I was 14 and my best friend — Mike — was 15. It was a routine summer day and we were bored out of our minds.
We’d dominated in at least 30 online matches since we started playing Halo in that morning. My interest was gone and Mike could sense it because after he’d shot another Spartan in the head he told me his dad left a half bottle of Grey Goose in the fridge.
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I can’t remember exactly what I replied, but it was along the lines of “so what”?
His reply was equally calm; we can drink a little and see what it’s like being tipsy. I was game for anything.
As I closed my eyes and took another gulp of the colorless nectar —searing my insides— I clearly remember wondering why drinking made people so happy.
Fast forward thirty minutes and I was laughing so hard at Mike’s attempts to walk in a straight line I couldn’t stand up.
Another thirty minutes and I was lying on his bed, clutching a small bucket, and wondering if the world would ever stop spinning. It was his turn to laugh.
I’ve told my drinking story at least three hundred times over the last few years and it never fails to draw oohs and ahhs in the right places.
It’s MY story, I lived it and I tell it so you can live it with me.
We all tell the world about our lives through a series of stories. Some of them completely true and some of them have added flair.
The point is, stories captivate us:
Here’s how you can use storytelling to build an audience.
Alright, so you know stories are the vernacular of the mind – the lingua franca if you will. They’re what we’ve used to communicate since the beginning of time.
It goes beyond just liking what you’re hearing, we actually active a different part of the brain when listening to stories than if we’re listening to say, a PowerPoint presentation.
When someone is talking to you — explaining a concept —there are two principle areas at work in the brain.
Broca’s area occupies the front of the head and is responsible for planning out then making speech and writing a reality. Basically, it gets your thoughts out of your head.
Wernicke’s area at the back of the head is dedicated to identifying and interpreting speech sounds. It basically lets you know someone is talking and what they’re saying.
So far so good, nothing major.
Here’s the most interesting part, humans aren’t entirely rational creatures.
Do you think you are?
A few years ago, Antonio Demasio carried out a study which focused on people whose ventromedial sector — the part of the brain dealing with emotions and social behavior — was damaged. These people were normal in most aspects except for being able to feel emotions.
Then, a startling revelation came about; they weren’t able to make decisions either. They could describe in very clear terms what they should’ve been doing, but they just couldn’t bring themselves to make the final decision. This affected them with things as minor as what shirt to wear or what to eat for lunch.
At the point of decision making, Antonio concluded, emotions play a very big role. This is why marketing can have such a profound impact on our buying decisions.
When we’re being told stories by friends or even as I did at the beginning of this article, the Broca and Wernicke areas are activated along with other portions of our brain. For instance, when I described how it felt to swallow alcohol for the first time, the part of your brain associated with taste would’ve become active.
A team of researchers from Emory confirmed this with a bit of research. When participants read metaphors involving texture, their sensory cortex – the part of the brain responsible for perceiving texture through touch – became active.
Veronique Boulenger carried out a similar study, this time involving words that described movement. The people who read descriptive passages such as “John grasped the ball” stimulated their motor cortex – the part of the brain responsible for coordinating body movement.
It seems that our brains don’t really distinguish between reading a story and actually living an experience. That’s why podcasts have become so popular. The podcast shows that interview other people tend to tell stories that engage us and help us see their version of the truth.
Leonard Kim, the king of Quora, was able to build a massive audience by telling stories. He told stories about his failures and triumphs while answering the questions of people who needed practical advice.
The reason this worked so well for him and can work so well for you is because our brains synchronize when we’re being told a story.
Uri Hansen carried out a study to determine how our brains react when we’re listening to a story we comprehend and can relate to. He found that the same areas that are activated in the speaker are, to a large extent, activated in the listener.
The findings shown here indicate that during successful communication, speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibit joint, temporally coupled, response patterns. Such neural coupling substantially diminishes in the absence of communication, such as when listening to an unintelligible foreign language.
By now, you and I know exactly how storytelling affects us as human beings. We’re literally able to sync brains with the people we’re telling our story to. Giving them the privilege of living our experiences.
With stories, we create a deep emotional bond that not only persuades, builds trust, and teaches but also stimulates the right emotions. Emotions that allow your audience to pull the trigger on important decisions.
Up until this point, we’ve focused on the background of storytelling and what it does to our minds – think of the first thousand words as freshmen year. As you continue to read this article, you’ll discover how you can use storytelling to create an engaged audience in 2019 and beyond. You’ve just become an upperclassman.
Before we can get into attention bias as relates to your goals, you’ll need to be familiar with a few principles of behavioral psychology.
Cognitive Bias refers to a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment, whereby inferences about other people and situations may be drawn in an illogical fashion.
In English, cognitive bias’s are inherent errors that occur when processing information and making decisions — it’s common to all humans.
These cognitive bias’s occur as a result of limited information, motivations, and or the environment.
These biases come at us all day every day whether we’re aware of them or not.
You’re at the new store in town (limited knowledge about your environment) with your kid to pick up sauce for pasta, but when you get there you have about a dozen choices.
You don’t know most of the companies so you zero in on the familiar ones (lack of information).
Your kid is really starting to annoy you with her complaints about being hungry — hell, you’re hungry too. (limited reasoning ability).
Your partner is waiting at home and they’re calling you, it’s time to choose (limited time frame).
That’s cognitive bias at work and it’s always happening in the background.
Attention Bias is the tendency of our perception (and decisions) to be affected by recurring thoughts.
The more often your audience is exposed to the messages you embed in your story, the more likely they are to take action.
Let’s take a look at a landing page from Web Profits to quickly understand how attention bias works in the wild.
This page actives your brain’s attention bias like 100 cups of coffee would activate your body.
Even if you’re not the slightest bit interested in SEO or don’t know exactly how it works, you’ll leave the page thinking “Wow, these people sure know their SEO.”
That’s the power of the attention bias at work.
When you incorporate a specific item into your writing, videos, or any other form of content, you’re creating an asset that continues to draw attention. It forces people to have recurring thoughts which will eventually lead to influencing their decisions.
If you’ve noticed, in this article, I’ve talked a lot about storytelling and building an audience. As you keep reading, those themes will keep coming up may influence your decisions on both topics.
Decide on a word, group of words, or theme you can incorporate into all your storytelling and messaging.
Start using those themes or words as often as you can without sounding strange.
Use them on your home page.
Use them in your articles.
Use them in your landing page copy (here are a few landing page examples to inspire you).
Use them in your videos.
You’re not trying to be subtle; you’re letting people know this is what you’re going to be able to speak authoritatively on.
As you continue to tell your story, those themes you’ve chosen will begin to be associated with you. People will seek you out because that’s the information they’re looking for.
Subliminal messages are amazing and scary at the same time.
A subliminal message is a signal or message designed to pass below (sub) the normal limits of perception.
Dr. Shevrin H. had this to say about it:
Research showed that peoples responses to a given stimulus were statistically lower when subjects were consciously aware, but when the stimuli was presented in a subliminal fashion the response rate was significantly higher.
And they’re everywhere, just take a look at a few of these images:
Maybe it’s just me.
It’s not only in advertising and movies; even our favorite stories are full of subliminal messages:
Let’s take The Very Hungry Caterpillar as an example.
This is a sweet story of the caterpillar that ate and ate and ate until it couldn’t move. The damn thing ate through the pages of the book. After it finished devouring the world as we know it, it laid down for a rest. When the caterpillar woke up, it was a beautiful butterfly.
When you take a closer look at what’s going on, we can draw a very different conclusion. The caterpillar — possibly a gluttonous friend — has just eaten everything in sight. Even when they’re full, they keep on eating. Finally, your friend gets tired and falls asleep.
They wake up but don’t feel horrible and regret they ever did it. Quite the opposite, they’re more beautiful and energized than ever before.
Am I reaching here? Maybe, but you can check it out for yourself, literature has so many subliminal messages that you’ll be shocked at what you can turn up.
Take a look at these two statements.
“John handles himself well on the field. I’ve never seen anyone do it quite like him, did you see the way he knocked that guy over?”
“Maybe John should try something else, those guys just ran all over him when he tried to stop them.”
Both statements are describing John, but in the first one, you get a feeling for his power and performance. In the second one, you get the opposite feeling. Neither one explicitly states that John is strong or weak but message is clear.
The same can be done for the stories you’ll be telling in your articles, videos, and other content. You never have to explicitly state what your deeper message is like “Buy this super cool product.”
Instead, focus on all the ways your product or service has made the lives of others better. You can choose any angle really, just keep using it consistently.
In the video, Jared doesn’t tell you to choose Subway because it’s healthy. Instead, they show you what eating Subway sandwiches has done for different people.
The attention isn’t directly on Subway. Instead, you’re being told that when you eat a subway sandwich you can live a healthier lifestyle.
Nike does it all the time when they endorse famous basketball, soccer, and baseball players. They don’t need to tell you to go out and buy it, seeing it on Lebron James is more than enough.
You never explicitly state they need to buy what you’re selling. All god stories have a message and yours should too.
Using subliminal messages is a long term strategy.
When done right, you’ll be building a loyal audience that likes and believes in what you’re doing on a subconscious level.
Building an audience has taken on different forms over the years, but one thing remains constant — Storytelling. Choose words, phrases, or themes you can completely own in your business and put them front and center in all your messaging.
Also, choose an underlying theme of your business and let people know about it through what you say and more importantly, what you don’t say with your content.
Let me know about the different themes you’ll be using or the success you’ve had with storytelling.