This is certainly not about you, but I think you can imagine it.
Imagine what you would do if you were this young man.
You are a 32 year old man living in California, struggling to make ends meet to support your wife and two young daughters.
Money is tight and you are working hard in a computer store working your way up to manager, writing music in your “spare” time and dreaming of being successful but there’s not much further up to go at this computer job.
Your wife thinks you are pretty much a loser because you never seem to get ahead financially.
You’ve been working at your “passions” for years, had successes and a few disappointments too, but from your wife’s viewpoint at least, you never seem to stick with anything for every long.
She wants you to go back to college and get an education in computers.
You really don’t know what to do, but decide that if you are going to go back to school that it will be for your passion of music.
Maybe you can at least prove that you can stick with something.
So you keep working at the computer store and enroll in college as a music major, even though you don’t know the notes on the bass clef and you are a bass/baritone who doesn’t know how to play any instrument other than a guitar and a few chords on a piano by ear.
Suddenly, you are a choral music major – where they require you to do all kinds of extra-curricular activities with very little course credit.
You need extra income, so you cram the 40 hours a week of the computer job into four long days, schedule classes on the other 3 remaining days.
Then you get a second job stage managing the opera at the college in the evenings.
Then the college requires that you get a choral conducting job for “experience” so you add a choral conducting job on Thursday nights and Sunday morning.
Somewhere in there you realize that you have a wife and two young daughters and you realize that this can’t go on forever, so you figure out a way to trick the college computer into letting you take more credit hours than you are allowed to take.
In fact, you carry DOUBLE loads of courses to try to speed up the process.
But there’s a problem.
You see choral conductors are expected to be able to play the piano and you don’t know how to play piano.
In fact, they are required to be able to play the piano.
You have to pass a whole series of piano classes which you don’t have time for — clearly impossible.
There seems to be one last hope …
You can test out of the classes.
All you have to do is play the Star Spangled Banner in three different keys, sight read multiple clefs and play a hymn tune.
So you grab a tutor for a quarter and study to the test managing to squeeze by on the pass/fail exam.
Final result …
You finish the college degree in two years working multiple jobs. You are still a lousy piano player, but you are DONE!
You slow down a bit, go for your masters and get a teaching credential.
Then you go out to try to get your first teaching job.
All summer long you are putting out your resume and getting nowhere.
You’ve almost given up hope when you get a call for an interview in late August, the absolute latest possible date for you to get a teaching job.
Nervously, you wait for the interview with the district manager for the school.
Finally, you are admitted to a small room containing only a small desk, a folding chair, your potential boss and … a piano.
The room is warm and sweat starts filters down the sides of your crisply ironed shirt.
You glance nervously at the piano as he shakes your hand and motions you into the shaky, aging folding chair.
It wobbles as you take your seat carefully and you wonder if it will give out from under you.
Luckily, it holds and your potential employer begins to ask you the questions.
For once in your life, you have an advantage.
This is hardly your first interview and you are no longer a 20 something fresh out of school.
You are a person who has worked diligently to get through college, made sacrifices and persevered and it shows as you are examined.
You begin to relax.
You chuckle at a joke your new found employer has made.
He talks about the frustrations that he has with young teachers that just won’t take direction and you empathize with him.
The connection feels good.
This job is in the bag!
What a relief.
And then he turns to you, smile on his face handing you a sheet of music and says …
“Just one more thing … Could you please play this on the piano?”
It only takes an instant for the blood to draw completely out of your face.
Your lungs constrict.
You heart races and your hand quivers as you take the music from his hand.
You stumble to the piano bench and stare at the music in front of you.
It seems blurry and you blink your eyes.
The sound of children drifts in from the hallway and you wonder if you will ever be able to share your gift with them.
Carefully, you place your hands above the starting notes and begin.
You start over and it gets worse.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
The mind races and music is the farthest thing from your mind.
You are feeling every quiver hearing a clash of wrong notes and want to run, right now as far as you can.
Anything to be away from the embarrassment.
You mumble something — an apology of some sort — and move quickly for the door as your former best hope for a job thanks you for your time.
It’s three flights of stairs down to the lobby and if it weren’t a public place and you weren’t a 35 year old man, you might give into the watering eyes and lump in your throat.
As you walk through the lobby, you wonder what you will say to your wife.
Now, what do you do?
This is the story of persuasion.
And right now you need it.
You need it. The wife needs it. The kids need it.
But, what can you do?
I’m not sure what you would do, but here’s what I did…
I slowly climbed up three flights of stairs, went up to the office door and with great hesitation and a very red face …
The district manager opened the door and looked me in the eye as I told him.
“I know I really froze in there. It’s not the best that I can do. What I want to ask you is how I can do better when I go for my next interview.”
The man kindly gave me a few suggestions. I doodled around a bit on the piano just to prove that I could play SOMETHING and then I left.
I’m not sure I was ready for my next interview at that moment, but I knew that I would try.
So what does this have to do with persuasion?
It turns out that persuasion has a lot to do with story.
If you are still reading by this point, it is because the story drew you in and persuaded you to keep moving from one sentence to the next.
Maybe it was emotions that you’ve felt before or situations that you’ve been in, but in some small way, you connected.
It’s story that draws us in and makes us listen.
That’s powerful because if no one is listening, it’s not easy to persuade.
Stories can draw you in and keep you on the edge of your seat listening to every word, but even more importantly connecting you to the person who is telling it.
Stories are a transference of power and emotion.
But that may not be enough to persuade.
I don’t claim that this is an exhaustive list. In fact, I know it isn’t, but here are six elements that are vital to making a story persuade, even when people are aware that you are doing it.
Six Elements of Persuasive Storytelling
What’s the point?
You need to know your who you want to persuade and what action you want them to take.
By crafting the story, you can lead people to your desired outcome, but only if you know where you are going and have built a roadmap to get there.
Fill in the blank in the sentence, I want this story to make this person ___________.
Think about how they should feel when they are finished hearing it and what their focus is on when you get to the final sentence.
Obviously, the man in our story had the intent to get a job, so what was the next step?
If you want to persuade, you need the attention of the person that you are trying to persuade.
When someone tries to persuade you with an advertisement, the headline serves the purpose of grabbing your attention.
It’s purpose is to make you stop whatever you are doing and draw you in to make you read the next sentence.
Consider this first line from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,….”
It makes you want to pick up the book right now.
In the same way, you need to capture the mind of the person you want to persuade.
The young man had the district manager’s attention in a limited way when he walked in the door, but what grabbed the potential employer’s attention was the dramatic story of the young man’s life and struggles to succeed.
What’s required next is …
Something needs to hold the attention until it becomes buyin.
Through the sharing of his experiences and his empathy with the employers experiences they developed a common string of emotions and connections.
Realize that shared experiences and emotions, don’t mean you that you will get the results that you expect.
Each persons life’s experiences are unique. We come from different backgrounds, mindsets, doctrines and outcomes.
Just because you had a wonderful childhood doesn’t mean that the person you are trying to persuade did, so don’t expect them to react the same way went you bring up memories of yours.
What you need next is …
Not only do you need clarity about what you action you want the person to take, you also need to make sure that THEY are clear about the action that you want them to take.
How many prospective employees have failed in an interview process because the interviewer didn’t think that they really wanted the job?
If our hero, wants the job then he needs to be absolutely clear that he wants the employer to hire him today.
In any persuasion, the outcome needs to be clear even when it’s hidden until the last moment.
At that final fateful step, the person that we are persuading needs to know what to do.
And then need to know that what they are about to do has clear …
So many people want to be given as much as possible while giving as little as possible.
It should be exactly the opposite.
Try giving as much as possible while taking as little as possible.
I know, I can hear you now, “That’s no way to make that spouse happy.”
But look at it this way.
If it were a clear and undisputed fact that someone would give you one dollar worth of value every time you gave them a quarter, how many quarters would you want to give them.
It’s not hard to persuade someone if you a solving a real problem for that person and giving them a solid value in return.
That kind of news spreads very quickly.
But what value did that young man have to bring to the table?
His piano skills were weak, maybe even crippling.
How would he ever get through to the next step …
In order to persuade someone we must facilitate a transformation.
Something has to change and making people change can be one of the most difficult objectives in the universe.
It happens, but sometimes it takes decades, centuries or even epochs.
People change when they are ready to change, but if you can get their attention, engage their emotions and start them moving towards your intention, then they can be pushed over the edge with the undisputed value of what you are offering even when they know you are persuading them.
So what happened to the young man?
He had the intention, got the employers attention, retained that attention by telling his story and making that real connection.
The value was the point that it all broke down.
What did he have to offer but himself?
Well, it turns out that he offered to learn.
A couple weeks later he got the call with the job offer.
That was exactly what the employer was looking for.
All the best,
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