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WordPower | Influencing With Stories
Have you ever presented your very best facts and figures, research and reasons, features and benefits, yet the listener still didn’t get it, didn’t buy-in to your ideas?  
Let them eat spinach!
Can I share an experience, one that took place before CNN and the internet brought the world into our living room? 
 
I had a friend who  constantly nagged her children about their eating habits. One day I remember her admonishing them to
Eat your spinach! There are millions of hungry children in the world who would love that spinach. To which her son cheekily responded, Oh yeah? Name one. I secretly cheered. Stewed spinach is low on my list of desirable foods. Yuck!  

Today, I also suspect that Oh yeah? Name one, response is secretly hiding in all of us, just waiting for an opportunity to pop out.  

Perhaps it explains why offering facts - logical rational reasons - is rarely enough to influence.  Facts can actually increase resistance by challenging the way we do things around here.    

Stories on the other hand, can intrigue.  Capture interest, yet leave us free to form our own conclusions, because they are after all, about somebody else. 
Three reasons to use stories
  • Emotions sell.  Stories weave people, events, outcomes and consequences together in a way that resonates at a deeper, emotional level. 
  • Stories influence long after your presentation is over.  The little details – the human elements – pull listeners in and make stories memorable.
  • Stories provide a way for others to try on, test-drive your ideas.  especially when you’re selling intangible products and services.
Worms or cheese?
A story can be a simple proverb or metaphor (metaphors are just mini stories.)
Combine an old chestnut like
the early bird gets the worm with a contrarian view, but the second mouse gets the cheese. 

Together, they provide a humorous reality check you can use to caution a gung ho, jump in and figure it out as I go colleague.  Metaphors act like stories by creating an opening so listeners can evaluate cold had facts from another perspective.
Transforming cold hard facts into stories

Turning business facts and figures into influential stories is quite easy once you get started. Here's a process if you'd like one to follow.

  1. Think of the examples you use to support the benefits of your idea, product or service.  When you would say to someone, for example if (this) or when (that) … happens, followed by facts, reasons and logic.

  2. Take the best examples and find a personal story for each, a specific slice-of-life experience you can share.

  3. Include details your listeners can relate to – about the situation and the people, their foibles, their feelings.  Details capture attention and make stories real so listeners can identify with the experience.

  4. Relax. Have fun. You already know how to tell great stories. This is just increasing your range.

  5. End on a positive note.  If your strength is in preventing or recovering from adversity, paint a ‘before and after’ picture, or add a second version of the story with a positive outcome. 

A bare bones story
Here’s one I use for communication skills coaching. I’ve tried telling people to pay attention to physiology because it is a powerful influencing tool—but telling isn’t selling. The story is true, a real experience with details added to suit the listener. And it gets much better results.

A young man I’ll call Tom, worked in union environment managing a team of technicians. When we met he was facing some challenges with his team.  His relationship with one individual, who I’ll call James, was spiraling out of control. 

James was continuous thorn in Tom's side.  He also happened to be the union representative for Tom’s team.  And while Tom was highly motivated to resolve the issue, no matter how hard he tried to get James on side, every conversation they had seemed to end in a confrontation.   

After observing a couple of these encounters I gave Tom only two suggestions. First, whenever he and James had something to discuss, Tom was to make sure that while they talked, their heads were level, eye-to-eye so to speak.  

Second, when James accompanied other employees to disciplinary meetings, a rather frequent occurrence at the time, Tom would let James sit down first so that he (Tom) could naturally assume a similar posture – specifically matching the angle of James spine – when he sat down.   That was it.  Until two weeks later, when I received an emotional call from Tom.

He wanted to share what had happened.  It seams his relationship with James had undergone a 180 degree change.  Tom had diligently matched James’ posture during disciplinary meetings, and he was delighted with the results of his efforts.  In fact, James the ‘union representative’ had recently started supporting Tom in these rather tense meetings!   

Tom's final comment that day was revealing. He took a deep breath and his voice choked up just a little, as he said, I never would have believed it was possible to achieve such a change with a little shift in physiology, if I hadn’t experienced it myself!  And I don’t want you to believe it’s possible either, at least not until you’ve tried it out for yourself.

Telling someone what to do is rarely enough to get them to do it. So now I share this story and invite people to put it to the test themselves. 

Embellish with details
Use your voice and gestures to capture attention.  Emphasize interests shared by the listener.  For a skeptical listener, I'd add a bit about Tom looking at me with pure disbelief when I gave him my two suggestions. Asking That's it? You really think my posture is going to make a difference after all I've tried? and my suggesting since he'd tried everything else, what did he have to lose by giving this a try?
Sometimes you’ve got to sweat the small stuff
In the words of one of my favorite story tellers,1 If you always get straight to the point, there may be times when you’re the only one there.  Because of the flood of information available today, we’re conditioned to believe brevity is better.  We may value talking in bullet points, yet it takes details to create human interest and engage our emotions.  Facts may inform, but emotions sell.
So if you always get straight to the point ...

And find you’re the only one there, tuck your facts inside a story.  A good story can by-pass objections and hidden resistance, stir emotions and pull listeners into experiences where they try on the message. They decide for themselves, then get it.  Another bonus?  People remember stories long after your presentation is over.  A picture may be worth a 1,000 words but a story is worth a 1,000 pictures.

1Author Annette Simmons

“Magic is hidden in the language we speak.”
 Richard Bandler and John Grinder 1975
Also see ...                                  And...
 Taming Your Not(s)                    Language  newletter

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