If you need to make an argument about an issue about which you feel very strongly, don't use rhetoric. Tell a story instead.
For a recent example, think of how Representative Keith Ellison spoke to the press before hearings convened by Representative Peter King to investigate the radicalization of American Muslims in the United States. After making his case about why Muslims were being unjustly singled out by the hearings, Ellison closed his statement with a story about Mohammed Salman Hamdani, a paramedic who perished on 9/11 while trying to rescue those trapped in the Twin Towers. Ellison described how some sought to tarnish Hamdani's sacrifice by calling attention to his Islamic faith. The story, and Ellison's emotional delivery, helped make his message powerful.
Effective storytelling can serve anyone in leadership who seeks to persuade others to his or her point of view. Opinion-based rhetoric is often more polarizing than persuasive, while statistics are often go in one ear and out the other. But a careful blending of rhetoric and facts, woven into the right story, can change minds.
Shaping an effective story with a point of view is a learned skill. Here are some suggestions.
Know your message. When it comes to persuasion we resist being told what to think but we are open to why we must think it. Savvy preachers use this technique on Sundays. Good stories have more than a point of view; they have a message. As such they are tools of persuasion. You consider what you want others to do and why you want them to do it. That is your message.
Find the right example. Look for what people around you are doing that relates to your point of view. If you want to persuade people to adopt safety standards, tell the story of what happened when someone did not follow protocol. If you want to demonstrate the benefits of a new process, use a story to explain how an individual would benefit.
Weave your narrative. It is best to use real-life examples, as Ellison did. Therefore, talk about what an employee did to ensure safety or how a team adopted a new process and achieved improved results. Tie to a narrative by following strong story structure. Describe the situation. Talk about what happened. Close with the benefits pitch.
Convey passion. You don't need to go overboard, but you do need to demonstrate your conviction. Do this through your choice of words — ones that draw pictures. And do it through your delivery — raising your voice on a key point, pausing for emphasis and following through with well-paced flow.
Support with facts. Using a narrative approach doesn't mean you can't use facts. Weave them into your narrative, or begin or end your story with them. For example, one in four children is falling behind in math by the third grade. So if you're trying to convince people this is a problem worth addressing, you might say, "Let me tell you the story of Daniel, a fourth grader at Summit Elementary..." Then you sketch the story. And perhaps after telling Daniel's story, you close with a few more facts about the need for remedial math schooling.
As powerful as storytelling can be, it may not be appropriate for every occasion. Sometimes you need to get to the point. And the best way to relate your point of view, especially with a business case, is to do it quickly and concisely. In these situations, facts and figures are a story in themselves.
Storytelling need not be reserved for formal occasions. I recall an executive telling me that he had a boss, one who mentored him, who had a story for every situation. Most especially this boss told stories as a form of coaching. He would relate whatever the situation called for — an admonishment, a pat on the back, or a challenge — to a story. As a result, the lessons stuck. The executive who told me the story could recite verbatim stories his old boss had told him twenty years ago. What's more this executive had integrated the technique (and some of the same stories) into his own leadership style.
Stories are powerful when put in the hands of leaders who know how to use them.
Check out Paragon Strategies Powerful Presentation Skills on how to develop your story telling. www.paragonstrategies.com