Sean D'Souza: Stories have the power to persuade

By Sean D'Souza

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Sean D'Souza.
Sean D'Souza.

If you need to make a presentation to a client, which method is likely to dramatically improve your persuasion level - without even trying? Without a doubt, stories take first place.

Robert McKee is a creative writing instructor, famous for his "Story Seminar" where he explains why persuasion through stories is so effective, compared with other methods. So let's examine all three methods.

Method 1: Rhetoric
Rhetoric is simply the assembly of facts. And data. And more data. Now, it's not like data doesn't work. It's a powerful way of getting and keeping the audience's attention. But the core problem with data is there are usually two sides to the picture. So when you present data, you automatically conceal data that doesn't prove your point.

There's also the problem that the other person will have their own facts/data in their brain. So your data will clash with theirs, causing objections that must be overcome quickly, or the other person will start to tune out.

Method 2: Coercion
Coercion works magnificently. Because it preys on fear, ignorance, urgency or other such emotions, it is an instant hit. You've experienced coercion yourself. You're in a strange country and the taxi driver demands an exorbitant fee. Or you're in the audience and the presenter creates a stampede to the back of the room. You've been told that if your company doesn't invest in this new technology, you'll be left behind. And of course, we sign up.

Coercion is powerful beyond belief, especially when you have an outstanding speaker, with specific facts and enough knowledge on how to drive the audience to buy pretty much instantly. But the aftertaste is yucky. And it seriously dents your ability to gain a spotless reputation.

Method 3: Storytelling
Storytelling creates maximum impact because it has the power of rhetoric, facts and statistics without the downside of concealing data. So let's look at a real example. This story is being told by Debbie Perkins from Pazon Ignitions (Pazon.com). "Our business was just starting to grow, when we hit an almighty hurdle. We realised that to grow the business further we were going to have to write articles.

"Horror is the only way I can explain how I felt at having to write articles, as I had avoided reading and writing all my life. At the time of the Article Writing course I had never (and I mean never) read any storybooks, not even at school.

"Being dropped in at the deep end on this course was a huge thing for me - the hurdle I faced felt about 20 feet high. And I could not see how an article course was going to help me write. How wrong can you be?

"With Sean's help, I kept plugging away. With persistence (and the help of a dictaphone), out of nowhere the hurdle that was 20 feet high started to lower. And before I knew it, I was writing articles and rewriting everything Andy had written previously.

"The best thing of all was that I was beginning to enjoy it. I now have articles published in magazines. I have rewritten our website and adverts, and I've written the introduction to our technical book.

"Now I can take a boring technical subject (we write articles about ignitions for classic bikes), and turn it into something that everyone can understand and enjoy - which helps educate our customers better."

You'll notice that the story can create enormous persuasion without trying to do so.

You read the story and are able to gauge the trouble the person had to go through to get from one point to another.

Stories have drama, flow and power that mere facts can never reproduce. And a story has one big added bonus: if it's not overly complex, it's easy to retell in close to exact detail, thus passing on the persuasion to a person who may not be part of your immediate audience.

You may forget statistics and be disgusted with coercion, but stories are wonderful because you can not only remember them, but someone else will be more than happy to listen to them.

So if you want to persuade, use stories. They sure beat the heck out of any other form of persuasion.

Sean D'Souza is chief executive of Psychotactics and an international author and trainer. He is the author of The Brain Audit - Why Customers Buy (And Why They Don't).

psychotactics.com

- NZ Herald

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