The magical science of storytelling | David JP Phillips | TEDxStockholm

The magical science of storytelling | David JP Phillips | TEDxStockholm

Translator: Florencia Bracamonte
Reviewer: Tanya Cushman In 2009, a man, a journalist
by the name Rob Walker, wanted to find out this: Is storytelling really
the most powerful tool of all? And in order to do this, he went on his computer,
and he bought 200 objects from eBay. And the average price of the objects
was about one dollar. He then called 200 authors,
and he asked them, “Hey, would you like to be part
of the ‘significant object study’? Which means that I would like you
to write a story to one of the objects.” And 200 authors said yes. So there he had 200 objects,
he had 200 stories, and I assume that it was
with nail-biting anticipation that he went on eBay again
with all the 200 objects. Would there be a difference?
Would there be a change? Do you think there was a change? One of the objects was this, this beautiful horse’s head. There we go. The beautiful horse’s head. Now, this beautiful horse’s head
was bought for 99¢ and was sold, when the story
was added, for $62.95. (Laughter) That is a slight increase of 6395%. So, was this a one-off situation? Not really, because he bought the 200 objects
for a total of $129, selling them for $8000. Now, that’s insane. But you know what’s even more
intellectually challenging to understand? How can you and I go to the movies and pay good money
to watch movies like James Bond, [that] are absolutely unrealistic? And we sit there;
we enjoy the movie. And some of us, we really enjoy the movie. And we leave the theater,
going like, “God, what a man! I would like to be more like him. I’d like to walk like him.
I’d like to talk like him. I like Bond. (Laughter) I wonder how I could be more like Bond.” And then this weird revelation
hits you like from nowhere, and you come up with a brilliant idea
to walk to a watchmaker shop. And wow! It just happens
to be an Omega watch in that shop that resembles the one
that Bond was wearing in the movie. And you pay $10,000
to put that watch on your wrist. And you leave that store
feeling more like Bond. How is that possible? PQ Media tells us
that 10.5 billion dollars is turned over in product placement
revenue every single year. How is it possible for you
to be so easily tricked by something so simple as a story? Because you are tricked. Well, it all comes down to one core thing, and that is emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are
in anything in your life, the less critical and the less
objectively observant you become. And the greatest
emotional investment of all is falling in love. Now, falling in love
resembles a good story. Do you remember
the last time you fell in love? Yeah? Good for you.
It’s a beautiful feeling, isn’t it? (Laughter) Do you remember how you longed
and how you yearned and how you dreamt? Then you looked at her,
and maybe you thought, “God, I love the way you chew that apple – so crunchy. (Laughter) And the way you slurp that tea,
just over the edge, you know. Oh, it’s so sexy. Love it!” And then about 13 months later,
when you biochemically fall out of love – 13 months later, on an average,
you fall out of love – suddenly you find yourself
sitting in the sofa, and you go, “Jesus Christ, where
did this thing come from? Oh my God! And where are my friends? This is a weird thing.” Then suddenly you hear a sound;
you go like, “What’s that?” You go over to the kitchen,
and you look, and you go like, “Oh, it’s you!
You’re eating an apple there. Could you just keep that down
just a little bit? You’re kind of spraying the table there. Please, please don’t.” And you sit down comfortably again, and just a minute later, you hear somebody drinking tea
from the kitchen, going (Slurp). And suddenly, this is all annoying to you. Have you been there? Sadly enough, 13 months later, our critical thinking and our cortex
comes home from a one-year-long vacation, and we start questioning things. During those 13 months, what happened
was that your brain was flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones
hijacking your cortex, throwing your objectively
observant skills out of the window. And the thing with storytelling
is that the same thing can happen. In stories, the same hormones
and neurotransmitters can be released. Hormones like vasopressin, oxytocin,
serotonin, dopamine, endorphins. And you know what? That’s what I would like to do
during my talk. I would like to induce
three hormones into your brain. I call it “the angels’ cocktail,”
so it’s a nice cocktail. I would like to start with radically
increasing your dopamine levels. And I need your consent on this. Is it okay? Cool. And if you don’t like the idea of that,
you’ll just have to cover your ears. So, dopamine. This is what it looks like. And when you have that in your blood,
these are the beautiful effects: you get more focus, more motivation,
and you remember things in a better way. So what does dopamine feel like?
It feels like this. About six years ago, I received
a phone call from a woman who represented one of the biggest
training companies in Scandinavia, and she said, “Hey, David! We’ve got a lot of trainers
in presentation skills and in rhetorics, and we’d like to increase
the level of all of these, and we think you are a perfect pick. Would you like to come to a meeting?” I’m like, “Wow, I’m honored. I’d love to.” And I come up to Stockholm,
and I’m going to their office, and just as I am going
to pull the handle down, what I don’t know then is that I’m walking into
one of the absolute worst meetings I’m ever going to have in my life. But I don’t know that yet, so it’s okay. I open the door, and I meet this woman. Her name is Liana. And hurriedly she says,
“David, just so you know, I’m not the one you’re having
this meeting with; you’re going to have it
with three gentlemen, further on here.” And I’m like, “Okay,
that’s a bit strange.” Usually you know who
you’re going to have the meeting with. Then she progresses
with a bit of chit-chatting, and then suddenly she says,
“Are you ready now?” And I’m like, “Yeah,
what should I be ready for?” She says, “Just so you know –
Can you see the room over there?” And I go like, “Yes, I can see it.” “Well, in that room
you have the three gentlemen. Just so you know, they’re all
majority owners of this company. They’ve all got an ex-military background, and none of them wants the training
that you are going to pitch.” (Laughter) I’m like, “Come on! Why am I here?” And it’s like, “Well,
all the trainers want this, but the management are on too high horses. They can’t see that they need it. So it’s pretty simple. The only thing you have to do
is go in there and kind of, you know, just prove the opposite.” I’m like, “Yeah, that sounds
simple, doesn’t it?” And I can remember myself,
I’m walking towards this office, my sweat is coming down
my palms, my heart is racing, and just halfway there, she calls my name. And I still, to this day, don’t know if this woman
is sadomasochistic or just downright unintelligent. Because she calls my name,
and she goes like, “David!” It’s like I’m going to get the tip
or something like that, so I turn around to ask her, and she says the following – And if I don’t tell you
what she says there, is that annoying? (Laughter) Well, actually, as an example,
I’m not going to do that. I just wanted to prove to you
what it feels with high dopamine levels. Would you say that
your focus was increased? Your attention was increased? You were creative;
you created situations around this, and you probably already figured out
what that room looked like, correct? And you’ll remember that I
did that to you for quite a while. Now, the feeling you had there was high levels of dopamine,
which is beautiful. So how do you do that? Well, what you do is you build suspense, you launch a cliffhanger, and the most beautiful thing of all is that all storytelling is,
per definition, dopamine-creating because it’s always something
that we’re waiting and expecting. So just imagine, just by using
storytelling you can get those techniques. You don’t have to do
a cliffhanger like I did. So that was the first hormone. I’d now like to go to oxytocin. Is that okay as well? I’ll induce that? All right. The beautiful effects
of oxytocin are the following: you become more generous,
you trust me more, and you bond to me. You want to do that? All right. All right, so this was a … Nine months had passed, and it was a planned caesarean. And the little brother, who was
5 years of age at that point of time, he was kind of really looking forward
to what’s going to be – what’s going to happen. He was going to become a big brother. And he had helped us
pick out the wallpaper, he’d helped choose the bed linen. He’d even saved his own pocket money
to buy a little stuffed animal, which was placed on the pillowcase. About two days before
the planned cesarean, something happened. Something wasn’t right. The parents couldn’t – something was off. And the day before, there was simply
no movement in the stomach, there was no heartbeat. You couldn’t feel or hear anything at all. So the parents were rushed into hospital, laid down on a bed, and doctor comes in, checks the stomach, looks at me and sees what I see, and that is that the heart
is no longer beating for this child. This was me, nine years ago. It was the worst thing
I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. And, I don’t know, can you just imagine
what you have to tell a five – how you tell that to a five-year-old? Can you just imagine that? Because he’s home there, waiting
in anticipation for this coming event. But it won’t happen. So a part of me and to handle that, I talk about it. And I’ve talked to you about it now. And now you got higher levels
of oxytocin in your blood, whether you want it or not, which means that you feel more human; you’re bonding to me,
and you’re feeling more relaxed. So how do you do that? In storytelling, you create empathy. So whatever character you build,
you create empathy for that character. And oxytocin is the most
beautiful hormone of all because you feel human. The third, and last, hormone is endorphin, and I would like to show you a woman which, we can say,
has overdosed on endorphins. Let’s just look what that looks like. Ah, we’ll go here. (Video) Priest:
To inspire and to respond … (Muffled laughter) Are you speaking or listening? (Laughter) Woman: To speak and to listen. (Laughter) I’m sorry. Okay, um, to speak and to listen? Priest: To inspire and to respond. Woman: To inspire and to respond. Priest: And in all circumstances Woman: (Laughter) Woman: And in all circumstances Priest: Of our life together Woman: (Laughter) Woman: I’m sorry – of our life together Of our life together Priest: To be loyal to you
with my whole life and all my being Woman: To be loyal to you
with my whole life and all my being Priest: Until death parts us.
Woman: Until death parts us. Woman and Man: (Laughter) (Audience) (Laughter) Oh, the timing of that
is so lousy, isn’t it? So how do you create endorphins?
Well, you make people laugh. What happens then is that they become
more creative, they become more relaxed, and again, they become more focused,
which is beautiful to have. Now, all these three hormones
that I’ve induced into your brain now is what I call “the angels’ cocktail.” But there is an opposite of that cocktail,
and I call that ‘”the devil’s cocktail.” And the devil’s cocktail has high levels
of cortisol and adrenalin. And they feel like this. (Quick yell) (Laughter) Sorry to do that to you. So, high levels
of cortisol and adrenaline. The problem with that is that
if you’ve got really high concentrations – which I didn’t give you there – but when you’ve got
high concentrations, look at this: [Intolerant, Irritable, Uncreative,
Critical, Memory impaired, Bad decisions] Is this something that you want
to have the people you talk to have in their blood, in their system? Now, in our stressful work lives,
in our stressful lives, many times, when you present,
communicate, deliver meetings, Which one do you think
they’ve drunk most of? The devil’s cocktail
or the angels’ cocktail? Most commonly, the devil’s cocktail. And the problem then is that you’ve got
all this to work against. But all of that can change today. All of that can change by you starting to use something
I call functional storytelling. And functional storytelling means
that you do these three things: One, you have to understand that
you don’t have to be a bearded old man in front of a fireplace with a dark voice
in order to be a great storyteller. In my experience, when I train people, everybody is a good
storyteller from birth. The only problem
is that you don’t believe in it. The second thing
is write down your stories. You’ll notice that you have three
to four times more stories in your life than you thought that you had. Three, index those stories. Which of your stories make people laugh,
i.e. create endorphins? Which make people
feel empathy, i.e. oxytocin? And the next time you go into a meeting, you pick the story you want
to release the hormone you wish in the person that you’re talking to to get exactly the desired
effects that you want. And that’s a beautiful thing. Now, you know me, some of you
know me as “Mr. Death by PowerPoint.” I want to round off
with making my point very clear. And my point is this: 100 000 years ago, we started
developing our language. It’s sound to say that we started
using storytelling to transfer knowledge from generation to generation. 27 000 years ago, we started transferring
knowledge from generation to generation through cave paintings. 3 500 years ago, we started transferring
knowledge from generation to generation through text. 28 years ago, PowerPoint was born. Which one do you think
our brain is mostly adapted to? Thank you very much. (Applause)


  1. Why are a lot of these people on ted talk, take their time and effort to present it to strangers or random people, there must be some benefit for them.

  2. This is cool and brilliant. I love the idea of functional storytelling. I always prefer triggering something by a specific event. I am now trying to create a comics and this really inspires me a lot. Now I can categorize the different of stories to give my readers the feelings I want to express to them.

  3. If you, like I do, play TED Talks to get to sleep or stay asleep, this is NOT the talk for you. @[email protected]
    Other than being startled rudely awake in the middle of my sleep cycle, it is a very good talk. Just save it for after lunch!

  4. I disagree with his first point, that Dopamine is increased by creating suspense. Why? Because dopamine levels rise as a reaction to a positive outcome. Let's use working out as an example. Your body releases dopamine as a reward once you workout as a reward for doing so. If suspense is the main point of your story telling abilities, you won't reach any type of rewarding sense for your listener and therefore you will not help them feel the effects of dopamine. Let's say you lie in bed all day dreaming about how good it might feel to workout and you never actually do it, would you feel a sense of reward and therefore would you feel any dopamine? Perhaps if you create suspense and then allow the listener to access information to alleviate that sense of suspense after a period of time, the outcome might be different. Also, why can't he spell "Dopamine" properly in his slide if he's "mr death by power point"? I will give him credit where it's due though, he made great points on how to increase oxytocin and endorphins.

  5. I totally didn’t connect with this video, and everyone in the comments did, however the last talk I watched I connected with immensely, and everyone in the comments hated it

  6. He’s got a weird accent. I can’t place it. Sort of public school English but with a dash of German thrown in.
    I guess he’s just Swedish though


    Effects: Focus, motivation and memory
    Tips: Create suspense and use a cliffhanger

    Effects: Trust, generosity, relax and bond
    Tips: Create an empathic character

    Effects: Creative, relax and focus
    Tips: Make people laugh

    Advise: Utilize stories to free the hormone you want in the person you decide

  8. I totally love this!!!! I am starting a storytime on my channel and I want to be on point! Great advice

  9. Memes, as in pictures with a bit of text, are very popular…yet I don't understand them. However, whether I understand them or not, they are a fact of life.

    So, I came up with my own sort of meme: I call it a kernel story…meaning that it is a snippet of a story that one can then interpret and build upon in any way that one likes.

    So here is my first attempt at a kernel story:

    I'd held back as long as was humanly, or otherwise, possible. I have to admit that I didn't think.

    I kicked the desk through the outside wall of the house and out into the neighborhood.  I hoped I didn't hurt anyone.

  10. The woman said…. "If you want to lose a connection the with an audience, make sure you don't finish a story that you start."

  11. It's amazing that my story-telling business has been running along with this man's ideologies. Never before have I ever felt more inspired.

  12. I don't usually comment but the footage later on in the video is so funny and beautiful. I hope things turned out well.

  13. What great use of storytelling. It's the only way to convey a message, to captivate an audience, and have them remember your words and lessons forever 🙂

  14. With that accent, when he talks about James Bond, I just wanna hear him say: 'Ah Mr Bond I've been expecting you'…..

  15. The way this talk has been designed, it categorizes in the brain very easily. Dividing the talk into 3 pointers really helps us to understand and recall as well. This is the best talk I ever heard in my recent time.

  16. Thanks David- vital facts and knowledge of story and story telling- wished i would have known this years ago….

  17. how have missed this all this time. this is the most useful, inspiring content that i have come across in a long time. fascinating content.

  18. I love telling stories. I started when I was so young and had to take care of my 10 siblings and spun lots of tales to keep them in line.

  19. You want to be like James Bond. Until you remember that literally every day someone tries to kill him 🙂

  20. I did not understand the opening portion. Guy bought things then….What? Re listed them with the stories? He said writers wrote TO the objects I thought he meant TO them. All in all the first part barely made sense to me.

  21. The watch is not real. The money is not real. The only thing that was real in the whole situation was the joy people took in experiencing life, and the relationships such joy helped to build or foster.

    As for the horse that went from a buck to over sixty, the person who purchased it with the story got greater value, but only in part because of the story. The high price itself factors in mightily to the level of enjoyment the item (again, not real) brings.

    Why do I say they are not real? They belong to this world. They are only part of the matrix God created for us to meet, and get to know Him, in.

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