Christmas morning, 2000. Max was 3 and Ali was 6. Our tradition had been (and still is) that Randy headed down stairs to turn on the tree lights and grab the video camera. Then Ali, Max and I march down stairs for the big ‘reveal’ of the tree and all it’s splendor, the gifts waiting to be opened, the bursting full stockings, and – of course – the plate of crumbs and empty glass of milk left by Santa.
Ali and Max stood side by side, eyes wide open and smiles bigger than their faces, saying some version of ‘Santa came, Santa was here!’.
Randy began to ask questions (for our video collection which Randy and I are pretty sure we will spend our retirement going over and over and over!!).
‘So, did anyone hear anything on the rooftop last night?’
‘Yes, yes , yes!!’ says Ali.
‘I heard footsteps and I also heard some clicking sounds – I think it was Santa and Rudolph!!’
‘Then I heard some crunching sounds and drinking sounds – like chew, chew, chew and glug, glug, glug – it was Santa eating the treat we left him! He must have liked it – look, it’s all gone!’
Max’s eyes got even bigger as he listened to Ali describe all of the sounds she heard.
‘Me too…that is what I heard! I heard Santa and Rudolph too! I did!!!!’ Enthusiasm and conviction radiated from his every pore!
I can remember that morning as clear as a bell. As Ali described the story of what she had ‘experienced’, Max was also living that story. Just like maybe you are experiencing a similar story from your life, just by reading this one from mine.
Leo Wildrich wrote a blog post called What listening to a story does to our brains. In that post, Leo shares:
“When we tell stories to others that have really helped us shape our thinking and way of life, we can have the same effect on them too. The brains of the person telling a story and listening to it, can synchronize, says Uri Hasson from Princeton:
“When the woman spoke English, the volunteers understood her story, and their brains synchronized. When she had activity in her insula, an emotional brain region, the listeners did too. When her frontal cortex lit up, so did theirs. By simply telling a story, the woman could plant ideas, thoughts and emotions into the listeners’ brains.”
Anything you’ve experienced, you can get others to experience the same. Or at least, get their brain areas that you’ve activated that way, active too.
That’s what happened when Ali told her story of Santa and Rudolph; Max’s brain synchronized with hers. She, in essence, gave him his first gift that Christmas morning!
Brains love stories. When we hear a story, we relate it to our own experience and that helps the story to ‘stick’ in our minds.
Leo adds four tips for using stories as a communication tool: 1) Tell stories that reflect something important you’d like the listener to think, feel or do (their brain will turn the story into something from their own experience – and it will become ‘their’ story); 2) Write using stories – your own or those of another expert to persuade your audience; 3) Keep your stories simple (less complex stories are ‘stickier’), and 4) Use colorful, emotional words in your stories (some words or phrases like ‘a bad day’ or ‘be responsible’ are overused and begin to lack meaning for people and, thus, lack ‘stickiness’).
So, as the holiday season approaches, what stories can you share – at home and at work? I’d love to hear one of your stories from holidays past (and my brain will definitely thank you – as will the brains of everyone else who reads your story!) Let’s spread some good holiday storytelling cheer!!