"Every great leader is a great storyteller," says Harvard University psychologist Howard Gardner.
According to master storytellers Richard Maxwell and Robert Dickman, storytelling is a lot like running. Everyone knows how to do it, but few of us ever break the four-minute mile. What separates the great runners from the rest? The greats know not only how to hit every stride, but how every muscle fits together in that stride so that no effort is wasted and their goals are achieved. World-class runners know how to run from the inside out. World-class leaders know how to tell a story from the inside out.
In The Elements of Persuasion, Maxwell and Dickman teach you how to tell stories too. They show you how storytelling relates to every industry and how anyone can benefit from its power.
Maxwell and Dickman use their experiences—both in the entertainment industry and as corporate consultants—to deliver a formula for winning stories. All successful stories have five basic components: the passion with which the story is told, a hero who leads us through the story and allows us to see it through his or her eyes, an antagonist or obstacle that the hero must overcome, a moment of awareness that allows the hero to prevail, and the transformation in the hero and in the world that naturally results.
Let's face it: leading is a lot more fun than following. Even if you never want to be a CEO or to change the world, you do want to have control over your own work and your own ideas. Ultimately, that is what the power of storytelling can give you.
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About the Author
Richard Maxwell brings the skills he developed in his twenty-five-year career as a screen and television writer-producer to FirstVoice's clients. In addition to his produced feature films—The Challenge, The Serpent and the Rainbow, and Shadow of China—he has worked as a script doctor, writing or rewriting films for every one of the major Hollywood studios and many independent producers. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California, with his wife, Christine.
Robert Dickman is an executive coach who teaches narrative strategies as they relate to corporate communication, product design, and branding with FirstVoice, a consulting firm specializing in media awareness training for business. Robert was formerly a monk at the Ryutaku-ji Zen Monastery in Mishima, Japan, and later an actor and an acting and communications coach for Academy-Award-winning actors. He lives in Santa Monica, California, with his wife, Aimee, and daughter, Rylie.
Read an Excerpt
The Elements of Persuasion
Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business
So What's Your Story?
There are two things everyone in business does every day. We all sell something—our products, our services, our skills, our ideas, our vision of where our business is going—and we tell stories. We sell things because that is how we as a democratic, capitalist society organize our energy. We tell stories because, as cognitive psychology is continuing to discover, stories are how we as human beings organize our minds. If we want to sell something, we have to persuade someone else to buy it.
We didn't always put such a high premium on persuasion. There was a time when the biggest and toughest among us simply told the smaller and more delicate what to do and punched them in the nose if that were a problem. Everyone, with the possible exception of Mike Tyson, agrees our modern way is better. But it has required us to learn a whole new skill set.
Compared with our great-grandparents, even the least skilled among us are crackerjack sales-people. It comes from practice.
One hundred years ago we didn't get much. Most of us lived on more or less self-contained farms. Our business was agriculture, controlled by slow seasonal rhythms. We sold our harvest once or twice a year. We got the market price. We hitched up our buckboard and rode into town once or twice a month and shopped at the general store. What we got there was largely generic. We wanted biscuits, but the type of biscuit we got was the type the store sold. Limited shelf space and the difficulties of transportation made brandoptions rare. We might try a new product, if the store clerk took the time to tell us how it was improved and how many satisfied customers he had, or we might not. Then, having completed our relatively intense commercial experience—intense enough so that going to the store was considered not a chore but entertainment—we headed back to our farm and our normal daily routine, secure in the knowledge that for the next week or so we wouldn't have to either buy or sell anything.
This left us easy marks for anyone who really knew how to deliver a sales pitch. Which is one of the reasons traveling salesmen got the reputation they got—and why some of us still feel slightly embarrassed about "being in sales." When the telephone reached out to even the most distant farms we resented it and called the salesmen who used this new medium to catch us around the dinner table "phonies." The name stuck.
Admittedly things weren't so leisurely paced if you lived in the slums of New York, and if you are reading this in Europe you will have to adjust the dates back one or two hundred years, but you get the idea. Buying and selling used to be an occasional thing.
Compare that with how many times you were involved in a sales pitch just on your way to work today. The newspaper ads your eyes skimmed past (but which had their subliminal effect), the radio spots that interrupted the news on your morning drive, the focus-group-tested sound bites the politicians used to push their parties' agendas (or, if your radio tastes are different, the product-placement mentions of burgers and beverages by your favorite rap artist), the billboards, the bumper stickers, the product logos on T-shirts. And they aren't just selling products. They are selling ideas, opinions, brand loyalties, political affiliations—you name it. Persuasion is very big business.
How big? In 1999, economist Deirdre McCloskey, writing in the American Economic Review, estimated that 28 percent of the GNP of the United States was involved in commercial persuasion. This includes law, public relations, the ministry, psychology, and marketing. That means last year almost $3.3 trillion was spent in the United States on commercial persuasion—selling.
Think about that—$3.3 trillion. That makes the "country of persuaders" the third-largest economy in the world.
To deal with all that persuasive pressure, to have even a few meager dollars in our pockets at the end of the day, we have all had to develop tremendous sales resistance. To keep from being overwhelmed and paralyzed by all the demands that we do this or buy that, we have developed thick skins and the ability to ignore most of the chatter. For those of us whose business depends on being able to persuade others—which is all of us in business—the key to survival is being able to cut through all that clutter and make the sale.
The good news is that the secret of selling is what it has always been—a good story. It's that simple. Stories sell.
The even better news is that storytelling is innate in the human psyche. It is something we all know how to do.
In fact, it is so hardwired into us that it has its own place on our genome—a gene called FOXP2. Discovered in 2001 by Professor Anthony Monaco and his research team at Oxford University, FOXP2 is now thought to be only the first of what scientists believe is a whole constellation of genes that make language and narrative possible. FOXP2 specifically makes possible the subtle physical and neurological skills needed to speak words rapidly and precisely, and is probably linked to the use of complex syntax as well. From a cellular level on up, we are all born storytellers.
So if we all can tell stories, and stories are crucial to selling, why are some of us better at selling our products and ideas than others?
It's a lot like running. We all know how to do it, but only a few of us will ever break a four-minute mile. What separates the great runners from the also-rans is that great runners understand how to run from the inside out. They know how every stride, every muscle in that stride, fits together to achieve the goal. If we want to excel at persuasion, we need to understand story that same way.The Elements of Persuasion
Use Storytelling to Pitch Better, Sell Faster & Win More Business. Copyright © by Robert Dickman. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This is a concise and thoughtful introduction to communicating through storytelling. I found their framework and supporting examples - ok, stories - instructive. The authors also shared a lot of interesting insights. For example, memories are much more likely to be created when there is stress or other high emotion. There is biological evidence for this effect and we can use it to our advantage. They summarize stories as "facts wrapped in emotions" and successfully demonstrate the effectiveness of communicating through that type of support. There were points with which I didn't agree, and the attempts to tie their framework to Eastern philosophy (the 5 elements) only succeeded halfway for me. They open with a claim that previous generations didn't need to be storytellers to succeed as much as we do today, yet every single transaction then was a direct story, often involving trading and barter. The skills are different, but not new.