Back in 2009, a journalist of the name of Rob Walker thought to himself, “I wonder if increasing a value is possible on an object if you touch something special to it. So Rob was thinking hard and long for what he was going to do. Finally, he came to the conclusion, “I’m going to go on eBay. I can buy things on eBay.” He started doing that. He started purchasing not one object, not two objects, but 200 different objects. He had a plan. He had a thought and he had an idea.
So he received the first object and the first object was nothing less than this – a horse’s head made out of plaster. Doesn’t look too good, does it? Well, anyway, this horse’s head was bought for around 99 cents. So Rob got his plastered horse’s head and looked at it and then he called an author and asked, “Excuse me, I have a question for you.” And the author goes, “What’s the question?” Rob then throws back and saying, “You know what? I would like you to do something for me. I’m going to send you a picture of this horse’s head and I would like you to write a story about this horse’s head. Is that okay with you?”
The author thought hard and long and finally answers saying, “Yes, I can write this story about this horse’s head made out of plaster.” Rob send the picture, the author got it. And then he started to write a story about this horse’s head took a world tour around the globe. It had been left in the Eiffel Tower and it had been out at a party at the Chinese Great Wall or The Great Wall of China, as you know it’s called. So Rob got his story back and now he looked at it, realized that this story was good. He took the story together with the horse’s head, turned it around back on eBay, and started hoping for the best.
He bought the horse’s head for around 99 cents. When he was set and done and the bid war was over, this horse’s head was now sold for a whopping $62.95. For the ones who can really do the quick math, that’s an increase of 6,258%. That was the increase of connecting a story to the horse’s head. And then we all ask ourselves why is that?
Well, moving on with Rob, he had another 199 objects. So he reached out to another 199 authors and got another 199 stories back to him, did the return on eBay, start selling them, and was looking at the bid wars. After all for the 200 objects, he bought them for $129. When he was set and done and his study was completed, he had made and sold objects for $8,000.
Now we really ask ourselves why do we love a story so much so even purchase things that we don’t need? Well, that is what I’m going to talk about today with you guys. We can ask ourselves, what is the story? What do you need to become a great storyteller? Well, first of all, you do not have to sit in a cabin in the Alps with fire and candles. You don’t need that. You don’t want to sit in a nice chair by the open fire and having one of those Morgan Freeman and Oprah Winfrey voices. You don’t have to do that. Everybody can become a great storyteller. That is why I’m here. I am going to introduce to you the magical science of storytelling.
So buckle up guys because this is going to be a fun ride. I want to give you some solid tips and advice so you can be the one who creates great stories next time you tell a story. Let’s go back to the reason the why – why we purchase things? It’s a tiny bit that we want to become something. In some cases, something that we see. How many of you have ever been to the cinema? You might raise your hand right now or nod your head. How many of you have ever gone to the cinema and watch this gentleman right here? For the ones who don’t know who this is, this is James Bond. So we watched this cinema movie with James Bond and we know it’s totally unrealistic. Cars are flying through the air, planes are diving underneath the water, and every single time he comes out with the woman that he loves for the moment.
But here is the weird thing. We watched the movie, we walk outside the cinema and there we can find ourselves something has happened. Something has changed because the way that we walk has now changed to the way that James Bond walks. The way that we talk has become more sophisticated because that is exactly the way that James Bond does. The cool thing is that we now want to become James Bond or any other superhero of your choice. So you go home and the next day you wake up and here is a real twitch to it and a real kicker. When you walk downtown, you’re going to buy some groceries or just going to have a nice stroll in the park, but here’s the twitch. You will find yourself and the likelihood is great that you will find yourself in a watch store who sells watches and not any watches, the ones that he is wearing on his arm. Because you just want to take a little look and see is it a good-looking watch or is it not. Anyway, so we go there and we know that we’re not going to purchase it, but somehow, somewhere and somewhat, we find ourselves walking out of that store that watch store wearing the same watch as James Bond did yesterday.
Why? Because we want to become that person. Because we want to be connected with that person. And because we have bought into the story that they’re telling us. Did you know that today, this year, and the last year, and hopefully next year as well, we pay and we spend approximately $11.5 billion on movie memorabilia or items that are connected to a movie that we’ve seen? I want to be able to give you those skills that we are subjected to in the majority of cases every day. What I’m going to look on is that I’m first going to give you a little idea of how the brain is working and how you today guaranteed is doing something a little bit wrong, but we’re going to change that and optimize you so you will become better in communicating. Does that sound like a good idea?
Well, I sure hope that you feel that way. Let’s jump into when we were not looking the way that we are doing today, but we had one part of this thing that is connected between our ear lobes. In general, it weighs more than 1.2 kilograms. I’m talking about is the human brain. All of you have this. But in the back of your head, you have something specific right here. You have a part of your brain called the reptile system. The reptile system controls and really analyzes everything when you end up in a new situation. Whenever you walk into a new room, whenever you walk into an office space, whenever you walk into a cell meeting or presentation, whatever it is, that is a new situation for you. The first thing that will kick into play in the back of your head is number one. “Ooh. Ahh. Hmm. I wonder. That person looks really strong. Look at those arms.” The first thing you analyze is are you going to survive this? Are you going to walk out of there still alive? That’s number one.
The second thing that you look and analyze in the room is there’s a good smell. “I wonder is there food in this situation?” That’s the second thing. The third and final and this could become a little bit awkward, but it’s on the third spot in a new situation. You will go, “Look at that person and thing over there. I wonder if I can reproduce myself with that.” But then if you have a partner or you’re married, of course, your logic will kick into play. Anyhow, this is one of the strongest things we have. These are our urges. These are our needs that we have as human beings. Looking at evolution, religion, whatever you feel we want to believe in, we had to evolve. We had to become something else. So another couple of million years went by and we now develop this part of the brain. This is called the limbic system.
The limbic system pretty much controls the last time you felt sadness or you were happy, you felt joy. Or you were frustrated with something. Whenever you had one of these things, which are emotions, it is controlled based. It started here in the limbic system. You might ask yourself, and I would like you to ask yourself, “Do you believe in, do you think that our emotions are important in your life?” I would say that they’re crucial for our total existence as we know it. Just imagine yourself not having emotions. Hard because we have them every single day.
Once again, whoever or whatever created us realize on the line and on the way that you can’t just be having all these urges and feeling a bunch of things. You need to become a little bit smarter than you already are. So this one came into play. This one right here is called the cortex. So the cortex controls, handles all your logic. Every single information that you ever is thrown against you has to go into your cortex. I think that you are now starting slowly to connect the dots. In our business life today, in the majority of cases that we are entering a room where there was a presentation, or if we enter a sales meeting or we enter just a situation where somebody else is trying to do something with us, it’s guaranteed that they’re doing one thing and we might be doing that to them as well. That is informing them.
We are nowadays informing people all over the place and you can totally agree that we are subjected to too much information. Luckily someone has created a fail-safe, a safeguard, something that protects us. Right here in the frontal lobe of your brain, you have something called the prefrontal cortex. This prefrontal cortex is doing one thing and one thing only – it saves us. Whatever comes over here, it’s going to ask one relevant question. The relevant question is, “Will I and is this something that is relevant for my existence and my wellbeing?” In 80-90% of the cases, it says ‘het aus’. That means no in Russian and out in German. It’s just going to say it’s not relevant for my further existence and my wellbeing, please exit and thank you very much. You never come back again.
Getting into somebody else’s brain is really hard. Looking at the structure as we have it, as we are created, we can see that there’s a pattern. The same pattern as we got the different parts of the brain, we now also have the power of the decision. So over here, the reptile system controls both in limbic and the cortex. Whenever you have a need, if you feel that you’re scared or you feel that you need to eat, or you feel that you need to produce. Whatever situation you are in, that one is going to drag you out of the situation and say, “Let’s go here. We’re going over here because you might not survive. Or there is no food in here, or you just want to reproduce yourself.”
This one controls all of the other parts of the brain. So whenever we stand in front of that adventure, remember this. We need to control it and we need to control the environment of that. Whenever you tell a story, if you do not want them to feel scared about you or what you’re telling them, remember to not scare them. Same thing there. If you tell a great story, make sure that if you want to have the greatest effect, you do that after lunch or after dinner. I know for a fact that you’ve sat in several situations in your life when you’ve listened to somebody and they’re telling you a story and it’s been three hours since you last ate or drank something. You can only think about that, right? “I need a cup of coffee. I need a cup of tea. I would like to eat something.” That’s the reptile system for you guys.
Second thing is that we need to understand that these parts right here, they will control that. What I’m saying right now is that your feelings will control the logical part of your brain. Here is where we’re going to look up something special. Today, humanity is doing the following thing. We are just throwing a lot of information and the information is what we do, how we do, when we do it, where we do it, and with who we are doing it. You agree that these steps, what I’m showing you right now is what we give other people. This is pure information. So whenever you are subjected to pure information, your prefrontal cortex, you will ask is this relevant for my further existence and my wellbeing? And your prefrontal cortex will over and over and over again, say ‘het aus’.
What should we do instead? Well, we should start telling them why. What does why have to do with storytelling? Well, why in a story will create something special in somebody else’s brain. When we tell them why, let me just back this up. Why is not just because. There are always two types of the why – there’s always your why, and it’s their why. Whenever you feel that you’re going to tell a story, you have to ask yourself the first time and the first thought you have, “My why is as follows. Why is it important for me to tell them what I want to tell them?”
The second thing is their why. Their why needs to be fulfilled as well because it’s even more important. Why do they have to listen to what I have to say? If you can come up with these two, then you’re home safe. Whenever structuring a story, remember that you have to focus on your own why. Why do you have to tell that story? What do you want to tell that story? And then why should they listen to you? Why is it important for them?
When you think of your why, do it as peeling off a layer. The first layer is the first thing that comes into your brain.
Why should I tell it? What’s my why and what’s their why? That’s the first layer. Then you’re going to go to the second layer. Why do you do, what do you want to tell them, what you want to tell them? Why do you do what you do, and why they should listen to you? It can be that you want to change the way of doing business. You want to change their way of seeing things. That is still good, but it’s a little bit weak. So you peel that off and then you really conclude your why.
Why do you do what you do? Why do you want to tell this story? Preparation is in majority of cases to key focus in succeeding in telling a great story. Now you might wonder why I fumbled with the word because I want you to remember. I want you guys to remember that sentence. Preparation is the key to the success to tell a great story. Prepare yourself.
Now, I’m going to jump into how can I affect people then to listen more interestingly to what I have to say? We’re going to jump into hormones and signal substances. We’re going to talk about hormones and the first one I’m going to talk about is one of my favorite ones and it’s dopamine. Dopamine has a great effect on the ones that you talking to. The effects are as following – you become more focused, oriented, more motivating, and you increase in creativity and also increase memory. Just imagine that you have somebody who’s listening to you, that that person will increase their focus, that they will increase their motivation to keep on listening to what you’re saying, but they will increase the creativity so they can start using imagery and visualize what you’re talking about. But the best thing is that they will now start to remember what you tell them. Isn’t that amazing?
So humbly, I wonder for all of you guys, who’s watching me right now if it’s okay if I increase your level of dopamine right now and all the other signals substances, and hormones? I hope that’s okay. I can’t see you, but I hope you’re saying yes to that. To give you an idea of who I am, I just love scuba diving. Wherever I go on this planet when I’m allowed to travel. Wherever I go on this planet, I take my scuba gear with me. I love diving. I love the ocean. I love being caressed by the ocean. One time I went to Costa Rica and we were going to go on a dive trip, but unfortunately, it was canceled. I had to satisfy myself by going on a snorkeling trip so I did that. The sun was just like burning. It was a great day, a little bit windy. It was a little choppy, but the day was just great. We jumped on the boat. We took a ride out for 35 minutes on this beautiful ocean.
We even had to stop because there were whales jumping out of the water. It was amazing. I was super excited looking forward to go into the water and see what I could see, what kind of fish I could look at, and what kind of coral they had. We stopped and we anchor at this place. It was around a small island in the middle of the ocean. And I’m the guy who always jumps in first and the last one to leave the water all the time. So I jumped in when the captain says go ahead. We had 40 minutes around snorkeling, and I was really looking forward to it. I jumped in the water and I was swimming around. It was a really strong current and I was lucky to have fins on and a snorkel.
I was swimming there and I was looking at the fish. I saw big pufferfish. I even saw a couple of yellowtail. So I was swimming around this little island and the current was really ripping. The wind picked up, but I didn’t think too much of it. I had my snorkel so it was fine. All of a sudden, I hear ‘dong dong dong’ and I know by experience that means that everybody needs to get back on the boat. I was upset because 40 minutes just went by like this. So I had to start heading back to the boat and I was taking my time because I wanted to be the last one, of course, out of the water. I’d come up to the boat and I can start counting that the majority of them are there. I looked like I’m one of the last ones and I’m really now getting thrown in the water and almost crushing myself towards the boat, but keeping my distance.
Now it’s my turn. I was waiting for the lady in front of me to get up so it was my turn to get on the ladder.
And now something is grabbing my attention because on the boat, this is a woman and I can see her right there. She’s a little bit pale and she looks out towards the horizon. With the panic in her eyes, she points and screams, “She’s going down. She’s going down.” Instinctively, I look over my shoulder. Several meters away from me in the high sea, I see a hand is reaching up. I know something is really about to go wrong. I had still everything on. So I put my snorkel back in my mouth and I took a bearing towards where I saw her hand. And I swam. I swam as fast as I could. I could feel my heart was being on the other side of my chest. I swam as hard and as fast as I could. I swam and I swam and I swam and I see her hand, but she’s drifting away further and further and further away. I put my head down and swim as fast as I can and as hard as I can. Just when I’m about to reach out to grab her hand.
So guys, this is dopamine for you. Whenever you tell a story, what can you apply to create that emotion, that dopamine level, that signal substance? Well, if you create suspense, anticipation, and cliffhangers, you will give what I just gave you guys to someone else. Can you agree that it feels good? It felt good. You enjoy the story. And all of a sudden, when I just stopped, you were in pain and you’re probably still in pain. But I’m telling you this guys, it’s going to feel better soon again. So that was dopamine.
Jumping on to the next substance. Now we’re going to talk about serotonin. This is one of my favorite ones. I do love serotonin in the amount that I really just like dopamine. When you get an increase of serotonin, you want more and you want more every single day because you like the feeling of serotonin. What are the effects of serotonin? Well, you become more accepting. You become more kind and you can increase the self-esteem of the ones that you’re speaking to. Or you can increase your own self-esteem as well. With that said, I am truly happy. When I was reached out to do this talk with you guys, you are my fuel. I was bubbling. I was so happy that you wanted to hear me talk about storytelling. I have devoted myself over the last decade of just becoming better in helping people to communicate with each other in a level that we haven’t seen before. I do this together with the David JP Phillips organization.
I didn’t have such an easy childhood. I was bullied when I was young and I remember it as it was yesterday. I was a little bit of a chunky monkey. I love to eat snacks and I love to eat candy. In Sweden, we have really good candy and that is where I’m from. So I remember the day I was a chunky monkey and on top of the chunky monkeyness, I also had to get glasses. I remember the first day in school when I brought my glasses to class. I was so proud because my mom, she was proud of me for being able to select the glasses that I wanted. I had a free choice. She said, “Son, you can choose whatever glasses you want. It doesn’t really matter what they look like, but it’s your choice. And I was so happy.” I chose green glasses with red details. It was super amazing. And also I got to choose the casing that I could put my glasses in and I chose one that was green matching with the glasses.
I thought that way back then. There were three snowboarders, one with a broken arm and one with a broken leg, and the other one had a broken head. So I was really proud. I came to class and took out the casing and put it on my desk. I was the first one in class to get these things, the glasses. One of my friends, one of my classmates comes up to me and just looks at it and goes, “What is that stupid thing?” I didn’t know what to answer that person back then, my friend. I took my first lie that I can remember and I said, it’s a game. And then he asked me, “Can I play that game?” And I go, “No, there’s no batteries in it, maybe tomorrow.” From that, I systematically started lying.
You are my fuel. You are the reason why I’m doing this with a smile on my face because I truly believe communication should be something that should be free for everyone. You need to learn this at a young age. You need to be able to stand up towards the ones that are bullying you and you need to stand up and knowing what you need to do. So I humbly thank you from the bottom of my heart, because you are the reason why I wake up every morning with that smile on my face and enjoying every single moment on this planet. Thank you so much for watching me and taking the time. I know it’s the most valuable thing you have and you chose it together with me.
How do you increase serotonin levels in another human being? Well, it’s not hard. What you have to do is that you tell a story of where you feel proudness, or you feel problems over them. That includes happiness, success, or you increase somebody else’s social status. A simple thing, a simple sentence can do so much in somebody else’s brain. Whenever you tell a story, make sure that you include serotonin in that mixture of hormones and signal substances that you want to have them receiving, because here’s a simple fact. If you do this on a regular basis, it doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or if you’re in management or you’re by yourself, people around you who get increased of serotonin from you have a likelihood of following you more often in what you’re saying and what you’re telling them and asking them to do because you become their leader. By simple thing of just saying how great they’re doing something that you have asked them to or something that they’re just doing in life. One sentence can make the total difference.
From leaving the serious level and let’s talk about something that is a little bit more fun, and that is endorphins. The more we can get, the better it feels. What are endorphins? The effect they have is that you become more positive. You become more open-minded and you become less critical. Three great effects that you can have in somebody else’s life or in your own life. This one is one of my favorites that you become less critical. In today’s world, we are looking at everything with some criticism. How about we just become less critical and have more fun? I’m going to increase your levels right now of how to increase endorphins. Get ready.
She’s having an overload of endorphins. She can’t control herself. And I think you’ve been in the same situation when you sit in class, we sat in class and we had to be super serious, but then all of a sudden we started laughing or our friends started laughing. Here’s the thing. This is how you create it – laughter. So what happened? Well, it was an easy thing. You mirror whatever you see because of the mirror neurons that you have right here. So if somebody is laughing and you know you cannot laugh because they’re laughing, they’re putting you in a positive state of mind due to the endorphins, which will make you laugh. And if you laugh, they will start laughing. Cause they’re mimicking you. Do you see where this is going? You’re kind of exchanging laughter with each other. So tell stories that create laughter and we’re going to have a happier world.
Here’s the thing though, on the most serious note that I can place, we have a situation and that is this one right here. This one is the single handler worst thing that can happen and that is cortisol. So what is cortisol? Well, it’s a stress-related hormone that creates havoc because it’s connected with adrenaline. When you get an increase of that, you become intolerant, irritated, lack of fantasy, have critical and reduced memory, and you make the worst decision. And this is scientifically proven. You might ask yourself, “I don’t want to have people feel this.” You want to feel what cortisol feels like?
There we go. I’m sorry about that. It might scare you. I do apologize but this was a tiny, slightly increase of cortisol. You became a little bit more stressed out. Your reptile system and go I’m not going to survive this and then you were heading out the door probably. But just understand that you live in a choice. You live in a world full of choices. If you put up, if you inform people, you have a greater, a much higher likelihood that that person will have an increase of cortisol. You become more stupid when you have too much cortisol. So be smarter when you tell something, tell them in stories. Instead of asking people what to do, how to do it, and when to do it. You can still use that in a story, but you have all the other effects instead. There is a choice. Either you choose that one hormone that creates all of that, or you choose a combination of the other ones, and then you will have this. You will have people who will feel all of this and you will mirror them and mimic them. And then you will feel better too, just because of a simple story.
So is that all, are we set and done after that? No, we’re not because you can create the best story ever, but if you lack the delivery, then everything falls. It’s like a house of cards. I’m going to give you a couple of solid advice. First one, this right here, your face. Right now in the video conference era that we’re entering or in the digital world that we’re entering, a lot of this interaction to a camera is going to be the only thing we know. Make sure that your entire facial structure is working. One of my advice I give to you is to use the ‘too-tee-ta’. The ‘too-tee-ta’ is to make sure that you are using the muscle areas in your face.
Because if you do that, people will mimic you because they will see are you happy or are you upset, or are you just awkward? So the ‘too-tee-ta’ will help you with that. So what do you do? Well, you shape your mouth, and then we’re going to break it down. The first one is ‘too’. You see what I’m doing with my eyebrows here? It’s really round and a little over a little bit oval. For ‘too’, you will feel your muscles are working and contracting. And then you go with ‘tee’ and then ‘ta’. ‘Too-tee-ta’. If you do this 10 times in a row and you can do it in front of a mirror, that’s fun. You will probably wake up with sore muscles in your face because you haven’t used them before. But if you do this, when you using this facial structure, it’s easier for them to really see this is what you mean. We mimic people. We replicate what we’re seeing. So make sure that the facial structure is following the storyline.
The second thing, functionality. When it comes to gestures, these hands, this body is nonverbal communication. And I’ve been verbally communicating with you since I started this talk. Make sure that you increase your functionality when it comes to using your gestures. There are several different ways of not using it. Now, one of my favorite ones is using the fig leaf and that is when you stand like this and holding your hand in front of your genital and you’re telling a story. The thing is here that you have signals that are up here that are sent down and your entire body. But when you hold your hand like this, you’re not going to be able to do what your brain wants to do. You’re just going to do a twitch. Here’s the scary thing. The more I’m twitching, your eyes are following a movement so you’re going to look down on my crouch and that is not where you want to have your focus. So make sure it’s functional. Locked body positions can only create havoc and sometimes sadness and people will run away. That is one way of doing it with the fig leaf.
Another one is standing in the forklift position or in the bunny position or in the peacock position, or the union rep. We’ve got the sergeant major as well so the sergeant major is hands behind your back. And when the sergeant is made, you want to emphasize something. Some of you are smiling right now because you’ve seen this before, live in action. You might ask, what should we do then instead, Alex? First of all, number one, find a neutral stand. The neutral stand is when you have your hands just hanging from your body like this. The second step is to start to listen to your signals. When your brain is going to say you’re going to start your story right now, you’re gonna start your story. Welcome everyone, so say welcome everyone.
What do you do with your hands then? Do an opening, a regulator. It’s called a regulator. Do an opening with your hands and hugging your audience or the camera. So now I’m using the functional gesture of saying it’s time for me to start. It’s time for you to focus on me and you and I, we have just bonded. Other functional gestures can show that something is big or not so big. Tall or not so tall or moving. It can be that we’re showing something that if you ask your audience to take out their smartphones. I would like you to take out your iPads or your tablets. When you show that just by a simple drawing, you make them visualize.
If you remembered the dopamine story that I told you when I said that the water and the ocean was beautiful. When I said that the wave, it was a little bit choppy. And also when I was pointing up if you ever been in the situation, you could image that cause so you could imagine it. What I’m asking you is to start using your hands but remember you always have to be functional gestures. If you end up like this in your entire talk or entire storytell, this is not functionality. This is a repetitive nonfunctional gesture.
It’s not easy to tell a great story, but everybody can do it. With that said, I’ve given you some solid advice on how to tell a good story. Remember to practice your story before you tell them because if the delivery is not there, your story is going to fall short. We have found that we have communicated with each other for approximately 250,000 years in sign language. We have found drawings that age back to 27,000 years ago when we drew in caves and we communicated with each other through texts for the last 3,500 years. But the scary thing is for around 30 years, we have communicated through this. That is PowerPoint. Is PowerPoint bad? No, it’s one of the greatest things that we have, but we just didn’t know how to use it yet.
So what I’m asking you is to start telling the stories because everybody deserves to be listened to. Everybody deserves to tell a great story. My name is Alexander. I thank you so much. And remember tomorrow when you wake up, you have a choice. You have a choice to make the world a little bit better than it is today. Thank you very much.
Aazar Ali, a growth marketing expert, shares his insights on how to build your personal brand through authentic storytelling.
Mick Griffin, Chief Growth Officer at Traffit shares his best practices for storytelling in employee branding and his belief in making companies human again.
Erik Eklund, a speaker and coach in the area of Human Connections, shares why you are one of the greatest assets in your business and in life.