Tell Your Influence Story In a More Compelling Way

Stories are powerful tools of influence. Throughout history, stories have played a central role in changing people’s minds. Perhaps you’ve watched a State of the Union address where they President of the United States shifts away from factual policy talk to point to an invited guest and share their story. Why? Because this works to influence others!

Smart politicians and marketers know that stories are a powerful tool for persuading people. That’s partly because stories are much easier to understand than a list of facts or statistics.

Jesus, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Winston Churchill and other great leaders persuaded by telling stories about their vision of the world. These leaders never or rarely issued a litany of stats. They were masters of the painting the grand narrative vision, a story in which their hearers could see themselves participating.

People resist feeling corralled into new behavior when they feel that have no freedom and are being forced toward a new behavior. This is precisely why story functions so well as an influence tool. Stories disarm us. We forget we are getting influenced and listen with our walls down. (And before you think this is trickery, just remember we want the BEST of people’s open and critical thinking when they make a decision. Helping them get a wall of “I don’t want to change” down is actually helping them be their best.)


Transport Others to A New Vision

Influencing people by telling them stories does indeed work (Green & Brock, 2000). But how? Because if we know how story functions to influence, we can tailor and tell better stories to be more persuasive.

It turns out that stories work so well to persuade us because, we get swept up in them. We are transported inside of them. It is as if a story allows us inside a new world to walk around and observe while suspending our innate reservations about change.

A story’s ability to transport us is key to why they work. Once inside the story we are less likely to notice that which doesn’t match up with our current, everyday experience.

The Hollywood underdog story draws us in and influences us towards a can-do spirit where we to come to believe we can tackle any problem, despite what we think we know about how the real world works. It induces us to do something different than we have done it before. The walls of self-preservation come down and allow us to be convinced to attempt something that has a degree of risk.

Following a story requires continued concentrating. (Unlike a list of facts, which allows us to check out and return to listening repeatedly). When people focus on a story, they are less aware that they are subject to a influence or persuasion attempt: the message gets in under the radar and allows for them to truly consider the end vision.

Two categories of listeners may be particularly open to being influenced by stories (Thompson & Haddock, 2011):

1. Those who seek out emotional situations.

Stories contain emotional elements connect those looking for an emotional charge. Emotions such as fear and anger can be limiting factors when we face them ourselves. However, when we see a story’s protagonist overcome their fears, we come to believe that we, too, can do the same.

2. Those who enjoy thinking

Thinkers are drawn to the twists and turns of the plot as their brains enjoy the satisfaction of seeking out the deeper meaning of the story. Brain scans have shown listening to a story actually revs up our brains, activating different regions than merely listening to a list of facts or required policy changes.


How to Tell a Better Influence Story

Highly influential stories need to be engaging. Here are some ways to make your story a more engaging and persuasive story (from Green & Brock, 2005):

  • Literary techniques like foregrounding, which is using things like irony or metaphor to make the banal and everyday seem new and fresh. It’s about shaking the reader out of the mundane and giving them new eyes to see.
  • Vibrant imagery is important as it helps the story come alive in the reader’s mind.
  • Suspense keeps us reading for the oldest of reasons: to find out what happens next. The story should have increased tension and a climbing plot line before it resolves (see for example, every Hollywood movie).
  • And MOST IMPORTANTLY modeling: if you want someone to change a behavior, then you can model it. The character in the story has to go through the transformation that you want the reader to go through.

For inspiration break down your favorite novels, TV shows or films to see how the narrative works. You’ll begin to understand powerful stories and improve your storytelling abilities.

(1) Discover the story's situation.

A situation is the time and circumstances of the world of the drama. What are the characters doing at the beginning of the story?

(2) Seek the inciting incident.

Something happens to make the action of the story begin.

(3) Ask, "What happens?"

"What are the main events?"

(4) How does an event affect characters?

An external event usually has a greater internal meaning for a character that affects them deeply.

(5) What is the pattern?

This is usually a cause-effect pattern. Events alone do not make up a plot. A storyteller arranges events, usually by cause and effect. An arrangement is a pattern. A person who analyzes plot seeks a pattern of events and categorizes large portions of events in order to identify its arrangement.

(6) Are there archetypal motifs or patterns?

"Myth is, in the general sense, universal. Furthermore, similar motifs or themes may be found among many different mythologies, and certain images that recur in the myths of peoples widely separated in time and place tend to have a common meaning or, more accurately, tend to elicit comparable psychological responses and to serve similar cultural functions. Such motifs and images are called archetypes. Stated simply, archetypes are universal symbols."

1.The quest: the hero undertakes some long journey during which he must perform impossible tasks, battle with monsters, solve unanswerable riddles, and overcome insurmountable obstacles in order to save the kingdom and perhaps marry the princess.

2.Initiation: the hero undergoes a series of excruciating ordeals in passing from ignorance and immaturity to social and spiritual adulthood, that is, in achieving maturity and becoming a full-fledged member of his social group. The initiation most commonly consists of three distinct phases:

  • separation,
  • transformation, and
  • return

3.Like the quest, this is a variation of the death-and-rebirth archetype.

4.The sacrificial scapegoat: the hero, with whom the welfare of the tribe or nation is identified, must die to atone for the people's sins and restore the land to fruitfulness.

(7) What happens to the main character? Other characters?

To seek the arrangement of events and discover what happens to the main character at the end of the story often reveals the storyteller's message or point of view.

(8) How does the main character change?

Events may do things to the characters, but that isn't the same as discovering how a character changes. Discover how a character changes psychologically. Does his attitude or point of view change?

(9) How does the story intersect with the hearer’s life?

What are commonalities between the protagonist and the story’s hearers?


Fact or Fiction

Oddly whether the story is true or created doesn’t seem to matter that much, people are persuaded by fiction just as much as fact. (However, never attempt to pass of a fictional story as a factual one. Such an attempt will destroy credibility when uncovered. Many a politician has been undone by such an attempt.)

Influencing through narrative is as old as mankind and it still works to influence change.

How can you better craft and tell stories to influence others?


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From regional manager to international executive with quadruple the pay, Karen Keller’s unique blueprint carefully outlined the step-by-step process for creating high-impact influence and let me know when I was being influenced in a way that didn’t serve me.
Lloyd Moore
Global Director Supplier Quality & Development - Lear Corporation – South Carolina