Persuasion is hard. There are the people who oppose you, the people who like you, and the people in the middle who are undecided.

Casey Stengel, who managed all four major league baseball teams in New York City in the 20th century, said, "The secret of successful managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the four guys who haven't made up their minds."

Casey's observation is pretty much on the money. It's almost impossible to convert anyone to your opinion if you have any serious disagreement with them.

Accentuate the Positive

Your goal should be to activate positive attitudes in the undecided group, deactivate negative attitudes, and reinforce the beliefs of those who support you.

The question is how?

I believe there are a number of ways--being trusted by your audience is probably most important.

But beyond that, there are two other ways: conventional rhetoric, which is what most execs are trained in, and then there is storytelling.

Rhetoric vs. Storytelling

Rhetoric is an intellectual process--you build your case by giving statistics and facts and quotes from authorities. It's what we do with our presentations and pitch books.

But there are two problems with rhetoric.

  1. First, the people you're talking to have their own set of authorities, statistics, and experiences. While you're trying to persuade them, they are arguing with you in their heads. They're questioning your selection of authorities, stats and experiences. Or they're comparing you to the six other firms they've been talking to.
  2. Second, if you do succeed in persuading them, you've done so only on an intellectual basis. That's not good enough, because people are not inspired by reason alone. In fact, being smarter than they are can make them trust you less.

So what's a better way? Unite your strategy with an emotion.

Strategy + Emotion = Persuasive Power

The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story--about yourself, your strategy, the founding of your fund or product, and all the obstacles you've overcome, and continue to overcome, as you strive to serve the needs of your clients.

In a story, you not only weave a lot of information into the telling but you also arouse your listener's emotions and energy.

The story you tell about your approach can communicate who you are, where you come from, where you're going, what you believe, all in a vivid way that will enable your listeners to connect with you.

Persuading with a story is hard. Any intelligent person can sit down and make lists.

A standard recitation of your history, staff, approach and accomplishments may be traditional, but your audience might very well find it repetitive and predictable, when what catches audience interest and gets remembered is the unpredictable.

It takes rationality but little creativity to design an argument using conventional rhetoric.

However, it demands storytelling skill to present an idea that packs enough emotional power to be memorable.

If you can craft a story that is honest, has ups and downs, and reveals the struggle to realize the full potential of your business, you have a greater chance of winning new business and keeping repeat business.

The sense of intimacy generated by honest story telling is a powerful differentiator.