Sensory Awareness and StorytellingBy Laura Petrolino

According to researchers at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas, sensory awareness is, “…the direct focus on some specific sensory aspect of the body or outer or inner environment.”

And, while it is a very common part of our inner experience, it oddly enough is not often recognized.


In our increasingly chaotic world, we start to tune out—and become numb—to the sensations we encounter. So while stimulus only increases, our sensory awareness seems to decrease.

Sensory Awareness and Storytelling

As communicators, this provides us a challenge and an opportunity.

Part of our job is to effectively tell stories—stories that resonate in a relevant to our target audience. Stories that leave them with an understanding of who we are (or our client is), and motivate them to take some part.

When you read great fiction, what makes it great?

For me, a great book sweeps me away. I can feel, taste, smell, hear the characters and environment in the story. I’m there, I’m part of it—it feels real.

The story triggers my imagination and sensory awareness of the things being described.

The sensory details are what makes it real and a part of me.

Communication and Sensory Awareness

Our senses are directly linked to our emotions, and therefore the ability to engage them is very powerful. Engaging the senses can help a consumer connect to our brand, product, or mission in a powerful, yet indirect way.

It can also provide an added level of stickiness to our message because it stays with them through a different channel then the ordinary buzz of everyday life.

But in order to share stories that contain an effective sensory component, we have to regain sensory awareness of the world around us.

And that, my friends, is your challenge for this week.

Igniting Your Sensory Awareness

One of the reasons I love to hike so much is it allows me to tap into a greater amount of sensory awareness than I’m able to in every day life.

When you are out in the middle of the woods, or on top of a mountain there is a certain type of quiet and stillness which allows you to more easily absorb everything around you.

I can hear my feet stepping on twigs and leaves, the wind blowing through the trees, the chatter of birds or other creatures, and that amazing sound of settling—which you can only hear deep in the woods.

I can smell various plants, evergreen, whatever is flowering, and the occasional stinky animal.

I can see…..well everything, often more than I can absorb.

I can feel my body moving through the trails, my core self-correcting as I hit uneven ground, my quads aching as I climb, the stones and sticks under my feet.

You get the picture.

My senses are tuned up and hiking provides this amazing sensory awareness that comes home with me.

Why is this important?

Because what we do as communications professionals requires both an attention to detail and an unique level of awareness which allows us to understand our target consumer and have foresight to lead strategy effectively.

When we allow our sensory awareness to become numb, we lose some of our ability to tap into the mindfulness (buzzword alert, but you know what I mean) needed to do just that.

The Spin Sucks Sensory Awareness Challenge

So here is your challenge.

Starting right now I want you to set an alarm to buzz once every two hours until the end of the day (say 8 or 9 p.m.). When the alarm buzzes, you must take 120 seconds (you can set a timer) to stop and become aware of everything around you.

Go through each of your senses and record what you observe—smell, sound, taste, touch, sight.

Do so with detail to help you really start to think from a more sensory aware position (because the senses are all about the details).

Write everything down. Reset your timer and repeat in two hours.

At the end of the day I want you to come back here and tell us what the most interesting things were you noticed that you had some how missed before.

What did you learn?

You’ll be pretty amazed at the little thing, the small cues which you miss in your every day life.

Just simply ignore.

Effective communications is about the details. Strengthening your sensory awareness muscle can only help you better understand—and in turn—be able to strategically incorporate those details into your communications campaigns.

Photo credit: @lkpetrolino during a recent hike

Laura Petrolino

Laura Petrolino is chief marketing officer for Spin Sucks, an integrated marketing communications firm that provides strategic counsel and professional development for in-house and agency communications teams. She is a weekly contributor for their award-winning blog of the same name. Spin Sucks. Join the Spin Sucks   community.

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