Telling Stories to Influence People is Lame Unless You Use This Neat Psychological Trick

You know why there are ten million articles, books and a gazillion blogs about storytelling? The ones insisting you can’t sell that diaper rash cream without telling a story, a personal heart-wrenching tale of raw pink bottoms and the midnight shrike fests.

Because storytelling is the oldest, most potent trick to trick your brain into feeling emotions that are nearly impossible to evoke with a straightforward description.

Stories literally carry your brain off into a different place, a place where a lot of untruths seem true and many impossible seem likely, attractive even.

Stories can make or break your persuasion efforts, period.

BUT…there’s always a BUT….

Your story only works if it does a few key things. Take those key elements away, and your well-crafted narrative will fall flat on its face like a cat that has OD’d on tuna melts

And what are those essentials?

  • A neurochemical called Cortisol–which when released by the brain induces feelings of distress and therefore makes the audience occupied in the story.

  • Oxytocin–a neurochemical that stimulates feelings of care and empathy and gets people to take actions the story is trying to lead them towards.

Before you dismiss this as scientific mumbo jumbo, let me explain what this means.

The Science:

Paul Zak did this super fun experiment (Video Link) where he showed people two types of short videos:

  1. A sad story about a father and son that had an interesting start, a clear climax and a surreal ending
  2. An unassuming person walking about aimlessly during the course of the video

The brains of the ones who watched the first video produced the two neurochemicals Cortisol and Oxytocin and were therefore not only more engaged in the story but also took actions that were desirable in that context (donations in this case).

The second video failed to engage the brains of the viewers in any way.

In fact Oxytocin is so effective that in a related experiment, people infused with oxytocin actually were 80% more generous than others when splitting money.

This is the power of neurochemicals!

Imagine how great it would be to tell a story that releases oxytocin naturally and makes them care?

 How to Supercharge your Story:

You need to achieve two primary things with your story:

  1. Get them engaged. Make them Pay attention (Cortisol in action)

  2. Get them to Care …like their life or happiness depended on it! (Oxytocin in action)

Listen, if they are fully engaged with your story but don’t FEEL anything, would that help you sell that coaching program? Not really!

Conversely, they can’t really feel much if they aren’t paying attention.


This means that no matter what story you are telling, you need a:


  1. A relatable start that hooks them (Use their pain points, use suspense or use Imagery. Anything that hooks them…hard!

  2. A gripping climax or struggle (you may want to use the Chip and Dan Heath’s story plots that I talk about in this post)

  3. An end that leads to a specific action or positions your solution as the miracle cure for the problem you story highlights.


Ten Tips that Makes for Persuasive Storytelling:

Here are some tips to help release the two chemicals:

  1. Make the story as personal as you can. Use names, places, traits that your audience can relate to. If they see themselves in your story, they will not only pay attention but will also care!
  2. When possible, use powerful images… especially those proven to release oxytocin (Hint: Cute babies and fluffy kittens)
  3. Your story should lead to something, don’t force people to think of the connection. People are lazy and will often miss the point, unless you make it painfully, explicitly clear.
  4. Make it as tangible as possible. Paint pictures with your words, describe details that are small but help create a mental picture.
  5. If you know your audience well, you should be able to use their dreams, fears and desires to draw parallels between the characters in your story and the people you are talking to.
  6. Make contrasts between what their life is right now and what it could be if they went through what the characters in your story go through.
  7. Your audience’s pain pints are your weapons of mass persuasion. Emphasize them in great detail through your story characters so that people live their pain through the characters and then feel elated once the pain if alleviated, to be replaced by bliss.
  8. Highlight the financial, emotional or personal gains of the characters in intricate details. This is where they dream!
  9. Use suspense, ideally at the beginning of the story so their brains force them to finish the story.
  10. Last but not least, make it entertaining. If it’s an interesting story, people will read on for the sheer fun factor!

All stories induce mental simulation that make people listen in more closely and therefore are great tools to get your message across.

But a story that helps release these two neurochemicals not only gets your message across but also helps you achieve the specific actions you want them to take without resorting to begging, bribery or using threats of bodily damage.

So whatever story you want to tell in your next presentation or on your website, make sure it isn’t just a pretty tale but is carefully crafted to work on those brain chemicals.

and If you want to give your website a 5 minute persuasion makeover, you really should check out the Non-Icky Persuasion Toolkit below.

Storytelling is lame. Unless you use this neat psychology trick!Storytelling is lame. Unless you use this neat psychology trick! #entrepreneurtips #onlinebusiness #onlinemarketing #thepersuasionrevolution


  1. Alex on July 26, 2014 at 12:57 pm

    Excellent stuff!

  2. Star Khechara | Miss Monetisation on January 31, 2015 at 12:48 pm

    As both a science geek and a sales siren, I totally agree! I always encourage my clients to use quantitative and qualitative storytelling in their sales pages and sales copy. Lack of emotional narrative is definitely a problem when trying to use storytelling as a sales technique without understanding how it works. Gotta love brain chemicals!

    • bushra.a on February 4, 2015 at 7:40 pm

      Oh Star my darling English buttercup…Thank you so much for dropping by, the place looks brighter already!

  3. Brenda Adelman on April 13, 2017 at 3:35 pm

    These are such great tools. Love the science behind the practical tips. As always- amazing!

  4. […] attest to the fact that human nature is fundamentally drawn to stories. Believe it or not, hearing a story is scientifically proven to increase oxytocin! (the happy […]

  5. […] well attest to the fact that human nature is fundamentally drawn to stories. Believe it or not, hearing a story is scientifically proven to increase oxytocin! (the happy […]

  6. Sherilyn Colby on October 2, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    Wonderful tips as usual Bushra! Thank you. Your programs and free stuff are chock full of goodness.

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