Emotional Persuasion through Storytelling
By Kenrick Cleveland
Persuasion Fundamentals, Using Stories
I cry during movies. I’ll admit it. I’m absolutely comfortable with it and not ashamed in the slightest. Stories have been used to elicit emotional responses, whether by design or by accident, since the beginning of man and some of the best stories are extraordinarily moving. That emotion may manifest as heartbreaking or uplifting or revolutionary or life changing-but the important thing to remember is that it is an unbelievably powerful opening-a hole, so to speak-that can be filled up with a message.
When we tell stories in business and when selling, we need to keep in mind the emotional state the story is going to put our prospect in. When we’re persuading, we’re really using stories to control emotional states. The value of a story is as much in the emotional state it puts my audience in as it is in the point that the story ultimately makes. (See: ‘Master of Stories‘ for more information on ‘the point’ of a story.)
My preference is that a story does both-that it makes a point and puts someone into a really profound state. What I want to do is I want to carry people away. I want them completely carried away.
We can have an arsenal of emotionally persuasive and powerful stories at our ready at all times. For example, take respect. To a more affluent and, perhaps elderly clientele, respect is quite possibly a motivating factor.
I try to really instill in my son a sense of respecting his elders and I wanted to reinforce the point that respect is paramount in dealing with people with him at his martial arts lesson the other day. In front of my son I was talking to his Sensei and I said, ‘Sensei, I wanted to tell you that at the last belt advancement that I was just at with my son, I was really impressed. There was a man there that must have been in his seventies.’ And Sensei smiled broadly and he said, ‘Yes. He’s about 73.’
And I said, ‘He was up for the test to advance his rank. When it came time for his sparring, his sensei jumped up to spar with him. I noticed that the older man was having to think before reacting, he would see something coming, he would stand there for a brief second and then he would react. It was clear that his faculties weren’t as sharp and his body wasn’t as quick, but yet, it almost brought tears to my eyes to see this man walking into the ring, walking onto the mat and doing his level best. Moreover, it impressed me that his sensei made him look so good. He respected him enough to make him look good. I realized this wasn’t about outperforming the man, it was about respecting the human spirit.’ My son’s Sensei just beamed and he responded, ‘That’s absolutely correct. You’ve got it right on all fronts.’
There’s a two paragraph story on respect that elicits an emotional response. Its goal was that I wanted my son to understand how important it is that we show respect to our elders and that this was a way the sensei showed respect to this man far his elder.
The story worked. It did exactly what I wanted it to do. And the story really touches me, profoundly. I have great love for both the sensei and for the older gentleman in the ring.
So with emotional story persuasion I’m looking to constantly maneuver the emotions because if I can get you opened up emotionally, I can put anything in that I want.
So now I’ve told you a story about respect. If I’m in front of the room talking or I’m relaying this to a client, what’s that going to do? It’s going to show you I have respect for my elders. If you were an older person coming to me for financial advice or to buy property or to improve your business or in any way to move forward in your life, what might you now believe about me as a result of hearing that story? That I’m highly respectful.
It manages the emotional state. This guy’s a respectful guy and he values our older citizens. So now we have the frame of respect set. Within that let’s leverage knowledge so the next story might be about the knowledge that somebody has that made them like an undiscovered hero. Then we’d have respect and knowledge.
What are some of your stories that might elicit deep emotional responses and how can you incorporate them into your persuasion repertoire?
Until Next Time,
Kenrick E. Cleveland