How to be Persuasive – A Final Story


Your ability to communicate your message in a persuasive way is paramount when it comes to turning the tide of opinion.

We started by looking at why you should visualise the end before the beginning.

After that we considered the benefits of knowing as much as possible about the other participant in the persuasive exercise.

Today we put the pieces together with a final skill – effective story telling.  As a wrap up we consider some things that persuasion isn’t, lest you get caught up in the game playing and lose sight of the substance here.

Telling a Story is More Persuasive than Outlining the Facts

“He who wants to persuade should put his trust not in the right argument, but in the right word. The power of sound has always been greater than the power of sense.”  Joseph Conrad

Do you remember Michael and Bob from the first article?  They were our want-to-be paramours.

Michael and Bob communicated the same message – they wanted to get married.

Michael, however, communicated his message in the context of a story that resonated with Jane.  He told the story about their meeting, his love for her, and so on.

Bob just leaped in.

Stories are a compelling way of communicating a message, and generally are far more persuasive than a straight up and down outline of the facts.

A story allows people to get involved.  It provides them with a meaningful framework and allows them to start visualising the desired outcomes.

Pure information has no such allure.  Facts are merely…. facts.  You can’t get involved in facts, you can’t care about them, and you can’t want to see facts through to the end that they deserve.

You can, however, get involved in a story.  You can care about the people who form the story, and you can have an emotional response to a story.

Take those soppy movies that seem to make people cry (OK I know YOU don’t cry in movies, but just think about those other people who do).  It’s not like people know the characters, but they cry anyway.  Why?  Because they’ve been caught up in the story.

What good script writers have is the ability to engage their audience at all levels.  By this I mean they are ticking the primary communication boxes of character, emotion and logic.

Lawyers, however, are both trained and inclined (and I’m never sure which is the chicken, and which is the egg there) to appeal to logic.  We look at scholarly works, case notes, legislation.  We consume material that is, ultimately, only ticking the logic box.  The pure academic style has a place and a level of intellectual appeal, but is generally inferior when it comes to persuasion in real world situations.

At this point some of you are likely thinking “Chris – I can’t walk into a family settlement negotiation and start with “once upon a time, in a land far away, your client had an affair”.  And you would be right about that.

I’m not talking about fairy tales here, I’m talking about presentation method.  How can you present what you want to say in a way that engages your intended audience?  Can you frame it in a context which allows them to participate, to visualise and empathise with the participants?  As you prepare for your meeting, court case, or communication – think about how you might be able to engage the recipient at all levels, rather than just the logical.

What Persuasion is Not

It’s easy to get caught up in persuasion as some fantasy land system where people will start eating out of the palm of your hand.  I’m sure you all know that it’s not that simple.

Persuasion is not:

  • A substitute for preparation.  You’ve got to know your case, the facts, and the law.  No amount of talented persuasion will help you if you are not prepared.
  • Deception.  Persuasion occurs within the confines of your ethical duties, and cannot be elevated about those for any reason.
  • A trick.  The elements of persuasion are not designed to allow you to confuse or bamboozle a recipient like a magician waving his magic wand while the sleight of hand goes on somewhere else.  Rather, methods of persuasion are really to help you deliberately develop a system where understanding the recipient and human interaction better allows you to communicate a message in a memorable and engaging way.

Wedding Bells

Michael saw what he wanted to happen.  He planned a strategy to get to that point specifically around his knowledge of Jane, her needs, her characteristics and her history.  He created an atmosphere through an experience, and then he got Jane involved with a story about how much he loved her.  He didn’t deceive Jane, but rather engaged her character, her emotions, and her logic.  In doing so, Michael got the response he had hoped for.

Bob knew generally what he wanted.  So he just asked for it.  Things didn’t go so well for Bob.

Are you Michael?  Or are you Bob?

Or are you somebody else?  Maybe you’ve got your own tips on persuasion or a story about a strategy that did or didn’t work for you.  Let us know in the comments so we can learn from your experiences as well.

Happy Lawyering!

The Art of Persuasion Series

This post is part of a series on persuasion.  Here are the links to the entire series: