresholds of the audience, and increase their sense of group bonding.[ii] Stories with a strong emotional and dramatic arc are also more likely to inspire empathy in the audience and influence their subsequent actions (such as charitable giving) than stories that are emotionally neutral.[iii] [iv] 

3. Alignment and communication

Storytelling “couples” or aligns your brain with that of your listener. When you tell people a story, their brain activity begins to mirror yours and you interpret the story in the same way. The stronger the similarity in your brain activity, the better the communication between you and your listener(s).[v] [vi] Uri Hasson’s Ted talk, though a few years old now, is useful for a quick overview of some of this research – and why it matters.

This is the first of our three-part series on storytelling. Do drop us a line if you have any questions, or would like to know more about how you can use storytelling more effectively at work. Or sign up to download our free Chirp Workbook.


[i] Oatley, K (2012), The Cognitive Science of Fiction. Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Cognitive Science. 3(4), 425-430.

[ii] Dunbar RIM, Teasdale B, Thompson J, Budelmann F, Duncan S, van Emde Boas E, Maguire L. (2016) Emotional arousal when watching drama increases pain threshold and social bonding. Royal Society open science, 3: 160288.

[iii] Barraza, J., Alexander, V., Beavin, L. Terris, E., & Zak, P. (2015). The heart of the story: Peripheral physiology during narrative exposure predicts charitable giving. Biological Psychology. 105, 138-143.

[iv]  Zak, P. J. (2015). Why Inspiring Stories Make Us React: The Neuroscience of Narrative. Cerebrum: The Dana Forum on Brain Science, 2.

[v] Stephens, G. J., Silbert, L. J., & Hasson, U. (2010). Speaker–listener neural coupling underlies successful communication. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(32), 14425–14430

[vi] Liu, Y., Piazza E., Simony, E., Shewokis, P., Onaral, B., Hasson, U., Ayaz, H. Measuring speaker–listener neural coupling with functional near infrared spectroscopy. PRE-PRINT. bioRxiv preprint first posted online Oct. 16, 2016; doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1101/081166.

Voice tips for the social season 1: pause per clause

Cocktail Glasses - Leeroy - Montreal Web Agency CC0 1.0 Universal.jpg

‘Tis the season to be jolly. And hoarse. So we’re sharing some of our top tips all this week to help you use your voice effectively whether at work or play. Well, mostly at work, but they should stand you in good stead for the office Christmas party, too.

Tip 1: Pause per clause

If you have something worth saying, give it the space to be heard and absorbed. Rushing reduces your impact. You'll not only be harder to understand, but come across as being not entirely present. Neither of which is very helpful when you're trying to make a point.

Most people speak faster when they're in uncertain, challenging or stressful situations. To counter that, try implementing a pause per clause. It'll both slow you down and give you time to breathe (always a bonus).

You should find that slowing down helps your words to land, and helps you develop greater presence. You'll probably feel calmer and more self-assured, too.

 

Sign up to download our free Chirp Guide on how to use your voice effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

Don't be a hermit – interact with impact with these five tips

Participants in a Chirp leadership and communication workshop run by Kamala Katbamna

Human interaction is at the heart of work. Its impact is everywhere – from process to productivity, outcome and enjoyment. Unless, of course, you’re a hermit.

Despite its centrality, that interaction can often feel unpredictable, ineffective and draining. After all, you can never guarantee someone else’s behaviour. You can, however, ensure your own is more influential, clear and effective.

Below are five tools to help you make the impact you choose in your daily interactions. Yes, they take practice, but they can make a crucial difference – particularly if you’re leading change. Either way, they’ll help you achieve your outcomes without wasting time and energy. No need to become a hermit, then.
 
1. Don’t look down!
Look up, make eye contact, then begin. Taking that moment to connect tells people you're fully present – and that your contribution is worth their attention. This is particularly useful in presentations and when opening meetings. Good eye contact also signals that you’re engaged with their response.

It might sound obvious, but it’s surprising how many of us launch straight in, without first establishing a connection. In so doing we risk throwing away our words on a distracted audience, silently dismissing their contribution, and reducing our impact.

2. Stand your ground
Yep, even if you’re seated. If you’re standing, keep your feet hip-width apart. Feel the ground through your feet. Resist the urge to drop one hip or place your weight on one leg. Again, obvious enough, but not always easy to avoid in the moment. If you’re sitting, feel the ground evenly through both feet. It can be tricky in a skirt, but worth doing whenever possible.

Feeling the ground through your feet does what it says on the tin; it helps you feel more grounded and present. It also stabilises your posture, preventing you either feeling or looking like you’re in 'fight or flight'. And that in turn creates a more powerful presence.

3. Abdominal breathing
Imagine a pair of bellows. As the air goes in, they expand; as it leaves, they contract. The same idea applies to abdominal breathing, ideally through a slightly open mouth. As you breathe into the bottom of the lungs the abdomen expands; as you breathe out it contracts. The most important thing, however, is to breathe out first!

Breathing is critical both to how you feel we’re perceived and how you are perceived – influencing how you behave and others respond. Most people take shallow breaths and/or hold their breath, particularly when nervous or challenged. Abdominal breathing reverses this so you operate more effectively. It also helps you speak more clearly and avoid swallowing words. You’ll feel better, be perceived more positively, and imbue your words with the impact you intend.

4. Take the space
Being aware of the space around you – above, below, in front and behind – can transform the impact of your presence. Unfold into that space. Release your arms from your sides. Broaden your shoulders away from your ears. And keep your feet hip-width apart. Hunched shoulders, crossed arms and a caved chest don’t just restrict breathing and create tension. They also make you physically smaller – impacting on your personal presence and suggesting that you don't want to be there.

So take the space, expand into it, occupy it. Your posture will improve. Your chest will open and you'll breathe more easily. You’ll create a stronger presence. And you'll signal to others that you are ready to be seen and to engage.

5. Channel your inner ventriloquist
Okay, not really – but imagining that the stomach (venter) is powering your speech (loqui) can help you project without straining or shouting.

Most people reach forward with their head and neck when they want to be heard. Bring them back instead so they’re aligned with your spine. Relax the throat – it will tense if you shout – and, when you speak, engage your lower abdominals. Projection can take some practice, and works best in conjunction with the other tools. Once cracked, however, you'll deliver your ideas with impact. It's also brilliant sore throat prevention in noisy pubs!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.

 

 

How to communicate with clarity and influence

Autumn leaves

With the bank holiday behind us, and September drawing near, it’s either time for fresh challenges – or a dash to sunnier climes.

For those of us staying put, our challenges might be new projects, new responsibility, perhaps even a new job. It’s a fair bet that, whatever’s involved, you’ll need your communication skills in limber form.

Communicating is at the heart of what we do – even when we’re unaware of it. From brief ‘hellos’ to major presentations, we continuously send out verbal and physical messages. And sometimes those messages just get lost in translation.

Communication with clarity, impact and authenticity can transform encounters from confusing and pointless to motivating and effective. It helps us express what we want in the way that we want. And it helps us hear and understand what others are saying – or not saying – so we can respond relevantly.

We are, of course, all different, with individual forms of expression. Yet we also face many of the same issues when it comes to communicating at work. Below we share a few basic tips to help you greet new challenges with communications gusto.

Match tone with meaning

Think about how you’re saying what you’re saying. Does your tone match your meaning? Don’t undercut your words with an unconvincing delivery. They’ll lose their impact – and so will you.
 

Plan for challenge

Plan in advance for challenging encounters. Work out key points and the most appropriate language to deliver them. Is what you're saying fair? Is it confusingly indirect? It is marked by fact or irritation? And is it constructive – does it help the other person to share your perspective rather than stick doggedly to theirs? A little planning will help you be calm and direct without aggression.
 

Listen and respond

Pause for a moment. Are you aware of your audience? Are you listening and responding to them? Or are you focused solely on pushing out your own messages? Creating moments to tune into verbal and non-verbal signals will help you remain relevant – and help what you say to land.

 

A dual sense of understanding and being understood is fundamental to reducing stress and boosting enjoyment. And, given the amount of time we spend at work, it's worth making the effort to achieve!

 

Want to learn more? Download our free Chirp Guide to find out how to use your voice more effectively in meetings, pitches and presentations.