In 1748, the British politician and aristocrat John Montagu, spent his free time playing cards. He liked to use one hand for the cards and the other for snacking. So he came up with the idea of putting his beef between slices of toast. This would allow him to eat and play cards at the same time.

John was the 4th Earl of Sandwich.

For over 27,000 years, since the first cave paintings were discovered, storytelling has been one of our most fundamental communication methods. We all enjoy a good story, whether it’s a novel, a movie, a Facebook post. But why do we feel so engaged when we hear a narrative about events?

A little science. When we are presented with facts, the language processing part of the brain gets activated. This is where we decode words into meaning. That’s all we do. Nothing else happens.

But when we are being told a story, activity in the brain changes dramatically. Not only are the language processing parts in our brain activated, but every other area in our brain that we would use when experiencing the events of the story are activated, too.

When the Earl selected a piece of rare roast beef, the juices ran down his arm as he layered it on the toast. Our sensory cortex lights up. We begin to salivate. There’s vague aroma of garlic.

When Betsy reached marathon mile marker 17, she could barely lift her legs. They felt like they were stuck in the soft tar on the road. Our motor cortex kicks into gear. Our legs become heavy as our brain tries to connect to the feeling of being weighted down.

The brain, it seems, does not make much of a distinction between reading or hearing about an experience, and encountering it in real life. In each case, the same neurological regions are stimulated. When the reader or listener engages in a story, they’re not only processing information—their brain is actually creating a simulation of the event.

By using storytelling, you’re getting someone to literally experience the event you are describing.

One of the best parts about storytelling is that the stories don’t have to be your own, they just need to be authentic. At a recent client meeting, we dedicated a 90-minute General Session to storytelling–then asked the attendees to use the kiosks in the lobby to record one of their own stories. The client’s plan is to post these stories on a website where colleagues can view and use them–and create authentic “experiences” for the people listening.

To explore how relevant visualization improves story retention, visit Visualization/Presentations.