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The Key to Business Communication: Improvise!

I was always good at thinking on my feet.

From a young age I was always the “performer” in my family and would always be putting on a show at family gatherings. So, it was no surprise that when I had the opportunity to join Regina’s premiere improv company, Hitchhikers Improv, that I jumped on the opportunity.

Improv has taught me so much more than how to expressively and humorously get my point across; it has had ripple effects into how I communicate in everyday life too!

Being understood is everything in business and in life. Being at a loss for words can be everything too – and not in a good way! Under communicating, miscommunicating, and over communicating can be a mine field that can affect everything from opportunities, to team morale and especially the bottom line.

But, I have a solution: improvise!

There is one main takeaway I’ve picked up from being on stage that has enhanced my communication skills it is this:

Don’t Listen to Respond, Listen to Understand!

Often during a conversation, we are simply listening to what the other person is saying and waiting to respond and get our message across. We seem to miss the step of “understanding”.

Something I’ve learned from improv, however, is that if you simply listen to respond, the “wants” of your respective characters can go in completely different directions and the scene feels jumbled and without meaning. If you listen to understand , you can fully react to what the person you are communicating with is looking for and how that may fit in with your own ideas which allows the scene, or the business, to run a lot more smoothly.

Along with learning how to listen with intent, learning to improvise has also given me the ability to rapidly think on my feet and trust those around me to carry on the “story” if I draw a blank. That’s how good business teams work too! Knowing when to jump in and knowing when to stand back. It is a creative and intuitive way to be present, and that is just a great way to do business and live life.

I am Braedon McLeod and I am a Story Co. collaborator who sees life as an endless improv opportunity.

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How Stories Change the Brain: Looking at Paul Zak’s Research

At The Story Co., we fundamentally believe in the power of stories. We know there is power there; that the impact of sharing and hearing stories is inherently valuable. What we didn’t know is that there is scientific research to back up our gut instinct.

Paul Zak wrote a fascinating article about – you guessed it – how stories change the brain. Look at you, reading titles and putting two and two together! I will include a link to the original article at the end so you can check it out and highly recommend reading it. Here are a few things we could not resist highlighting:

Why Stories are Important

Not only are stories are more entertaining, they are also more effective in terms of communication. Zak’s research concludes that personal, emotionally compelling stories are better remembered than a set of facts. They are also a way to connect with strangers. Forming relationships is key as a business. 

On a truly base level, Zak says: 

“My lab pioneered the behavioural study of oxytocin and has proven that when the brain synthesizes oxytocin, people are more trustworthy, generous, charitable, and compassionate. I have dubbed oxytocin the “moral molecule,” and others call it the love hormone.”

Not included in this quote is Zak’s explanation that during a well told story (well told according to brain chemistry rather than just a dynamic speaker – but there’s a lot of overlap!) the brain produces the oxytocin drug. This is a huge benefit of stories – I see no downside to a more moral society; do you?

On a business level, it makes sense that we would want customers to associate our brand with the feeling they get from producing oxytocin.

So, it’s been established that on a scientific level, stories have the edge. Great! But not so fast – not all stories are created equal. So, how do you make sure that your story is having the desired effect?

How to tell a Good Story

Zak’s team found that there are two primary aspects: the ability to hold the viewer’s attention; and “transporting” them into the world of the character.

In today’s fast moving, multitasking world it can be incredibly hard to grab the attention of a consumer. Zak holds that on an evolutionary level we are programed to use our “attention spotlight” sparingly. He says:

In fact, using one’s attentional spotlight is metabolically costly so we use it sparingly. This is why you can drive on the freeway and talk on the phone or listen to music at the same time. Your attentional spotlight is dim so you can absorb multiple informational streams. You can do this until the car in front of you jams on its brakes and your attentional spotlight illuminates fully to help you avoid an accident.

Aside from being an interesting insight into the human desire to multitask – I’m glad to finally have an explanation as to why we turn down the music when we are trying to find a specific street name! That’s a custom that has confused me since the beginning!

Once you have managed to catch the audience’s attention, if it is sustained for long enough, the audience begins to emotionally resonate with the story. This is what Zak refers to as “transportation”, as the audience will feel the character’s emotions and become more invested in the outcome.

Every attention grabbing, “transporting” story can be boiled down to what is referred to by scholars as “the dramatic arc”:

  1. Begin with something new and surprising;
  2. Increased tension with difficulties the characters must overcome – often because of some failure or past crisis;
  3. Climax, where the characters must look inside themselves to find the answer;
  4. The resolution of the story.

Do you recognize these elements in any of your favourite tales? I know I do! Do you recognize them in your favourite brand stories?

Another interesting note for businesses: Zak’s research found that it was easier to sustain people’s attention and to generate “transportation” when the medium was a video rather than written.

This means it’s time to fully embrace the video trend on social media! Not only is there an advantage in terms of the algorithms, but there’s a neurological advantage too!

There’s no denying the power of story. We know that through our own experiences with a strong story, and now we know it through science too! So what are you waiting for? Tell us your story.

The link to the original article, as promised:
https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_stories_change_brain#gsc.tab=0

Written by Story Co. collaborator Emily Brenner

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Millenials + Brands

The Story Co markting and branding regina Emily Brenner Collaborator

As a millennial I’ve always recognized that my generation is “different” than those who came before us. These differences have made us unique in terms of the business world, and especially in regards to marketing. Forbes says that 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. We have left marketing departments scratching their heads, wondering “how do we reach them!?”

I actually don’t think it’s that complicated!

According to Forbes, millennials value authenticity over anything else. Adage says that millennials want a personal connection with brands, they want to be spoken with, not to. Entrepreneur.com says nearly a third of millennials are more likely to buy a product if the brand feels less “sales-y” and feels more authentic and truthful.

This all makes sense to me! We are a generation that has grown up bombarded with advertising. In a sea of companies trying to make us loyal customers, of course we are going to look for a brand that is authentic.

We are looking for a company that allows us to make a personal connection, even if “personal connection” has been redefined to include twitter conversations and Facebook likes.

So how does one keep a brand authentic in the eyes of a millennial? Well, simply put, don’t try to be something you’re not! Communicate with us, tell us your story and your beliefs, and embody those beliefs. We want to believe you!

The Story Co. helps companies communicate their authentic selves to their community through the power of story. There is a universal truth to this approach that resonates with all age groups – millennials included. This is why I could not be more excited to have the opportunity to help companies communicate their authentic selves.

Hello world! My name is Emily Brenner, and I am a Story Co. co-collaborator!

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