From the January 2008 issue of Research Magazine • Subscribe!

Connecting with Clients: "The Elements of Persuasion" by Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman

I recently attended a conference spending two days in a windowless room listening to PowerPoint presentation after PowerPoint presentation. On the plane ride home, I was going over my notes, and I realized the presentations that were the most compelling and memorable were the ones where the presenters told interesting, true-life stories to demonstrate their points.

Whether it's in front of a crowd of 100, or a pitch to a prospective client, telling stories is vital to making your point. Indeed, there are two things everyone in business does every day, write Robert Dickman and Richard Maxwell in their book, The Elements of Persuasion. "We all sell something -- our products, our services, our skills, our ideas, our vision of where our business is going -- and we tell stories."

The authors define a story as "a fact, wrapped in an emotion that compels us to take an action that transforms our world." Their book is divided into five elements of persuasion:

Passion: Every powerful narrative has passion, the energy that makes you want, even need, to tell it; and passion kindles a listener's interest, write the authors. Their advice:o Begin presentations with stories, not jokes. Too often speakers hide behind their jokes, using them to cover nervousness or deflect potential opposition to what is coming later in the speech. o Try to plan your presentations in the morning, when people are more alert. Avoid the after-lunch 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. period when audiences/clients are groggy.o If you are presenting a PowerPoint presentation, don't dim the lights!o Once you have a speech/presentation prepared, work on getting it down to a single, easy-to-remember sentence. You may never actually use the sentence, but having it ready and in the back of your mind provides a key edge.

A Hero: The hero is the character in the story who gives the audience a point of view. For instance, a client could be considered a "hero" in a story if you want to share a story about a successful client situation. The authors point to Warren Buffett as being a successful storyteller, noting that more than 14,000 shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway come to Omaha for his annual meetings. There, Buffett takes center stage for six hours and answers any and all questions from the audience. He has managed to pull off meetings that never go sour. How? "He responds [to questions] with great humor and not only with facts, but also with the emotions that surround them and make them matter. He puts things in a context that can be easily understood."

Antagonist. This part of the story is about the problems that the hero is facing. The antagonist can be a challenge, for instance a mountain that the hero climbs. But in terms of financial planning, the problem would be the challenge your client is trying to overcome.

Awareness. This is the moment that allows the hero to prevail. The authors focus on how to use "buzz" and "viral marketing" to reach a mass audience, comparable to encouraging your clients to recommend you to their family and friends.

Transformation. This would be the outcome and the impact it has on the "hero." It's the natural result of a well-told story. "If you've taken care of the other elements, it just happens," write Maxwell and Dickman. They note that a transformation illustrates that things are different, and usually better, because of the obstacles overcome and the discoveries made. "People love happy endings. For that reason we want to pass the story on," they write.

If you're looking to spruce up your pitches, The Elements of Persuasion is a quick read that could provide some helpful ideas.

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Mary Scott is the co-author of Companies with a Conscience and can be reached at maryscott303@comcast.net.

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