When I think about my favorite teachers and speakers I can’t think of one that doesn’t use stories to make their subject “come alive”. I think most people feel this way, and this has spawned countless ‘become a better storyteller’ workshops. While I’m not a big fan of many of these interventions (although there are some really great ones out there as well), neuroscience proves that being able to tell stories in an engaging and authentic way is a very valuable skill to acquire and hone.
A study conducted in 2010 by researchers from Princeton University found that the brain of a person listening to a story can synchronise (or resonate) with the brain of the person telling it. You can read more about the study here: US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. The scientific term for this mirroring or resonance is ‘speaker–listener neural coupling’, which can be seen in this image.
Furthermore, researchers found that while the most common mirroring activity is retrospective (i.e. with a delay), there are also areas that exhibited predictive anticipatory responses. When connecting the extent of neural coupling to a quantitative measure of story comprehension, researchers found that the greater the anticipatory speaker–listener coupling, the greater the understanding. So active engagement of the listener, significantly increased comprehension and therefore the effectiveness of communication.
This explains why our best loved teachers so often use stories, and why you may want to polish up your storytelling skills.