How To Persuade People Through Story

For Managers

Think back to a conversation where you tried to persuade someone to your point of view. You used every fact and figure you could think of. You created a logical argument based on solid data. You used numbers and statistics. But yet, you failed to persuade them.

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What’s More Powerful: Rhetoric or Experience?

Now think about the last movie you watched that made you cry or inspired you to make a change. Your emotional response was likely not based on the protagonist spouting off a list of statistics. The reason you were moved was because of the power of story. The emotion, the experience, the imagery. That’s what story does. Today, we dive deep into how to persuade people through story.

Why Use Story To Persuade?

Story has been around since the dawn of time, and our brains are hardwired to respond to it. We are story creatures. We have a natural appetite to consume and respond to narratives.

One of the reasons storytelling is powerful in persuasion is because stories engage the part of the brain that controls our senses. When we hear a story, our brain creates an emotion around it that makes it stick in our memory. In essence; people remember stories! This is crucial to understanding how to persuade your audience or drive action. Good stories stick in our minds long after we hear them.

Another reason story is so powerful is because people understand things in their own contexts. When you are attempting to persuade someone through story, they need to be able to picture themselves in the story. If they can’t envision themselves in it, they’ll tune out. Allow your audience to identify themselves as a player in your story. Make it relevant to their situation. Do that, and you have a far greater chance of influencing them to make the decision you are advocating for.

Story is also less “salesy” than rhetoric. Stories have an innate human element in them that is disarming. Instead of using rhetoric to persuade, try telling a story to disarm the objections of your audience.

You can create experiences through the use of story that are far more impacting than just using logic. Stories create emotions that attach themselves to things that happen. In other words, stories create experiences. And experience is much more impacting than rhetoric alone.

Why is this? A big part of it is the way we are wired as emotional beings. Most people – even executives – make decisions based on emotion, then use logic to justify their decision. This explains why story is so effective in persuasion. When we create an emotional connection with our audience, we make it easy for them to understand what is at stake and move them to a decision. Then afterwards, we can share the data for why that decision is the correct one. Leading with emotion in story is a crucial key in the art of influencing people.

That’s not to say that logic, reason and data can’t be included in story. Not at all! We are wired to respond to story in a way that makes facts and figures and logic more credible. We need both. Stories help make a connection between the data and why we should care about it. They humanize the data. They give us a reason to care about the rhetoric. They help us put shape to hard-to-grasp concepts. Story that is rooted in data is doubly effective. Pair your storytelling with a foundation of meaningful, data-driven arguments and you have a winning combination!

How To Persuade Tips or Methods

Now that you’re excited to use story to persuade people, here are some tips you can start implementing:

  1. Use the Pyramid Principle

Use the Pyramid Principle to effectively structure your stories. Lead with the punchline – it frames the conversation for your audience, and also brings their objections to bear. Now that you know their objections to your recommendation, you can address them!

  1. Be MECE

Say everything you need to say, but only say it once! This is especially key for executive-level audiences.

  1. Be Relatable

Tell stories that are relevant and relatable to your audience. You don’t want to have a powerful, deeply emotional story that doesn’t resonate with the listeners. Know your audience. Know their pain points and what success looks like to them. Then use examples that they will understand and relate to. Can your audience place themselves inside your story? Don’t forget that context is key for storytelling. People understand things in their own contexts. Speak the language of your audience and you more likely to be successful.

  1. Arguments > Data

Once you’ve got someone’s attention, use arguments that are based on data to close the deal. Summarize key takeaways for them, and don’t make them pore over a detailed financial model or survey data. In short, give them data-based insights.

  1. Be Authentic

In persuading people through story, be authentic to who you are. Tell stories that resonate with you. We’re not trying to manipulate people through the use of emotion. We’re simply using the tool of story to influence.


Now that you’ve gotten some newfound knowledge on how to persuade someone through story, begin to put it into practice. You could start with your friends in everyday situations. Then work a story into your next presentation, and so on and so forth. Soon enough you’ll feel comfortable and capable in knowing how to effectively persuade your audience!

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Filed Under: Consulting skills, Corporate Training