Walt Grassl

Three Ways to Persuade Others Using Stories

By Walt GrasslWalt Grassl

Experts tell us that our marketing messages should focus on the benefits of our products to potential customers and not on its features. This applies any time we want to persuade an individual or a group to take action.

  • Do you want to persuade an audience to take a specific action?
  • Do you want to make more sales?
  • Do you want to teach your children a life lesson?

The best way to achieve these goals is by telling stories. Stories are how we make sense of the world. Stories are powerful because they connect with our emotions. They transform facts, ideas and abstract concepts into something we can feel.

When presented with facts, our analytic brains immediately start to poke holes in them. Stories move people to change because they create empathy, and empathy moves people to change.

Here are three types of stories you can use to persuade others to change.

1. Other People’s Stories: One way to persuade is to use other people’s stories. If your team has had some setbacks and you want to encourage them to remain positive, you might share the old adage “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” It would have more impact if you share this story about American inventor Thomas Edison.

Edison’s team had conducted thousands of experiments on a certain project without solving the problem. One of Edison’s associates was discouraged and disgusted about failing to find out anything and told him so.

Edison assured him that they had not failed to find out anything, they had learned something… they had learned thousands of ways that it could not be done, and they would have to try some other way.

The Edison story creates an “Aha moment” when you realize you can look at the situation a different way. This is much more inspiring than telling someone to “try, try again.”

2. Your Stories: Tell your story. Chances are most of your audience will not have heard your story; it is unique to you. It is common to resist telling your story: “I am afraid people will judge me,” or “My stories are not interesting.” These thoughts are normal, but what may be boring to you, because you lived through it, is usually not boring to others.

Bob used to be shy. To overcome his shyness, he changed his behavior when navigating the halls of his workplace. Instead of avoiding eye contact with employees he didn’t know well, he got in the habit of making eye contact, nodding or saying hi to everyone. It helped his shyness and also improved his effectiveness at work. Why? When he had to go to another department to ask for help, people were happy to help because they considered him a friend.

Sometime after his transformation, Bob had to get a package shipped to his best customer in a rush. It was 2:10, ten minutes past the “official” deadline” for getting a package shipped that day. But when Bob introduced himself to the shipping clerk, Susan, she said “You’re the guy that always says “hi” when we pass in the hall.” She told Bob that if he could help run down signatures for her, they would be able to get the package shipped in time. They did, and Bob got kudos from his boss for the effort.

The lesson of Bob’s story is to be nice to people when you don’t need anything from them.

How do you find your stories? In the beginning, it may not be easy. Try looking into your past:

  • What lessons have you learned and what is the story that goes with it?
  • What stories can you remember and what lessons might go with them?
  • What are some of your less than stellar moments? The bigger the stumble, the better. Your struggle to overcome it will be much more impressive.

The more you collect stories, the more stories will surface. Soon you will find stories in real time, as life happens. As you begin collecting stories, more stories will magically appear, thanks to the power of the subconscious mind.

3. Your Business Story: The most powerful story for a business owner or a sales person is the story of why you do what do.

Jane grew up the daughter of struggling middle class parents whose parents, through their hard work, were able to provide comfortable home that the family was very proud of. Over the years, as the value of their home grew, her parents neglected to keep their insurance policy up to date. When the family home was severely damaged in an electrical fire, the fact that they were underinsured created a financial hardship. Jane had to take a step down in lifestyle. They moved to a much smaller home in another neighborhood, and Jane often felt ashamed when she could no longer do some of the things her friends could do, like go away to summer camp.

As Jane got older, she realized the reason her life changed for the worse. It led her to make a career choice: she became an insurance agent. She didn’t want to see other people go through the same pains she had.

When Jane first started her career in insurance, her sales were below to average. Her sales process was to explain to her clients the concept of risk management and the value of having insurance. She worked really hard but did not have much to show for it.

One day, she shared her story, that “reason why” she chose a career in insurance, with her mentor, John. John pointed out that her story was powerful and inspiring, and she should start sharing her story with her clients. Once she began sharing her “reason why” with her clients, they could feel the pain associated with being underinsured. And wanting to avoid that pain, they worked with Jane to minimize the risk of being underinsured. Not only did Jane’s income increase, she felt better knowing she was protecting people from being devastated.

Jane’s story demonstrates how your “reason why” story makes a powerful connection with your audience.

Telling stories is the most powerful way to persuade others to change. The next time you are tempted to use facts, figures, and pie charts, or only highlight benefits in your attempt to persuade, remember, facts don’t change behavior, stories do.

Walt Grassl is a speaker, author of “Stand Up and Speak Up,” and host of the Internet radio show, “Stand Up and Speak Up.” Walt’s accomplishments include success in Toastmasters International speech contests and performing standup comedy at the Hollywood Improv and the Flamingo in Las Vegas. For more information on bringing Walt Grassl to your next event, please visit