Friday, September 25, 2009

The Elements of Persuasion: Summary

Recently, I did a bunch of posts summarising a book called The Elements of Persuasion, which is about how to construct stories that people will pay attention to and agree with. I felt that those posts got a bit caught up in the details, so I wanted to create a summary of that summary. Which is what you're about to read.

According to the book, there are five elements of persuasion: Passion, the Hero, the Antagonist, a moment of Awareness, and the Transformation into taking action. Here's a bit more about each of those five elements:

How do you get other people to care about the idea or cause that you care about?

To begin with, you need to be personally committed; it needs to be your passion. So before you tell your story, you need to ask:
  • Do I really care about what I'm about to say? Do I need to tell this story?
  • It is true?
If the answers are 'No', you should pick another idea to talk about.

Your Passion is the key to making anyone else care about your story. If people aren't connecting with your story at an emotional level, if they aren't feeling your Passion, then you're telling the wrong story.

What are the advantages of Passion?

Passion cuts through all the competing demands for an audience's attention and makes them listen to you. Check out this presentation by a 13 year old girl to the United Nations:

Passion is communicable. If your story connects with people emotionally, they will spread it for you because it's fun to tell.(*) At the start of this talk, Seth Godin shares an example of a story that spread - a story about a man who worked for the SPCA in San Francisco.

Speaking with Passion has a few more benefits:
  • Passion gets your audience ready to want to listen to you; it warms them up

  • Passion makes your story seems more vivid and more real

  • The more passionate and personal your story is, the easier it is to overcome stage fright; Passion helps you tell your story in a way that makes you appear natural and relaxed
Apparently, stories that are personal and told with Passion are easier for people to remember, and that it the first step to persuading them. Personal stories also increase your likeability and show that you're authentic (because you're talking about something that means something to you).

The Hero
The Hero personifies the story and shows us how change our lives.

Heroes are changed by living through the story, and they take different actions because they've been changed. That means heroes show us how to change our own lives, and live according to the values in the story.

To use this idea when you're writing your story, start by reducing your story down to its central concept. Then transform that concept into actions. Finally, choose a hero who demonstrates how to take those actions.

It's vital to find the right hero for your story, and if you want to change people's minds and lives then it's best if your hero is real rather than fictional.

One final advantage of having a hero is that it allows the storyteller to unify the audience. By 'unify', I mean that the audience all see and interpret the events of the story through the same point-of-view.

The Antagonist
Antagonists keep the Hero from achieving their goal.

Antagonists don't create conflict; they "clarify what the conflict is about". (I wish I'd taken more notes on this point, because it seems profound!) At the moment I interpret it to mean that stories aren't about 'defeating' the Antagonist, they're about us discovering what we need to change in order to defeat it.

If you're going to persuade people, then they must remember what you've said. Memory and recall are improved when you experience strong emotions. Think about how much you love to hate the villains in Die Hard or Star Wars or [insert a more topical movie reference of your choice here]. Using an Antagonist lets you easily generate strong negative emotions, but at the same time audiences will associate those the negative emotions with the Antagonist - which keeps your Hero sympathetic. And the audience's dislike of the antagonist will get them on the Hero's side.

Choose the 'right' antagonist. One that can be overcome, but not one that's a straw villain (either imaginary, or whose threat is overinflated). And don't demonise the Antagonist - instead, give the hero and the audience a change to learn from them.

You want to create a moment of Awareness in the audience where they see the problem for what it is and the actions they need to take to fix it.

Hopefully by this point you'll have also created the Passion to change things and given them a role model of how to change (the Hero). Awareness applies both to the Hero and to the audience; ideally, the audience should share the Hero's realisation that something needs to change.

Taking action and changing things transforms you and the world around you.


Here are the links to the rest of my posts on the Elements of Persuasion.

The First Element: Passion.
The Second Element: The Hero.
The final three Elements.


Unknown said...

Hi Atom

Richard Maxwell and I really enjoy your comments regarding Elements. I am learning new stuff as I read how the 5 elements interact with your experience.

Bob Dickman

hix said...

You're welcome. Thanks to both you and Richard for writing the book. I found it a challenging read but I've gotten a lot out of it.