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How to Tap the Persuasive Power of Storytelling

Influence is a buzzword these days. From Instagram to the C-Suite, everyone wants it and everyone is trying to get it. But what is influence and why does it matter?
Merriam-Webster defines influence as “the power or capacity of causing an effect in indirect or intangible ways.”

Whether we recognize it or not, we use these skills all the time, not just in the workplace. The style or nature of our presence, what we say and how we say it, and the attitude we project—consciously or otherwise—may all influence people positively or negatively.

As valuable as influence is, it is also misunderstood. We tend to think of influence as synonymous with exerting control over others to get them to think or act in the way we would like them to. However, influence is about more than gaining the upper hand. At its core, influence is about courage, personal transformation, authenticity, and movement.
Influence is also about our universal human need for connection and trust. One of the best ways to nurture these connections is through storytelling.

Every culture uses stories to pass on knowledge and wisdom. I am sure we can all remember from childhood a favorite story that a parent or caregiver told us, or recall a time when a coworker kept us enthralled with a rendition of weekend adventures.
It is not surprising that science has found that our brains react in a particular way to stories compared to other ways of transmitting information, such as a lecture or presentation.

Additionally, stories establish credibility and help persuade in a way that facts alone cannot. An effective story is memorable and makes us feel emotions—excitement, empathy, anger, sadness, or happiness. The emotions that we experience cause us to connect with and trust the person telling the story.

This quote, attributed to Benjamin Franklin, sums it up, “Tell me a fact and I’ll listen. Tell me the truth and I’ll believe. Tell me a story and it will be with me forever.”

The Hero’s Journey Framework for Storytelling
We all enjoy a great story but do we know how to tell it? One useful framework is the journey of the hero. The Hero’s Journey is an enduring mythological structure defined by Joseph Campbell in his book The Hero with a Thousand Faces. The catalyst for the Hero’s Journey is when something shakes up the hero’s life. The hero must reach within to find courage to change. With the guidance of a mentor, the hero faces obstacles and gains insights that help to bring about the hero’s personal transformation.

Our role in the Hero’s Journey is that of the mentor. As the mentor, here are questions we can ask to prepare for our conversation:

• What goals do you share with the hero?
• What are your shared experiences?
• Why should the hero listen?

From the audience and stakeholder perspective, the mentor’s job is to prove that it is worth it to move from one way to another way—from an old paradigm to a new paradigm.

Think of storytelling as a three-act play. In Act 1 you create the big idea and meet the need for change head-on. This might mean getting ahead of the competition in business or accelerating your child’s dreams of attending college. Use words that trigger movement and imagination to describe life as exciting and snap the hero’s life out of balance.

As with a technology that will upend the market or something new coming down the road, there will always be naysayers. The point is not to dwell on any negatives but to restore hope for the hero and create excitement for the change ahead.

In Act 2, the journey begins. The mentor sits down with the audience and staff to define expectations and paint a visual way forward. In this step, the mentor lays out the journey, making sure to identify specific steps and pitfalls.

In Act 3, the mentor lays out the exact steps 1-2-3-4 to the hero’s new bliss. Change someone’s belief system and reveal what is possible!

Storytelling may seem like an old-fashioned tool but that is exactly what makes it so powerful. Facts can persuade people, but data alone doesn’t inspire them to act. To do that, it takes a narrative that fires the imagination and excites the soul. I hope this encourages you to leverage the power of storytelling to lead change.

To learn more about The Propel Group, contact us now.

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