Human beings are naturally skeptical. Studies show that any time you're trying to convince someone of anything, their defenses go up. They start saying, “Wait, is that true? Do I agree with that?”
Despite this reality, people still rely on facts and arguments to try to sell something:
“Here are all the reasons you should hire me.”
“Here are the ways my product is better than the competition.”
“Here's the evidence for why my plan will succeed.”
The usual way we do this is by using information: facts and figures, arguments and evidence.
In school, when we learn how to write, we’re taught how to construct an argument: the five-paragraph essay consists of point, evidence, point, evidence. Each time you make an argument, you back up your points with evidence.
Unfortunately, it's difficult to change someone's mind with information alone.
That's especially true if you're talking to customers, potential clients, or potential investors. Anytime you're trying to sell someone something, or get them to take an action you want them to take — whether it's buying your product, investing in your company, or hiring you — people will be naturally skeptical.
It's not just consumers. It's everyone. Anytime you try to convince someone of something, they're instantly skeptical of whatever claims you make. Because it turns out that people immediately become defensive when they think someone is trying to convince them of something.
While you’re busy making your case, the person you're trying to persuade is arguing with you in their head, using their own statistics and sources to try to prove you wrong.
Scientists call it "counterarguing" — the little arguments you make in your head without saying them out loud.
"Wait, is that even true?"
"I don't agree with that."
"This guy will say anything to make the sale."
Storytelling is different. When you tell a story, the listener’s brain responds automatically.
Storytelling works because it actually alters your brain chemistry. When you hear a good story, your brain releases two neurochemicals: cortisol and oxytocin. Cortisol is the stress hormone. In large quantities, it induces anxiety. But storytelling induces an optimal level of arousal — just enough cortisol to focus attention and pull listeners into a peak state, primed to absorb what they hear.
The second is oxytocin, sometimes called the bonding hormone or the trust hormone. Oxytocin gets released when you hug someone, when a mother breastfeeds her baby, or even when you cuddle your dog.
Oxytocin triggers care, empathy, trust, and cooperation, and makes you feel an emotional connection with the storyteller. It also has the effect of switching off the skeptical part of your brain. Listeners become connected to the character and start to care about them.
Instead of questioning, listeners become receptive:
"Wow, I see why that would work."
“I’d love to try it out.”
"I can totally see that working for my company."
When you tell a story, you're literally controlling another person's brain chemistry, triggering the release of cortisol and oxytocin. They don't have a choice. You're actually planting an idea in somebody's mind.
That's why storytelling is the most effective way to target another person's brain. When you tell a story, it puts the other person in an almost magical state of enchantment — a state of total openness in which skepticism and counterarguing are reduced and people are primed to be persuaded.