"Neural coupling." It's the phenomenon that explains why stories – when told properly – open lines of empathy and make audiences feel like they know you. It's because a part of them feels like they are you. Not just any ol' body part either. The epicenter of human perception: The brain.
Sound creepy? Sound like sci-fi? Princeton Associate Professor of Psychology, Uri Hasson, Ph.D., will tell you it's a lot more SCI than FI. Hasson and his team conducted a series of experiments involving subjects who listened to and told stories while hooked up to MRI machines. Among other findings, the results proved "during successful communication, speakers’ and listeners’ brains exhibit joint, temporally coupled, response patterns."
In layman's terms: A listener's brain mimics the speaker's during well-told stories.
Science is Giving Us a Hall Pass
At Campfire, we see this discovery as a gift to persuasive communicators. When we know how our minds and our audience members' minds work, we can more effectively structure our material to successfully convince them. It's an advantage, if we choose to use it. If this were the Hunger Games, this information would be a donation from a sponsor, gently descending into your hand to give you leverage in the contest. So how will you turn this insight into action for your future presentations?
Hasson's studies were meticulously designed to extract which stimuli led to the highest levels of neural coupling. They tested listeners' neural patterns during different types of stories, told in various ranges of emotion and even in different languages. They tested distractions and noise pollution. They experimented with vocabulary choices, and how predictable the story outcomes were.
Remarkably, during engaging stories where the listener could clearly understand what was happening, neural coupling became not only active, but proactive. In certain cases, listeners effectively anticipated the next words to leave the speaker's mouth, before they were spoken. Spine-tingling!
But here's the thing. Neural coupling dramatically increased during periods of simple – but engaging – stories. The more relatable, the higher frequency. The clearer the articulation, the more obvious the result. The stories that were familiar to the audience resonated the most.
Please note: While not tested, it is the author's implicit hypothesis that slide decks do not generate similar neurological patterns.
Try This at Home
Imagine your audience in your next presentation. As you speak, you must break through, capture their attention, inspire them to reconsider a belief, habit or perception, and to take immediate action. Otherwise, why speak at all? So how can you structure your content to better capitalize on these incredible neurological discoveries?
By injecting stories that are engaging, relatable and well-told, we can invite our audiences into our minds and preempt them to feel what we feel, and that can make the difference between another presentation and a powerfully persuasive talk.