Views from the Summit: Start With Why; Start With a Story

By Sheri Fitts • 2/4/2013 • 3 Comments

We’ve all been to one — a presentation where the speaker has a great set of slides and is leading a highly effective and educational presentation. Unfortunately, he or she isn’t engaging the audience in any meaningful way. People move around in their seats and start checking their smartphones. They know they should be listening; they just don’t know why.

This seems very similar to the basic retirement plan meeting — the meeting where we teach the benefits of 401(k) plans using the four “F” words as our guide: forms, facts, figures and funds. We have our PowerPoint presentations and our scripts full of valuable information for the employees. We do our best to connect. But sadly, only a few folks show up — or sign up.

As a retirement plan geek, I wanted to get better outcomes from those meetings. I wanted to know how to help participants change their behavior and make better decisions about their finances and retirement plans. So for the last five years, I’ve been researching storytelling as a means to generate better connections.

Surprise: You Are Your Brain

What I learned was quite interesting: Our brain can be segmented into three main areas: the neocortex, the limbic brain and the reptilian brain. (Imagine a target with the reptilian brain at the center, surrounded by the limbic, then by the neocortex.)

When we’re asking people to make decisions, we regularly “speak” to their neocortex — the area for reason, analysis and language. Sadly, we rarely consider their limbic brains. The limbic brain is the area responsible for feelings like trust and loyalty. It has no capacity for language but controls all human behavior and decision-making. Yep. Your pre-frontal cortex or neocortex has no ability to make decisions. It can only analyze. So you can yap away about forms, facts, figures and funds, but if you do, you limit your ability to connect with participants’ limbic brains, their emotional centers.

The way to connect emotionally is to bring stories into your presentations. Here’s how it works. In the forms, facts, figures and funds presentation, only one area of our brain is involved — the neocortex. It’s listening to the words and translating them into meaning, as the language part of the brain. However, if a story is told, not only does the language part of our brain engage, so do the areas of the brain that would engage if we were experiencing the story.

As an example, if someone tells us about a great big juicy hamburger with fried onions and bacon, our sensory cortex is engaged. If we tell someone about tripping down a flight of icy stairs, our motor cortex participates. And the best part is, if we tell someone a story about why something has shaped our thinking or way of life, we can influence their lives as well.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Do; It Matters Why You Do It

Stories set context. Stories help people understand why something is the way it is. And by starting with why, you can engage people’s limbic brains and help them connect more deeply and easily.

One of the keynote speakers at the upcoming 2013 NAPA/ASPPA 401(k) Summit, March 3-5 in Las Vegas, is Simon Sinek. Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership. It all starts with his concept of the “golden circle” and the question, “Why?” At the Summit, Sinek will share his unconventional perspective that explains why some people and organizations are more innovative and more profitable, command greater loyalties from customers and employees alike and, most importantly, are able to repeat their success over and over.

For a preview, take a peek at this video of Sinek at a TEDX event. See you in Las Vegas!

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Comments (3)

Elmer, I'd love to learn more about your studies and the things that your firm is doing. I tried to find you on LinkedIn as a way to reach ... Read more
2/5/2013 3:59 PM
Sheri Fitts
Sheri - this is a GREAT speaker. IMHO - this is exactly what ASPPA's message to Congress and the nation should be................not the wh... Read more
2/4/2013 5:53 PM
Peter Inoue
We have studied the neurophysiology of financial behavior for many years and let's share some of what we have learned and are applying at pr... Read more
2/4/2013 2:03 PM
Elmer Rich Iii