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The Storytelling Lab - Ep34: The Science of Storytelling with Paul J. Zak

Updated: Apr 27

We’re kicking off Season 4 with an all-star guest, Paul J. Zak, neuroeconomist and storytelling expert. Paul studies the neuroscience behind storytelling and is full of knowledge about how narrative form affects our brains and informs our actions. Listen in to hear more about neuroeconomics (the study of how people make decisions), the science behind storytelling, and why narrative arcs are necessary to incite action.



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When I first started my journey into helping people through storytelling, one name kept coming up during my research: Paul Zak.


It didn’t matter if it was Harvard Business Review, Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, TED talks, or various psychology journals, he was there.


If you’ve heard of the hormone oxytocin and how it (along with hormones like cortisol and dopamine) is created in the brain during storytelling, or if you’ve heard of “neural coupling” -- a process that creates a neural link between a person telling a story and the listener -- then you have probably heard of him.


I have referenced Paul Zak’s work in every presentation I’ve ever given on storytelling.


All of them.



That’s how important his work has been for understanding why stories work. His work is

the defense we have when our bosses or

clients think that storytelling is just “fluff.”





Storytelling hasn’t always been as popular as it is now.


We have Dr. Paul Zak to thank for that.





When I spoke with him on the show, I was excited, but also a little nervous.


Zak is a neuroeconomist, storytelling expert, and professor at Claremont Graduate University. He studies the neuroscience behind storytelling and is full of knowledge about how narrative form affects our brains and informs our actions.


He’s also the founder of an innovative new company called Immersion. Immersion is a SaaS platform that measures attention and the unconscious emotional response people have to compelling content. This platform can predict future actions with 80% accuracy!


But on top of all that, he’s also a super nice guy. We talked for an hour about how stories affect the mind and why we love them so much.


And even though he is a scientist, he still understood the fluff - because the fluff is backed by his research!


“You really have to get to that emotional core for people to care. When we see that, our brains know it. So build some empathy and find those authentic emotions.” - Paul Zak

I am extremely proud of this episode.


If you want to learn about neuroeconomics (the study of how people make decisions), the science behind storytelling, and why narrative arcs are necessary to incite action...


go listen now!




Some highlights of our conversation:

  • New prospects for neuroscience in the coming decade

  • How people are getting better at creating experiences for their audience

  • Why Zak identifies first as a “tool guy,” instead of neuroscientist or storyteller. (He likes to solve problems)

  • The meaning of “Spark Bird:” Decisive moments of change

  • Researching the neurologic motivations behind why we help other people

  • How Zak and his team tested cooperative behaviors

  • Their findings: ads that have narrative arcs lead to more charitable giving

  • Why stories motivate action from a neurological standpoint

  • How Zak’s research helps soldiers be better communicators through storytelling

  • Zak’s current work as a professor at Claremont graduate university where he runs a behavioral neuroscience lab

  • How to measure a person’s emotional reaction to stories

  • Creating technology that helps companies use Zak’s research

  • How movie trailers can use neuroscience to get audience members to buy a ticket

  • Picking different stories for different demographics

  • Why we like stories: how our brains and bodies react to narrative arcs

  • The effect oxytocin has on cooperative behavior

  • Immersion: what is it and why is it important?

  • Why you need to grab attention in the first 15 seconds of a story

  • Why it’s important to vary the levels of tension in a story

  • Content still needs to be good (even if you have a narrative arc)

  • Why self reporting emotions does not work well for neuroscience

  • How to know when a story really works

  • Storytelling and health

  • Why you have to be able to relate with your audience

  • How to influence people’s emotions in order to change their actions

  • What form of storytelling works the best: Video, audio, or face-to-face?

  • Neuroeconomics: studying the brain activity while people make decisions

  • Neurologic diversity: why people do different things in the same situations

  • Storytelling for beginners: you have to be authentic




As always, enjoy the episode!


Peace and Love,

Rain



Follow Paul on Twitter @PaulJZak

And check out his website pauljzak.com


For more storytelling tips and tricks,

Follow us on Instagram @sixsecondstories

Visit our website sixsecondstories.com


Hosted by Rain Bennett (@rainbennett | Twitter) (rainbennett.com)


#podcast #thestorytellinglab #storytelling #valuesfirst


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© 2019 B. Rain Bennett