December 8, 2021
Infuse Your Executive Communications with the Power of Persuasion
Your effectiveness as an executive often hinges on your ability to persuade. What you say and how you say it can either inspire your audience to buy into your vision for your organization or cause them to look elsewhere. Likewise, your words wield enormous influence in attracting and retaining the talent that drives your business forward, a dynamic more important and relevant today than at any point in recent memory.
You may think your instincts and hard data are enough to guide you, but you’ll be much more effective if you hone your skills based on what behavioral science tells us about human decision-making. Because you need to convince people to follow you every single day, likely even more often than you realize, it’s crucial to understand exactly what motivates your team to make decisions, change their minds, and take action.
So whether you’re trying to convince your audience you’re still relevant in an era of social reform or you simply want to strengthen your in-office culture after a long season of working remotely, here’s what you need to know to tap into the power of persuasion.
In Decision-Making, Human Beings Lead With Emotion
Much of what we believe about persuasion in business is wrong. We want to think that decisions are consistently made on the basis of fact and rational thought. After all, the ability to reason is a hallmark of the human experience.
But the truth is people don’t make decisions on facts alone. Emotion is what actually drives us. Surprisingly, this is the case even in professional services where many leaders assume that logic reigns supreme. That’s why your business development team doesn’t simply bombard prospective clients with statistics. They build relationships and tell stories about the impact your firm has on clients just like them. It’s these narratives that compel prospects to hire you.
In his book Descartes’ Error, Dr. Antonio Damasio argues “We are not thinking machines that feel. We are feeling machines that think.” We lead with emotion and then use facts to rationalize our decision to others. This is particularly true when the stakes are high and when decisions are made in groups, two common elements of decision-making in professional services.
Trust, competitiveness, curiosity, uncertainty, a desire for safety — all of these feelings factor into the decision-making process. And to evoke the emotions that drive decisions, you need to first understand the role narrative plays in influencing hearts and minds.
Compelling Narratives are the Transporters of Persuasion
Facts alone don’t persuade. That’s because cold, hard data doesn’t make people feel much of anything. Stories are what spark interest and effect change.
“Tell me a story” is the refrain of our childhoods. And we echo that refrain throughout our lives every time we reach for a novel or lose ourselves in a good movie. Your business narratives should always be rooted in fact, not fiction. But the best way to ensure your audience absorbs those facts is to transport them via narrative.
Consider the role persuasion plays in recruiting talent. If your success depends on attracting the best of the best, how might you use the power of narrative to stand out from your competition? Here are four approaches to consider:
- Make it personal. Highlight the individual experiences of one person. Rather than talking generically about your firm’s employee culture, tell the story of someone who chose to make your firm their professional home. Every good story features a hero’s journey.
- Paint a picture. Details make for good stories. Talk about your hero’s struggles and triumphs at your firm with specifics while avoiding generalities. Did they salvage a tenuous client relationship? Land a big account? Draw your listener in with vivid descriptions.
- Use action verbs. Don’t be afraid to lean into your flair for the dramatic. Make your narrative interesting by choosing words that propel the action forward.
- Awaken the senses. Put your listener in your hero’s shoes. Make them feel the pressure of that challenging client relationship. Help them imagine everything your hero experienced.
Include Elements of Your Own Story
The command-and-control leadership mindset of yesteryear isn’t effective today. Stakeholders now expect transparency and a degree of vulnerability from their leaders. And if you want to persuade them, one of the best ways to do that is to share personal experiences and anecdotes from your own life.
We recently worked with a dynamic leader of a major professional services firm who was preparing for a media interview for a story highlighting her new leadership role. She wanted her skills and expertise to carry the story and was hesitant to share too much about her personal background. But the truth is, her upbringing and involvement in a series of family businesses founded by her immigrant parents is what shaped her into the leader she’s become.
Another executive spoke with us to develop an obituary for a longtime colleague who was a pioneer in his field and a mentor to other leaders. Rather than simply saying that as a point of fact, we worked with the executive to include a short anecdote about how he had learned “much of what it takes to be a good leader” sitting on his now-deceased colleague’s couch decades earlier, listening to conversations over a speakerphone.
People respond to stories like these. They envision the sweat and tears it took to triumph over challenging circumstances. Or they relate to how a mentor’s hands-on approach made a difference that had lasting effects. In both cases, the tangible details are key ingredients to telling compelling and effective stories.
So what’s your story? What can you share from your background that will allow your audience to see and connect with you and your firm? You don’t have to “tell all.” But find kernels of your personal experience that will resonate with your listeners and craft them into narratives that persuade.
Audiences Engage with Concrete Language, not Jargon
Concrete language turns the brain into a simulator and enables your audience to experience what you’re describing. By contrast, jargon causes empathy to flatline. Sometimes it’s essential to use certain business terms and phrases to establish credibility with certain audiences. But by itself, lingo won’t help you persuade.
Think about the words you use to describe your business. Do they awaken emotion and stimulate interest? Can your audience draw what you’re describing — or at least picture it in their mind’s eye? Or are you leaning on meaningless (and even trite) business-speak? There’s almost always a way to translate jargon into narrative.
For example, we recently helped a client who struggled to describe what their firm does. In official communications, they used words like “synergy” to talk about a complex service offering. We helped them transform this buzzword into a much more persuasive analogy using jazz music. In jazz, musicians play off of one another, take turns taking the lead, and embrace improvisation as they work together to create beautiful music.
This client’s service offering functioned just like that. Describing their work in jazz terms gave their audience a better idea of what to expect than the word “synergy” ever could.
Effective Communicators Master the Art of Persuasion
To communicate effectively, don’t shy away from the fundamental humanity of your audience. Connect with them by evoking their emotions, telling powerful stories, and using concrete language to draw them in.
Greentarget is well positioned to help you skillfully participate in the persuasive conversations that will drive your business forward. If you need help crafting the narratives that will elicit the response you’re looking for, reach out. We’d love to hear from you.