Use A Conference Story Arc To Shift Your Participants’ Brain Architecture And Strengthen Their Neural Connections

Neural Connections In the Human Brain

We are helpless story junkies says author, journalist, and storyteller Michelle Weldon.

We can’t help it. It’s part of our human nature to crave and connect with stories.

Your brain on story acts very differently than when your brain is receiving data, facts and information. It changes its structure and releases cortisol and oxytocin–called the human bonding or empathy chemical. That’s why you sometimes say, “I felt as if I was really there,” or “I could feel their pain,” when you read or listen to a story.

Hardwired For Connecting Through Stories

Storytelling and engaging in a narrative structure are biological processes that are hardwired into our brains says writer and storyteller Gabrielle Selz and neurobiologist Dr. James Zull.

Stories provide the perfect vehicle for human connection, even if that connection is through the words we read on a page or screen, hear in a podcast or watch in a movie. As listener and story teller engage with facts, emotions, and the narrative, the two form a bond. The story triggers a release of neurotransmitters that affect both their left and right hemispheres allowing their brains to function in a more complex and unified way.

During the storytelling and listening process, our brains link unrelated images and better understand critical information. Stories help us retain new facts and connect important information as our brains respond with shadow activity which is similar to muscle memory says Gregory Berns Emory University Professor of Neuroeconomics and Director of the Center for Neuropolic. We remember and feel that story long after we read or hear it.

When we participate in storytelling, story listening or a narrative, we

  • actually strengthen our brain’s neural connections,
  • form new neural pathways and
  • shift the architecture of our brain
    says neuroscientist Dr. Daniel Siegel.

This Is Your Brain On Stories

When we listen to or tell stories, we activate the language processing parts of our brains. We decode words and their meanings

Listening to and telling stories trigger other parts of our brain as well. When we hear someone describing a good meal, our sense of smell and taste are stimulated. If we hear about someone riding a bike, our motor cortex of the brain ignites. We feel and sense the same thing as the person sharing the story as well as the characters of the story.

As we listen to a story, our brains search for a similar experience. We fire up the brain’s insula (also known as the insular cortex) searching for a similar experience. The insula helps us relate to the story teller’s experience of pain, joy, fear, or success. It’s responsible for compassion, empathy, motor control, cognitive functioning to name a few.

When we share stories about experiences that have had a transformative effect on us, those narratives can have the same effect on our listeners. We synchronize our brains. We can actually help the listener arrive at the same conclusion we did by sharing a story.

A story kindles another person’s brain so that the listener adopts the narrative into their own experience and ideas says Princeton neuroscience researcher Uri Hasson.

Storytelling is the only way to plant ideas into other people’s minds says Hasson.

Developing Your Conference Story Arc

Conference organizers that grasp our brains’ need for stories can use narratives to help their participants develop and grow.

Every story has a problem to solve. And every story has a beginning, middle and end. Where that challenge begins and ends depends upon your story arc. As you plan your conference, take into account one of the biggest challenges that your target market faces. Then make it the central focus of your conference.

Use the story arc concept to carefully craft the story and message you want your participants to experience.

A story arc is an extended, continuous storyline in episodic storytelling media such as television series, comic books, video games, films etc. Each episode follows a dramatic arc with the story unfolding over several episodes.

The story arc can serve as a template for the sequence of participant experiences. Consider each programming element as an episode to unfold your narrative.

Then remind your audience that as the primary characters of the story, it’s their job to solve the challenge in order to succeed.

What’s the most memorable story from a conference that you can remember that served as a frame for your learning? What examples have you seen for an overarching story arc—not the event theme—that activated participants’ brains?

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