The menopausal amongst us being, well, menopausal.
Those are the kinds of things we tend to think about when we think of hormones.
Great stories need hormones
You might never have thought about it before. But every piece of content, from Star Wars to Kim Kardashian’s sex tape, activates your hormones. And not just the obvious ones in Kim’s case. However, I’m working blind here as I’ve never seen it, so just taking a bit of a guess.
Emotion is your story superpower
Even if you’re telling a story that you might think is rather dull. You might not even think of it as a story. For example, I rewrote a data strategy for a power company to tell the story of why that data will matter to the average household or small business. I thought about the emotions they wanted to stir.
And to stir emotions, you need to excite three hormones.
The hormone powerhouses
Any truly compelling story needs to activate three different hormones if it’s going to make an impact on someone.
Why these three? They all play an important role in different stages of your story or content.
Cortisol: the power of curiosity and focus
Two of them.
I knew the moment I swung the office door open and saw the pair of them exactly what was coming next.
I knew the words that were coming. I’d sat that side of the desk and had to read the same script a few times in my corporate life.
Well, shit. Now what?
In that first moment, there was only irrational but rational panic.
If you’ve been in that situation, you might have stopped and read those lines. You might remember the sense of panic. If you haven’t, the aim is to get people asking one simple question (thanks to David Hieatt for simplifying it). “And then what?”
Cortisol makes people stop
And in our noisy, busy world of endless content, that is the first aim of your content. Stop them in their tracks. Stop the scrolling. Make them pause.
When what you’ve written can engage cortisol in the brain, you’re arousing curiosity, giving people something they want to focus on.
Your brain will have to use energy to synthesise some of the other hormones as it goes through your story, and if there’s no reason to care, you’re not going to pass the first test. The prehistoric brain has already moved in. It’s part of our fight or flight response, about deciding quickly whether to use our resources or not. For now, you’ve got their attention, and while it might not be for very long, you’ve got them.
Your writing has to beat the brain
In those first few milliseconds, the brain is processing information and asking itself three things:
- Is it a threat?
- Is it boring?
- Is it too complicated?
Get the right answers to those three and you’re in with a chance of someone sticking around for the next bit.
Why will they care?
We tell stories, not just push out data, because they engage us on an emotional level. They make us care about something. The very best stories come from the heart, not the mind.
We can’t get the hands to do what the heart doesn’t feel and the head doesn’t understandBernadette Jiwa
Caring, or empathy, come with the release of oxytocin. Empathy is where we build trust with our tribe. That’s why people love founder stories, including the trials and tribulations along the way.
They’re stories about other humans, even if they’re going through something many of us cannot really being to imagine. For example, the story of the founders of Gandys losing both parents in the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 is not an experience many of us will have. But you cannot fail to have empathy and want to know “and then what?”.
Finish on a high
The final hormone you need is dopamine. If the end of your story can evoke wonder, or joy, or hope, that’s dopamine playing its role.
Not that it means every story has to have a happy ending. Wonder doesn’t just get invoked by the positive things in life. Think of the most famous six-word story ever told, often attributed to Hemingway.
For sale. Baby shoes. Never worn.
The wonder in that story is about what lies behind the story. We want to know more. That’s wonder. It also tells us something important.
The shortest story can invoke all those hormones and emotions
It’s very rapid in the case of the baby shoes, but then the brain works at speeds we can’t imagine every moment of the day. So don’t think you can’t tell an evocative and compelling story in 140 characters on Twitter or in your Instagram captions.
Take your tribe on a journey with you. Don’t just relay facts to them.
Keep asking “why will they care?”
Why should you care about hormones?
In reality, I don’t care if you care about hormones. What I do care about is helping people to tell better stories, to create more compelling content.
When you think about what someone will care about in any piece of content you create, then that’s a step towards making a story that will have a stronger impact. You’ve stopped writing for you, and you’ve started writing for the people you’re really in business for.
That’s what we should care about. Businesses that care about that are the ones that engage our hearts, and then our hands (and keystrokes) follow. Who knew hormones could be our secret business builder? They don’t teach that at business school!