Stacey Abrams has a simple rule for persuading her audience: Tell a story and put them at the center of it. In 2018, Abrams became the first Black female candidate for governor from a major party, and came within 55,000 votes of winning. She has been credited with helping deliver Democrat victories in Georgia in the 2020 presidential and 2021 Senate runoff elections. Depending on your political views, you may love Abrams or hate her. Either way, you can learn a lot from her about how to be persuasive.
In a live interview during this year's virtual SXSW conference with author N.K. Jemisin, Abrams said the fact that she's an author--her newest thriller comes out in May--has helped her change the minds of voters across Georgia. "Storytelling is innate," she said. "One of the reasons I believe I've been successful is that rather than give people talking points, I try to tell a story of where we are, and where we can go."
Here's how she does it.
1. Make it a story about them.
"You have to center the voter, center the citizen, center the person [you're speaking to] in that narrative," she said. "If it's about someone else and they can't see themselves either benefiting from it or being victimized by it, then you give them a reason not to pay attention. So I've always tried to make my work about centering the communities that need to be heard."
By doing that, she said, "we create space for other people to tell better stories, by going to the polls, by being involved." That's very effective in getting voters to the polls, but it's good advice as well for anyone trying to get customers or investors on board.
2. Start in the middle.
Think back to the last book you read that you couldn't put down. Chances are it didn't begin with the central character's childhood, although you may have learned about that childhood later on in flashbacks or dialogue. This is a literary tradition called in media res, which is Latin for "into the middle of things." It grabs the reader's attention by starting at a dramatic point in the story. For example, the beloved Christmas movie It's a Wonderful Life begins with worried people praying for George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) all over town. Then we go back to his childhood and learn the story that got him into trouble.
"You start in the middle of the story, in media res," Abrams said. And then you fill in. "You can't leave behind how we got there.
3. Don't prejudge who your audience will be.
When Abrams ran for governor, she appeared in all the usual places, and also on Pandora and Spotify, natural places to find voters. But she also advertised on country music stations and showed up at the sci-fi/fantasy event Dragon Con--and at a gun show. While she might not be popular with gun show attendees, Abrams said, some might at least give her a sideways glance, and others might mention her to someone else who might vote for her, she explained.
Too often, she says, "we tell other people they're not allowed to listen to us. I want you to hear me and decide you don't want what I'm selling. I don't want to be the one to tell you you can't even have it."
4. Keep coming back.
Once you've achieved your objective--winning an election, in politics, or making a sale in business--be careful that you don't just disappear, Abrams warned. In Georgia, for example, high turnout in the runoff Senate election led to the state sending its first Jewish senator and first Black senator to Washington, she said. But now there's been pushback.
"We did it by telling them a story about their power, if they wanted relief from Covid, criminal justice reform, policing reform, they needed to show up to vote, they needed to make a plan to bring their families," she said. "They listened. And now here in Georgia, more than 50 bills have been introduced to roll back access to voting rights."
No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, but as a leader, you have to be, she said. "It's part of your responsibility to not just tell a chapter of the story, but to come back and tell people what happened next."