How to Tell a Persuasive Story
Two storytelling structures that will help you succeed in life and in business
The following is an excerpt from Max Altschuler’s new book Career Hacking for Millennials: How I Built A Career My Way, And How You Can Too.
Storytelling is an incredibly powerful trait in life and in business. It can get people excited about something and help you sell or market anything — including yourself as you build your career. I’ve found two storytelling structures work particularly well for me, and I’ve given each my own spin. The first is AIDA, which stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, Action. Here’s what it means:
- Attention: The first step is also thought of as “awareness” or “attract.” The idea is that you do something to grab people’s focus. It could be a shock factor, a powerful image, or personalization. A good example of this is an email subject line such as, “Why did you stop reading about our Pricing, Brian?” Maybe the author of this email used an app to track users on their site and populate their data. If you received that email, it might stick out as a shocking thing that they knew your name and details about you, when you didn’t think you gave them any information to go off of.
- Interest: What’s going to keep the person reading or listening? One way is to be funny or entertaining. Another is to show how you’re solving a problem they have. Once the reader opens the email, an interest grabber could be, “Would you like to know how we got your information and knew when you stopped reading?”
- Desire: Now that they’re interested, take them to the next level. Bring them from, “Hmm, OK that’s cool,” to, “Ah ok, I need that.” Usually this is where you can take what interests them and layer on even more benefits, so what you’re offering becomes even more attractive. Continuing with the email in the example, I might say, “What if we could provide you with the same technology we use to capture this data on your site? You would be able to follow up with users much faster, leading to more conversations with customers and, eventually, more revenue. 85% of our customers see an uptick in interactions within the first month.”
- Action: This is the call to action (CTA) we discussed earlier, in which you encourage them to take the next step. Always have a clear CTA. If your goal is to get them to take a meeting with you, you can say, “I’ll be a few blocks away next Tuesday. Would you like to have lunch?” Or, “Here are some of my available slots to speak this week. Would you like to pick one?” In the case of our sales email above, you might close it with a link to signup or an offer to set up a call to tell them more and eventually close the deal.
The other storytelling structure I’ve found very useful is SCQA, which stands for Situation, Complication, Question, Answer.
- Situation: Start with the current state of affairs. This can be a look at an existing problem. For example, “I was walking to work yesterday when a rat ran over my foot. I looked up and saw more than 100 rats eating out of garbage bags that were ripped open. These bags were put out on the streets of New York City’s Lower East Side neighborhood, by restaurant owners waiting for city-organized garbage collection. This is a government-mandated process that the entire city abides by.”
- Complication: What’s the complexity behind the situation? Get people aware of it. “These rats are getting fed more than ever before, leading to a rapid increase in population. Studies by XYZ show the rats are carrying diseases from the trash that can spread to humans and potentially kill people if the problem is not stopped soon.”
- Question: So what can we do about it? I.e., ”So what can be done about this today, before people start losing their lives!?”
- Answer: Provide your solution — ideally, one that does not require people to make any big effort. “Simple. Garbage bags that have our special patented ABC coating are completely rat proof, therefore allowing restaurants to safely dispose of the trash. If every restaurant in the neighborhood used our bags, we’d see a dramatic decrease in the diseased rat population in only six months. When purchased in bulk, our bags are also five cents cheaper per bag than standard garbage bags, and they’re biodegradable.”
This is just an imaginary example. I don’t really think rats are going to kill a chunk of the New York City population! But it’s the structure that does the work in selling the service, and making it easy to follow.
Check out the writings of David Ogilvy, known as “the father of advertising.” Also The Boron Letters by Gary C. Halbert, who has been called “history’s greatest copywriter.” The more you read about great marketing, the more you will learn what makes people tick.
Another excellent way to get good at storytelling is to listen to TED talks. Each presentation has a similar formula delivered in its own unique way, allowing viewers to tailor their story in a similar fashion. In one TED talk, I particularly enjoyed this quote from Dr. Brene Brown on telling stories in business:
“Stories are just data with a soul.”
I also recommend a Business Insider article on Pixar’s “22 Rules for Telling a Great Story.”
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