Paul Smith had his work cut out for him.
The associate director of Proctor Gamble’s market research department had just 20 minutes to make a successful pitch to upper management. He needed to secure additional funding for new research techniques.
To that end, Smith spent the last three weeks fine-tuning his speech and perfecting his PowerPoint presentation. He couldn’t have done a better job at preparation.
On the day of the meeting, company CEO A.G. Lafley entered the room, greeted everybody, and sat down to hear Smith’s speech.
But Lafley didn’t look once at the screen displaying Smith’s PowerPoint slides. Instead, he just stared intently at the speaker.
“I felt like maybe I hadn’t done a very good job because he wasn’t looking at my slides like everyone else,” Smith said. “It didn’t occur to me until later that he did that because he was more interested in what I had to say than in what my slides looked like.”
That experience led Smith to change his approach. Now, he uses fewer slides and tells more stories.
As a result, Smith finds that he’s much more persuasive. Since that time, he’s delivered more presentations to PG upper management and found that everybody in the room, including Lafley, followed along more closely, asked more questions, and offered better feedback.
Why? Because telling stories helps seal the deal.
By the way, do you see what I just did there? I used a story to convince you that you should use stories.
Now, think about why you read this far into my article.
Did you want to find out what happened with Smith? Were you curious about his presentation would turn out?
More importantly: did the story help persuade you that the title is good advice?
For the record: Paul Smith has moved on. He’s now a corporate trainer and author of a book entitled Lead With a Story: A Guide to Crafting Business Narratives That Captivate, Convince, and Inspire.
He was the inspiration for my story above. And clearly, he knows how to walk the talk.
He’s also not alone in his beliefs about the effectiveness of storytelling. Some people are under the impression that a good story belongs at the bottom layer of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.
Philip Pullman once said:
“After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.”
Even if you think that Pullman was exaggerating, there’s little doubt that stories can make your sales pitch more persuasive.
Who needs to tell stories?
Anyone that needs to sell anything — to persuade. That includes all of us.
We’re all doing some sort of selling at any given time. We persuade our children to do our bidding. We persuade our customers to buy from us. We persuade our employer that we’re doing a good job. We persuade our employees to improve their quality of work.
Every day, you use persuasion in some form or another. For marketers like me, persuasion is a particularly important skill to have.
I try to persuade in my content. I try to persuade in my webinars. I try to persuade with my landing pages.
But have you tried storytelling, as a persuasive method?
The Shrinks Say That Storytelling Works
That’s the word that psychologists use to explain the idea that stories can affect people’s beliefs. When people get absorbed into a story, they form mental images, generate emotions, and pay close attention.
All of that works to assist you in making a persuasive case.
Way back in 2000, a couple of psychologists conducted a series of studies to determine the effects of storytelling on an audience. Here’s what they found:
- Storytelling leads to a favorable view of the main character in the story
- People who are “transported” by a story are less likely to find fault with it
- People’s beliefs aren’t more or less affected based on whether the story is fact or fiction
That last point is particularly intriguing. Even if the story is a work of fiction, it can still help close the sale with your audience.
Maybe it’s time to familiarize yourself with Aesop’s fables.
Stories Put Brains in Sync
Have you ever tried to explain something with facts, figures, and raw information and notice some puzzled looks on people in your audience?
If that’s ever happened, then your brains weren’t in synch. You were explaining a key point and at least some members of your audience didn’t get it.
Stories can help you overcome that problem.
Why? Because they’re generally much more easy to follow than a series of explanations. Audience members need to invest very little in the way of brainpower to follow along.
That’s why you should use stories when you’re explaining particularly complicated subjects. They make it much easier for your listeners to grasp the larger point.
Stories Connect People on an Emotional Level
Remember: it’s often the case that people aren’t persuaded by raw data, but by emotion. Such is the world we live in.
If you’re trying to convince anybody of just about anything, you need to make an emotional connection. Then, you need to use that emotional connection to make the case.
Storytelling can help you make that connection.
Remember the key word that the shrinks use to describe effective storytelling: “transportation.” A good story will transport your listeners to a frame of mind that not only offers a bit of a diversion from the usual sales pitch, but also to a place that creates an emotional response.
That response is what will help you turn hearts and minds.
Storytelling Improves Memory
There are two keys to memory: interest and repetition.
If you want people to remember something that you said, you have a couple of choices. You can say it over and over again or you can tell an interesting story that reinforces the point.
Which one of those two options do you think is going to be the most effective?
That’s basically a rhetorical question. You’ll put your audience to sleep if you just drone on with the same point repeatedly.
That’s why, if you want people to remember something, you should tell a story that drives home the point. Then, they’ll be more likely to remember it later on (for example, when you’re trying to close the deal).
For example, if you’re delivering a speech about effective selling tactics, you’ll probably want to make it a point to tell the people in your audience not to oversell. You can do that by simply saying “Don’t oversell” in a number of different ways.
If you’re trying to convince your audience not to oversell, do you think that they’ll more likely follow and remember that story or just a few simple “don’t oversell” statements wrapped in some fluff?
Again, that’s a rhetorical question.
Storytelling Gains Attention
You’re far more likely to capture the attention of your listeners if you incorporate stories and anecdotes into your speeches than you are if you just string together a bunch of statements.
Yes, that’s true even if the statements contain very valuable information.
Even the most well-disciplined minds are prone to wander from time to time. Most of us have watched countless hours of TV shows with scenes that change every few seconds.
To some degree, it’s possible that all of us are affected with ADHD.
That’s why it’s important to understand that you’re not just trying to persuade people when you deliver a speech, but you’re also fighting to keep their attention.
One of the best ways to keep their attention is with an engaging story. Stories usually contain an emotional element that makes it easier for the brain to mentally digest the content of the speech.
Think of a good story as the “spoonful of sugar” that helps the medicine of information go down.
As my title says: stop trying to persuade without telling a story. You’re making your job far too difficult.
Instead, become a well-read professional. Find great stories you can work into your pitch and watch your powers of persuasion soar to new heights.
How do you work storytelling into your role as a persuader?