What is their brain doing when you’re talking?

Feb 16, 2021
Photo by sumit kapoor from Pexels

Let’s take a page from a world-class marketer to understand how to keep people interested and engaged.

Donald Miller helps companies clarify their message, so they’ll not only become interested but remain interested. Lessons from his book Building a Storybrand could easily be applied to each of us in everyday conversations, no matter if we’re an aspiring leader, project or account manager, or politician running for office.

When people are listening to us, their brains are working hard on two very important processes leftover from evolution.

Are you useful?

First, the brain is trying to determine if the person or information will help them survive a barbarian or wild animal attack. What this means is that somewhere deep in their brain recesses, they’re trying to decide if you’re useful to them. They may not be aware that they’re evaluating you in this way, but it’s happening on some level.

Think of it this way, when you enter a ballroom, your brain doesn’t calculate how many chairs there are, but it does know where the exits are. Unless you’re saying something of use to the other person (helping them get their needs met) they’ll tune you out. Don’t take this personally; it’s not a slight against you. It’s evolution.

Are you taking too much of my energy?

Secondly, the brain is trying to conserve calories. It takes a lot of energy to think. Just ask a teenager who completed a daylong standardized test how they feel, or a writer at the end of a book project.

So when people have to process unrelated information, they’ll lose interest from having to do so much work trying to not be confused by parsing out unnecessary information.

So what is Miller’s suggestion to take advantage of these two facts?

Give them a reason to listen

You can tell stories that illustrate, not how great you are, but how you can help them.

For millennia, humans have been telling stories; they’re hard-wired into our brains as a way to make sense of the world.

Our brains don’t have to work too hard to understand stories.

When a story’s well told, it’s clear from the start what’s at stake for the character. In movies, we know within the first 10 minutes what the character’s challenge is -- be it to win the big game, find love, or not lose everything.

These “stakes” are what keep us interested, rooting for the character.

And here’s the secret sauce in Miller’s book: the character of the story isn’t you.

You’re the guide, not the hero.

Who do you think the hero is?


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