Compared to convincing a jury in a courtroom of something, car salespeople have it easy – as they control the environment and have the undivided attention of the customer.
Just imagine for example that you were in a Lexus showroom listening to why you should buy one of their vehicles, and at your elbow was a BMW salesperson, periodically objecting to the Lexus pitch and then delivering her own. That’s the situation a lawyer must deal with in a courtroom. Arguments are presented by one side and will be directly (and often mercilessly) attacked by the other side. So what’s an effective way to make your point? One trial-proven persuasion strategy is the use of stories.
Researchers Philip Mazzocco and Melanie Green draw a contrast between rhetorical persuasion, in essence arguing with facts and logic, and the use of narratives to influence decisions. They concluded that stories are far more effective at changing those emotional beliefs that logical arguments have difficulty reaching. There are also a number of other relevant takeaways to make stories more persuasive including:
For spoken narratives (as one normally finds in a courtroom), a good storyteller is more persuasive than a mediocre one. Dramatic pacing, use of imagery, and other factors affect the impact the story has on the listener. (If your story will be told in written form, it’s safe to assume that effective use of language and an appropirate narrative style will have that same effect.) And when a story is told properly, there’s a sort of mind-meld connection between the teller and listener.
Immersive images will enable the audience to “see” the characters and scenes being described, and will trump dry factual information that lacks that impact. (If you have any doubts, brain scans show vivid action imagery lights up the readers or listener’s brain as if he were performing those same actions. Even if you are painting a fictional picture with the story, its elements need to relate to the reality that the audience is familiar with, for example, basic human motivations. The audience must be able to understand the story. Shakespeare, for example, resonates with many readers because he was so in tune with human nature. So it’s clear that stories must be coherent (“narrative probability”) and consistent with the listeners past experiences (“narrative fidelity”) to be effective.
Stories need to flow in a logical manner, and therefore usually have a beginning, middle, and end. Suspense can keep an audience tuned in. Starting with a provocative question or curious situation is a good example -as it makes listeners want to hear what comes next.
Context and Surroundings
The same story may vary in its persuasive impact depending on the context in which it is told. A story told by a pushy salesperson will be less believable because listeners will attribute ulterior motives to the person telling it. At a more basic level, problematic surroundings (like a noisy environment, or, presumably, a web page with distracting elements near the text) can also reduce the story’s effectiveness.
This is one factor you may not have direct control over: people vary in their ability to be transported by stories. Stories will obviously be less likely to persuade audience members who lack the imagination to visualize what they are hearing or reading. If you could identify your less imaginative prospects, though, you could attempt to persuade them with logic and argument rather than a narrative.
Rational vs. Experiential
Researchers Mazzocco and Green found evidence that human brains process information in two ways, rational appraisal and “experiential.” The first includes digesting facts, comparing new information to one’s knowledge and past experience, etc. The second, in contrast, “involves the construction of an imaginary world filled with quasi-experiences.” It’s the experiential processing – creating the experience (that didn’t really happen) in the customer’s mind that can be reached most effectively by stories.
The authors suggest that we can only think in one mode at a time, so the persuader should shift approaches depending on which style would be most effective in supporting each phase of the argument. There’s another way to look at this duality: We make our decision emotionally (and, to varying degrees, unconsciously), and then let our rational processes justify that decision with facts.
Even if you can persuade at the emotional level with a story, you may still need to provide factual persuasion elements to keep the customer’s entire brain happy.
[ Original article by Roger Dooley. Roger writes and speaks about marketing, and in particular the use of neuroscience and behavioral research. ]
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