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The Oxytocin Effect

The hypothalamus–located in the center of your brain near the brain stem–produces oxytocin. Paul Zak, neuroeconomist and researcher, has named it the “Moral Molecule.” It causes you to experience feelings of closeness with or trust for others leading to its other name, ‘the cuddle hormone.’ Thinking in evolutionary terms, our species wouldn’t have survived without it, as it plays a central role in sperm production, birth, and breastfeeding.

You produce oxytocin in response to social situations. A positive interaction leads to an increased sense of loyalty, caring, and belonging. On the other hand, negative moments stimulate oxytocin responses that firm up your feelings of who not to invest your time, trust, or energy with.

Additionally, Oxytocin strengthens or weakens your commitments to individuals and groups. This is because it enhances your ability to receive and interpret social cues. It has a proven ability to make you more relaxed, outgoing, cooperative and more generous. Paul Zak even proposes that oxytocin’s the chemical responsible for your ability to experience empathy.

How Connection Inspires Action

Zak’s studies also demonstrate the influence the love molecule has on our willingness to connect to another person or group. In particular, he’s documented the integral relationship between oxytocin, communication, and decision-making.

His studies show that a relevant and compelling story stimulates significant oxytocin in those hearing it. A narrative that contains relatable emotional content and that follows a story arc increased the research subjects’ oxytocin levels. These levels correlated directly to the action taken by the recipient in response to the presentation.

Your message will more likely engage and inspire your audience when it triggers this powerful chemical. Facts, figures, and non-emotional information don’t produce oxytocin. As a result, listeners may find what you have to say interesting but they won’t find it compelling. They won’t experience that vital sense of connection.

Release The Oxytocin

In order to optimize the power of your presentation, it’s essential to think about which parts can be conveyed with emotion and narrative flow. This may seem difficult or even impossible in some situations. As Seth Godin said, “If all you want to do is create a file of facts and figures, then cancel the meeting and send in a report.”

For example, read these two samples and notice the effect each one has on your attention:

“In 2010, our agency delivered 140,000 meals to clients who are unable to travel outside of their homes. The nearly 2,700 meals per week support our disabled or homebound seniors in maintaining health and happiness at a very low cost.”


“Gwen had never needed anyone to do her cooking or shopping. For the 52 years of her marriage and while raising two children, it was her job and her joy to plan and prepare the food for her family. Her husband, Luther, had been gone for four years. Her children were now grown with families of their own in other parts of the country.

Once active and independent, an unlucky auto collision caused by icy conditions had left her disabled, and worse, utterly dependent. Her confidence was restored when a neighbor connected her to the local Meals on Wheels. Now Gwen was assured healthy, satisfying meals on a daily basis, all for less than what it would have cost her to shop and cook for herself. Best of all, she enjoyed the visits from the volunteers who delivered them. Meals on Wheels nourished her in ways she hadn’t known were possible.”

A Three-Dimensional World

A great presentation is three-dimensional. It relies on narrative fluency to sculpt your material. And like a sculpture, it’ll offer your listener a 360° view that helps them to see the world in a new way. If it doesn’t come to life right in front of them, it’s unlikely that you’ll make the impact you’re seeking.

You can create this three-dimensional world with your words when you understand how your listener’s brain is wired for communication and connection. It’ll make you a powerful speaker and awaken new awareness for your listeners.

Read More

Making an Impact (Part One)

The Roots of Connection (Part Two)

Brain Syncing & Mirror Neurons (Part Three) 

About Zette

Zette Harbour is an iPEC certified life and leadership coach, and an award-winning professional storyteller, who helps women get free from what’s not working in order to live the life their hearts desire.

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Then read more of her column, Successful Awakenings and explore the limitless power of awakening to the brilliant and beautiful story of who you truly are.

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