Have you ever been in a meeting where half the room is in favor of your point, and the other half…well, you feel as if you have to do a whole lot more in order to get them to agree with you? This happens a lot in our personal as well as our professional lives. Sometimes, we have to be persuasive if we want to get our points across, and win over the other party. To achieve this, there are a few easy things that can be done in order to persuade an audience during a persuasive speech, one of which is to tell a story.
By telling stories, you are gaining the audience’s attention and piquing its interest. Sounds easy, right? We occasionally forget that stories can be a very persuasive and effective tool, and is usually simple to use in any situation. You are probably thinking that by giving numbers and percentages in order to convince your audience, you are coming across as very clever. Well, that’s probably true, but stop and think. Are numbers alone powerful enough to get your point across, and are they interesting enough to get your audience to believe in you? For example, if you are a salesperson for a software company, and you base your presentations to clients solely on your previous experience as a salesperson, or on the company’s history, do you think that will be enough to compel your clients to purchase your software? Most likely not. However, if you add a story about a specific client, and how it resulted in the company changing over to the new software, that can have a tremendous emotional impact on your audience. Your audience will probably be influenced by the stories you tell them. Stories can apply to a multitude of situations and circumstances. You want to use them as much as possible as a way to convince your audience that what you are telling them has real life application, beyond the numbers.
Storytelling, as a whole, takes on the specific role as the first part of the “convincing” of your audience. If, on top of telling stories, you tell your audience what you want them to do, all of a sudden, your stories become more powerful. For instance, let’s use the software salesperson example again. Telling your clients a story is great, but if you then add specific situations where they could use the software, it becomes a lot more convincing, much more so than if you were to waste time on material that the client is not interested in. You want to tell them “use this software in such and such situations”. Then, what will happen is that your audience can now relate to your story and by having formed an emotional connection to your example, they will be in a better position to buy in to what you are saying. This won’t mean that you’ll sell your software to everybody, but at least, you’re more convincing with greater passion, and emotion.
The last piece of a good story is to let your audience know about the “positives” of doing what you tell them to do. You basically tell them what will happen if they use your advice. For example, I was working in a manufacturing company as a Human Resource Generalist a few years ago. I was trying to convince the management team that using Training & Development would be a great advantage for the company. I didn’t really know how to persuade them. I realized that they knew what Training & Development was, but they didn’t know what the tangible benefits were. For them, it was more about spending money blindly, than helping the company. What does it mean for us to invest in our people? That was the question they were really asking. I decided to “show” them what it meant for them. I went ahead, and told them a story about the time when the company lost a huge contract because one of their engineers was not up to date with the technology used by the potential client. We lost the contract! I told them “if you use Training & Development as a global strategy, you are ensuring your place in the market, and you will not lose a big contract ever again”. That’s just a brief example of what this would look like in real life. In the end, you’re doing your audience a favor by telling them what happened to you (story), what they should do, and then the positives of it. You’re saving them time, and effort. By focusing on the positive take-home-message, (the morale of your story), it also gives them closure. Your audience will now know why you told them this story. This will be the “AH-HAH!” moment, where your audience will go “now I get it”.
Stories become increasingly valuable during “question and answer” periods, especially if the person asking the question is aggressive or negative towards you. I was teaching a class in San Diego last week, and was faced with such a situation. One of the participants was questioning one of the techniques I was explaining. Sometimes, we like to answer questions using logic: We have become so used to explaining the “why” of things, without ever considering the audience’s real-life experiences that it becomes increasingly difficult to convince our audience, or at the very least win them over and have them sympathize with us and believe in our cause. Using stories as a means to answer questions can be beneficial to the audience, as they can relate to the story told, as well as become less likely to come back with hostile or pessimistic comments in the future.
Stories are a great way to persuade an audience when delivering a persuasive speech. They add spice and feeling to your presentations, they allow your audience to relate to what you are saying, as well as convincing them without turning them off with the typical and tired numbers, figures, percentages and dry techniques that don’t really work anyways. So think back to the original question: have you ever been in a meeting where you had to convince half of the room of something? Try telling a story and be amazed at the results.