THE SCIENCE OF STORYTELLING
Narrative Transportation is the state of total absorption in which listeners experience feeling “lost” in a story, momentarily disconnecting from their surroundings and imaginatively transporting themselves into the narrative world. During narrative transportation, several things occur:
Listeners become emotionally involved. What psychologists call “affective impact” or “emotional engagement.”
Listeners visualize the events of the story. The brain’s visual and sensory cortex activate just as they would if listeners were actually seeing the story’s events with their own eyes as they unfold.
Listeners identify with the characters. They begin to experience the events of the story as if they were actually happening to them.
Narrative transportation is so absorbing that it “allows us to leave our troubles behind, and ‘return’ feeling refreshed, or even altered in some way,” explain media professors Moniek Kuijpers and Frank Hakemulder. “Skilled storytellers and entertainers seem to understand the techniques that transport their audiences into a story world, while marketers and instructors have found that absorption helps to persuade or teach their target audience.”
Narrative Transportation and Sales
99% of sales pitches are boring, uninspiring, and unconvincing.
If you’re not using storytelling on a daily basis, you’re missing valuable opportunities to connect with people and make sales. Most presentations, pitches, and advertisements are far too vague, generic, and boring to persuade people or inspire them to act.
It’s not enough just to present information or make an argument. To move people to take action, you need to stir their emotions — and the best way to do that is to tell a story.
Fewer facts and arguments.
When you tell a story to colleagues or customers, you bypass the evaluative regions of the brain and activate the experiential and emotional regions instead, triggering a flow-like state of total focus, engagement, and absorption that scientists call narrative transportation.
Rather than evaluating your logic, listeners are transported into the world of your story — open to new ideas and primed to take action.
The Neuroscience of Narrative Transportation
If you want to move people to action with your idea, it’s not enough to present information or make an argument. Information alone won’t move people to action because it doesn’t hit them on a primal, emotional level. Unless people are already highly interested in the topic, attention dwindles and persuasion becomes an uphill battle.
A superior approach is to present with the brain in mind—using what we know about the neuroscience of peak performance to induce what psychologists call a “flow state” and maximizing enjoyment, learning, and inspiration.
To motivate listeners you must stir their emotions — and the best way to do that is to tell a story.
Stories are immediately engaging because they activate the experiential and emotional regions of the brain. When you tell a story that’s vivid, visual, and visceral—a story that leads the listener’s imagination and affects them on an emotional level—you trigger “narrative transportation,” an optimal state for persuasion to occur.
Rather than inundating listeners with information they don’t care about and can’t absorb, storytelling creates a meaningful structure for information. Rather than simply listing facts or spewing data, stories take listeners on a journey, immersing them in the world of the narrative and creating intrigue and curiosity. Storytelling is a highly effective communication strategy because stories captivate attention, elicit thoughts and emotions, and ignite curiosity, so listeners are always tugging on the rope, eager to hear more.
Narrative Transportation and Flow
Narrative transportation is a type of flow state — the state of total absorption so complete that you lose track of your surroundings and become unaware of the passage of time. Your attentional focus narrows, your awareness of the world around you fades, and the depth of engagement absorbs you powerfully, keeping attention so focused that distractions cannot penetrate.
When a speaker induces a flow state in listeners, it triggers a cascade of potent neurochemicals, including norepinephrine, dopamine, anandamide, serotonin, and endorphins. These neurochemicals are potent "feel good" drugs, triggering pleasure and excitement in listeners. “That’s why flow is considered the most addictive state on earth,” explains Steven Kotler, author of The Rise of Superman.
All five neurochemicals are also performance-enhancing—boosting creativity and accelerating learning. Norepinephrine and dopamine are focusing chemicals, heightening attention and enabling listeners to absorb more information per second. They also enhance pattern recognition, allowing listeners to make faster connections between ideas. Anandamide, meanwhile, promotes lateral thinking, enabling listeners to link disparate ideas together. During this state, prefrontal cortex activity slows. The brain's inner critic falls silent, mental chatter subsides, and listeners enter a state of deep immersion and engagement. The result is enhanced creativity, greater receptivity to new ideas, and increased motivation to act.