We all like a good story. And we all know the feeling of getting so engaged in someone’s story that we almost feel like we are there with them, feeling their feelings and experiencing their experience. It turns out there’s a very good reason for this. Our brains are actually synchronising.
I’ve just read a short article by Uri Hasson, a professor of psychology at Princeton University, about his study into this phenomenon. The study measured the brainwaves of a speaker telling a story about her prom (a key event in her life) and also the brainwaves of people listening to her. The researchers then asked questions to gauge the listeners’ comprehension of the story.
The research showed that the brain activity of the listeners started to resemble that of the speaker – their brains were literally syncing with each other, or “coupling”. The stronger the resemblance was, the higher the comprehension of the listeners.
As you would expect, there was usually a slight time delay between the listeners’ brain activity matching up with the speaker’s. But in the cases of high comprehension, this delay virtually disappeared – showing that the brains were more firmly synchronised.
What’s even more intriguing, the study showed that in the cases of the highest comprehension, the listener’s brain activity even came before the speaker’s. It was as if the brains were so in tune that the listener could anticipate what the speaker would say before they themselves were aware of it.
According to Dr Hasson, this brain coupling is not the result of understanding, but is actually what allows understanding to take place:
“Coupling is the neural basis on which we understand each other. We’re suggesting that communication is a single act performed by two brains.”
In other words, it isn’t only that understanding and rapport (synchronisation) go together, but that rapport precedes and is necessary for understanding.
So if you would like your listeners to understand what you have to say, and if you want your message to have maximum impact, your first job is to build rapport.
Our experience is that personal stories are an excellent way of doing this, as are real eye contact and a willingness to connect with your audience as a human being rather than as a performer. These are the things that facilitate connection, “coupling”, and genuine impact.
See how Presence can transform your communication – book on one of our public speaking courses.