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The Science Of Storytelling: How To Evoke Emotion And Get Your Audience To Give

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As much as we all like to believe we make decisions based on sound logic, stats, and reason – this simply isn’t the case.

People act on emotion. And scientifically speaking, emotion is a chemical reaction.

If you want to prompt your audience into action during your next campaign or fundraising event, you need to tell stories because storytelling has a way of engaging the brain in ways other forms of communication simply can’t.

In his TED Talk, David JP Phillip explains how stories have the ability to produce the following chemicals and hormones:


Dopamine is everyone’s favorite party guest. When Dopamine is released, our brain’s learning systems are activated and often times, arousal or pleasure is experienced. I’m sure your familiar with the term Dope. The nickname comes from Dopamine. Dopamine causes your audience to really feel something which will help with:

  1. Focus
  2. Memory
  3. Motivation

To produce Dopamine you need to tell a story that piques interest with a hook or twist.

Do this with an interesting question, suspenseful statement, cliffhanger, or plot twist – especially during the beginning of your story.


This chemical commands the brain’s attention. Cortisol is the stress hormone. It is almost like a warning saying,

“Listen up, there is something to be learned here.”

This chemical can be beneficial when used in small doses but, fair warning, you want to produce it only in small amounts. Too much Cortisol can cause your audience to feel uncomfortable and put up their defenses.

Stories with danger or intensity will make your audience feel this. To produce this, include a few sentences that really highlight the struggles being faced in the story.


Oxytocin is the same chemical that floods a mother’s body after the birth of her baby. It’s powerful stuff. Imagine what stronger bonds would do for you personally and professionally.

Oxytocin is the key to evoking empathy in your audience. Empathy will help your audience trust you more and become more generous.

To produce this chemical, you will need tell stories that tug at the heart strings and make your audience feel more human. Being vulnerable and honest in your stories will be a major factor in triggering Oxytocin.


You’ve probably heard that exercise produces endorphins, the feel-good stuff. Endorphins make you laugh. They make you feel happy.

“Exercise gives you endorphins; endorphins make you happy, happy people just don’t shoot their husbands!” Any Legally Blonde fans in the house? See. Storytelling can literally save lives.

All joking aside, telling funny stories and silly anecdotes can help put your audience at ease and make them more receptive to what you are saying. Try to include a humorous moment, happy moment, embarrassing moment, or something a little unexpected to trigger endorphins in your audience.

Putting it all together!

Create a cocktail of these chemicals by adding interest, excitement, comfort, arousal, and bonding to your stories – and you, my friend, have a captive audience ready for action.

Dr. Uri Hasson has studied the impact of story for relationship and impact. He is quoted saying, “By simply telling a story, (a person) could plant ideas, thoughts, and emotions into the listener’s brains. A story is the only way to activate parts in the brain so that a listener turns the story into their own idea and experience.”

Fascinatingly enough, just thinking about an action or experience in this way activates the neurons associated with the act. Not only that, but research tells us that this activation in the brain can stay with us for several days. That is how stories stick. This is how your mission made memorable.

Don’t be shy when it comes to sharing stories of struggle. Helping the audience experience the pain that your organization addresses will help them want to become involved in solving the problem.

When thinking about what stories you want to share, consider profiling people your organization serves that have encountered and overcome great difficulty. Chances are good their stories are packed with lots of emotions – heartbreak, fear anger, resilience, joy, relief, etc.

Don’t be afraid to ask others to share their stories – you may be the only person who ever bothers to! Many people will feel proud and honored to have their story shared. In this article (include link), Psychology Today tells us that sharing our stories has many psychological benefits including:

  1. Realizing sharing one’s story can help others
  2. Helping one find their voice
  3. Making sense of life’s events
  4. Finding peace and hope

P.S. If your organization requires anonymity, you can always change the name of a person and a few details of the story to conceal their identity.

As you can see, from a psychological standpoint, stories activate the teller’s and the listener’s brain in a special way that creates attachment and loyalty. It’s a win-win approach to communication.

If you are looking to create better communication and connection in your personal and professional life, it’s science.

Story is your answer!

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  • Honest Machirori

    It was really helpful thank you very much.I have learned a lot about storytelling especially about the hormones and chemical and how they can be triggered. I also got enlightened on the psychological aspect of it as well.
  • Olusola Banwo Faniyi

    Story Telling is indeed a tool in the hands of those that know how to use it to connect with the audience and make them do what ordinarily wouldn't want to do without resentment.
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