The 4 P’s of Storytelling

Stories affect our brains in fascinating and peculiar ways.

There are four main activities going on when you hear a story:

  • Neural coupling: When your brain makes it seem like you were actually part of the experience.
  • Mirroring: Listeners experience similar brain activity as the speaker.
  • Dopamine: Because of the above two activities, your brain releases this chemical into the body when it experiences a highly-charged event, making it easier to remember and to remember with greater accuracy.
  • Cortex activity: When processing facts, two areas of the brain are activated – the Broca and the Wernicke, both of which are responsible for language function. A well-told story can engage many additional areas of the brain, including the motor cortex, sensory cortex, and the frontal cortex.

Good marketers know that stories translate to sales and that the old adage “sell benefits, not features” vastly increases the impact of your story. One clever illustration of this point I’ve read is that you’re not selling a drill bit; rather, you’re selling a hole in which your customer can hang a picture of a loved one. Benefits are directly linked to emotions.

Selling Canadian agriculture to a consumer audience is no different: you need to communicate the benefits and connect with emotions. When crafting a good story you need to keep the following four elements in mind: People, Passion, Purpose, Product.

People – Your story should describe the role you play in people’s lives. Therefore, your story needs to resonate with the listener. To do so, first write for the emotions you want to elicit then find the words that help you convey them.

Passion – Effective storytelling helps erase doubts in a prospect’s mind. Since what you’re really doing when you’re agvocating is selling you and your industry, a properly crafted story can garner attention, dispel doubts and solidify the truth, help build critical relationships, and resonate enough to leave a lasting impression. Finding the fodder for a well-crafted story means drawing on the passion and belief you have in your life’s work and speaking from the heart.

Purpose – Stories can help increase the value of a product. In a 2009 experiment, a couple of researchers bought $129 worth of junk at garage sales then put it all up for sale on eBay, but only after they added a ‘background’ story about each piece. They ended up making $3,600 on $129 worth of stuff due to people connecting emotionally with each piece through the story. Your purpose as an agvocate is to not only spread correct information about Canadian agriculture, but to elevate the brand by demonstrating its value to individuals and society.

Product – Don’t focus solely on the product. While it might be the best thing since sliced bread (and I think we can all agree farming is pretty great – who doesn’t love or need to eat?!), an amazing product in and of itself doesn’t necessarily make a great story. The reason behind (the passion, the benefits) the product, however, can be captivating.

As many of you can attest to there’s a science to story-telling. Think of the last Christmas party you attended where you were riveted by the effortlessness, passion and intrigue with which a fellow guest was relating what would otherwise seem the most mundane adventure. Great storytellers manage to cut through the noise and captivate their audience while simultaneously educating and influencing – a rather tall order so we’ve compiled a few helpful tips.

Survival Tip

Using the classic story format (a beginning, middle, and end which include a sympathetic protagonist experiencing conflict or doubt; a threat that seems unsolvable; a hero [this is you] who saves the day with your unique mix of knowledge and skills), you make it easy for the listener to capture, remember and retell the story.

When crafting your story first ask yourself questions that amplify the “who’s it for” mindset: the person you’re selling to. Who do they trust? What do they believe? What are they looking for? What are they afraid of?

Use the acronym ‘READ’ to develop your story:

R – Research your target audience: Keeping the characters of that audience in mind, craft your story in such a way that they might empathize with it.

E – Establish your story: Frame your story with a clear beginning, middle and end incorporating the key story elements mentioned above.

A – Add the details: make sure to personalize some of them so you can make that important connection with the listener.

D – Distribute: get your story out through whatever medium or platform your target audience typically appreciates and uses.

Also keep in mind that on average, 100,500 digital words are consumed by each U.S. citizen every day. Since we can safely assume that Canadians consume similar amounts, keep your story short and simple. Deliver content that is linear (follows an apparent storyline) and that expresses a clear narrative. And since we process images 60x faster than words, find ways to incorporate graphics into your stories and messages.

Ultimately, stories can influence our way of thinking. By simply telling a well-honed story, we can ethically inject ideas, thoughts and emotions into our listeners’ brains to affect change.

Reach the heart and you reach the mind.

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