Storytelling: persuasion in disguise

Storytelling is really just a fancy label for persuasive communication. Does the word persuasion make you feel a little uncomfortable? You’re not alone.

Most people have an instant negative reaction to the word “persuasion” - the immediately start conflating it with other similar words. Pushy. Sleazy. Preachy. Manipulative. Persistent. Plying. If persuasion were a person, he’d have a name like Scooter or Ace, he’d definitely be trying to sell us something, and he’d have his shirt unbuttoned at least one button below the Acceptable Confidence Threshold. But none of those reflect the true meaning of persuasion. It’s a word that needs better PR. Persuasion comes from two Latin words – per and suadere, meaning “through or by way of” and “to give advice”. So the word literally means “by way of giving advice”. In his book To, Sell is Human, Dan Pink uses another term – moving people. And isn’t that what we’re all trying to do as people, professionals, parents, or panther trainers? We’re trying to move people to action. Or move their thinking. Or move their emotions. Or simply move their perspective. So I’d like to propose a new definition for our additive: Persuasion is moving people through information. And the simplest way to move people is through storytelling. But what are the elements of a truly persuasive story? There are five elements that really move people, and they can be used in combination or independently. 1. Humility - People are moved when they are the hero of the story, and there’s the only room in the spotlight for one hero. Spend less time talking about your brand, and more time talking about them. Here’s a simple test: if your message can be boiled down to “What I have to offer is awesome. Please believe me.” - you have the wrong hero.

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By Jon Skelly


Founder and Chief Storyteller at Journey Media. He believes that better stories make a more interesting world, and better storytellers make it a little more fun.

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