Our Brains Need Stories (Data with a Soul) to be Persuaded

"Stories are data with a soul" (Brené Brown).

To really understand something, we need stories—the information, the data, PLUS the emotions. This is because of how our brains work. Jock Murray highlights the importance of presenting to the limbic brain and to the neocortex for better presentations and to maximize persuasion and influence.


Stories are data with a soul. And the way the human mind works is that we need stories. The reason this works is because of biology. Not psychology, but biology. That’s why it’s the same for everybody you deal with. Even though they have different personalities, different intellects, they all have the same biology.

If you look at it very simply. If we take a cross-section of the brain, there’s two major regions of the brain. The outer region is the neocortex. The neocortex is where data analysis resides. It’s where logic resides. As we move to the inner ring, that’s the limbic system. And the limbic brain is where emotions reside.

There’s no capacity for language in the limbic system. Language resides in the neocortex. But the other thing that happens in the limbic brain is that’s where decisions are made. Decisions are made in the limbic brain not in the neocortex.

So think about the implications for presentation. The part of the brain that makes decisions to act is the part of the brain that controls emotions and has no capacity for language. Yet, that’s the part of the brain that you have to convince!

Decisions are made in the limbic brain not in the neocortex.

The traditional approach to presentations is to throw massive amounts of data on slides filled with words. So we speak to the neocortex. And if we speak to the neocortex and not the limbic system what happens is people can understand, comprehend, and process the massive amounts of data you present—They just don’t do anything with it. They just don’t act.

So what we have to do is to take the opposite approach—flip it all around. And say, I’m going to present to the limbic system. And yet my data and logic has to be sound and has to be solid, because these are smart people. They’re going to need that to support the feelings that they have about whether this is right or this is wrong.