Persuasion and The Art of Storytelling

Communication skills drive career advancement, according to nearly every career advisor I have known.  They emphasize writing and speaking skills as the key to getting noticed for executive level positions.  I have observed many people over the years with the ability to write clearly, and speak clearly, but still never distinguish themselves from their peers.  The reason for this has to do with a failure to persuade their leaders to accept their ideas.

Learning the art of persuasion can be elusive.  We learn how to persuade our parents at an early age to take us to the movies, or buy us the latest hand held devices. In our personal relationships with spouses and friends, we often need to persuade them to try a new restaurant or give up a night out with the friends to watch a movie.  Yet, when working in the office, we often fail to hit the mark.

A recent wine tasting event at a small wine store in Winston Salem, North Carolina, revealed a critical piece to the art of persuasion which is effective regardless of the circumstances.  This critical element is the ability to tell a story.

Two people were conducting the event.  The store owner poured wine from five bottles chosen personally by her.  She described the facts about each wine bottle, including the year, location of vineyard, and a brief description of the taste as either being a degree of sweet or dry.

A wine salesman conducted the second table.  His selection consisted of labels from the company he represented.  He told a story about each bottle, describing the events when he first tried the wine, and telling the story of the owners of each vineyard, including stories of lust and revenge.  With one bottle, he described how he and his wife drank this one type of wine while watching New Year’s Day Football because the dry taste offset all of the sweets and chips.

The storyteller captured the wine tasting group’s attention.  His table had the longest line with people lingering to hear another story.  Factually, his wine was as good as the other table being run by the store owner.  But people were carrying more bottles from his selection.

Stories capture people’s attention because they not only appeal to the intellect, but also to the emotional side of people.  Stories create images in people’s minds that tend to make a deeper impression upon the listener.

Telling a story in a presentation can be risky if not handled properly.  Typically, people will be careful in accepting a story if they are not certain about the story teller.  Listeners must first be satisfied that the story teller has credibility based upon his knowledge of the facts, and a proven track record of delivering results.

A story told wrong can leave the audience feeling “sold” instead of persuaded.  Consumers today, whether they are weekend wine tasters or week day executives, require the facts so they feel empowered to decide for themselves.  The story in a context with the facts, however, often delivers the persuasion.

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