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Home » David JP Phillips: The Magical Science of Storytelling (Transcript)

David JP Phillips: The Magical Science of Storytelling (Transcript)

David JP Phillips

Here is the full transcript and summary of presentations expert David JP Phillips’ TEDx Talk: The Magical Science of Storytelling at TEDxStockholm conference. David JP Phillips is the author of How To Avoid Death By PowerPoint. 

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


In 2009, a man — a journalist by the name Rob Walker wanted to find out: is storytelling really the most powerful tool of all? And in order to do this, he went on his computer and he bought 200 objects from eBay. And the average price of the objects were about $1.

He then called 200 authors and he asked them: “Hey, would you like to be part of the Significant Objects study, which means that I would like to write a story to one of the objects”. And 200 authors said yes.

So there he had 200 objects, he had 200 stories and I assumed that it was with nail-biting anticipation that he went on eBay again with all the 200 objects: would there be a difference? Would there be a change? Do you think there was a change?

One of the objects was this — this beautiful horse’s head. There we go, the beautiful horse’s head. Now this beautiful horse’s head was bought for $0.99 and was sold, when the story was added, for $62.95. That is a slight increase of 6395%.

So was this a one-off situation? Not really, because he bought the 200 objects for a total of $129, selling them for $8000. Now that’s insane!

But you know what’s even more intellectually challenging to understand this: how can you and I go to the movies and pay good money to watch movies like James Bond who are absolutely unrealistic. And we sit there and we enjoy the movie, and some of us, we really enjoy the movie. And we leave the theater going like, “God, what a man, ha ha! I would like to be more like him. I’d like to walk like him. I’d like to talk like him. I like Bond!”

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Wonder how I could be more like Bond and then this weird revelation hits you like from nowhere and you come up with a brilliant idea to walk to watchmaker shop. And wow! It just happens to be an Omega watch in that shop that resembles the one that Bond was wearing in the movie. And you pay $10,000 to put that watch on your wrist and you leave that store feeling more like Bond.

How is that possible? PQ Media tells us that $10.5 billion is turned over in product placement revenue every single year. How is it possible for you to be so easily tricked by something so simple as a story, because you are tricked?

Well, it all comes down to one core thing and that is emotional investment. The more emotionally invested you are in anything in your life, the less critical and the less objectively observant you become. And the greatest emotional investment of all is falling in love.

Now falling in love resembles a good story. Do you remember the last time you fell in love? Yeah, good for you. It’s a beautiful feeling; isn’t it? Do you remember how you longed, and how you yearned and how you dreamed? Then you looked at her and maybe you thought, God, I love the way you chew that apple, so crunchy oh, and the way you slap that tip just over the edge, you know, oh so sexy, love it.

And then about 13 months later, when you biochemically fall in out of love — 13 months later, on an average, you fall out of love — suddenly you find yourself sitting in the sofa. Then you go, “Jesus Christ, where did this thing come from? Oh my God! Where are my friends? This is a weird thing”.

And then suddenly you hear a sound, you go like, “What’s that?” You go over to the kitchen and you’re looking, you’re like, “Oh, it’s you! You’re eating an apple there. Could you just keep that down just a little bit, yeah? You’re kind of spraying the table there, please, please don’t.”

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And you sit down, comes up again, and just a minute later you hear somebody drinking tea from the kitchen going ewww! And suddenly this is all annoying to you. Have you been there, sadly enough?

13 months later, our critical thinking in our cortex comes home from a one-year long vacation and we start questioning things. Now during those 13 months, what happened was that your brain was flooded with neurotransmitters and hormones hijacking your cortex, throwing your objectively observant skills out of the window. And the thing with storytelling is that the same thing can happen.

In stories, the same hormones and neurotransmitters can be released, hormones like vasopressin, oxytocin, serotonin, dopamine, endorphins and you know what, that’s what I would like to do during my talk.

I would like to induce three hormones into your brain. I call it the Angel’s Cocktail. So it’s a nice cocktail. I would like to start with radically increasing your dopamine levels and I need your consent on this. Is it okay? Cool. If you don’t like the idea of that, you’ll just have to cover your ears.

So dopamine: this is what it looks like. And when you have that in your blood, these are the beautiful effects. You get more focus, more motivation, and you remember things in a better way. So what does dopamine feel like? It feels like this.

About six years ago, I received a phone call from a woman who represented one of the biggest training companies in Scandinavia. And she said, “Hey, David, we’ve got a lot of trainers in presentation skills and in rhetorics and we would like to increase the level of all of these. And we think you are a perfect pick. Would you like to come to a meeting?”

I’m like, “Wow! I’m honored, I’d love to”.

And I come up to Stockholm and I’m going to their office. And just as I am going to pull the handle down, what I don’t know then is that I’m walking into one of the absolute worst meetings I’m ever going to have in my life. But I don’t know that yet, so it’s okay.

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