I recently wrote about the Bacon Principle (confirmation bias) and how, once we have formed a view, we draw on anything we can find to support it. An interesting discovery researchers made off the back of their confirmation bias research was what has become known as ‘the backfire effect’ i.e. when people are presented with contradictory evidence to their belief system not only do they cling to their original beliefs but these beliefs are strengthened.
These two well researched human behaviours have implications for business leaders as well as those in communication roles such as teaching, PR, communications, marketing, advertising, content marketing, etc.
The reason given for ‘the backfire effect’ is that humans don’t like the pain of being wrong. The challenge for communicators is to find a way around that and convince people to see things differently and change their minds in a relatively pain-free way.
The old style of persuasion
Most of us have experienced, at some stage of our lives, that manager – the one who strongly states a position on a topic or a way of solving a problem and then backs it up with great supporting arguments and reams of facts and figures. The argument relies on a seemingly logical way to wins the hearts and minds i.e. great data and the manager’s enthusiasm. Too often though it doesn’t have the desired effect.
The new style of persuasion
The reason is that science and decades of research has proven irrevocably that the art of persuasion lies in storytelling and emotion.
The latest neuro research indicates that storytelling lights up different parts of our cortex. The key lies in the fact that a story enables those listening to experience similar ideas, thoughts and emotions conveyed or experienced by the characters in the story.
Uri Hasson, associate professor of psychology at Princeton University found that stories are the only way to activate parts of the brain so that the listener turns the story into their own idea and experience. Based on his research he posits that it is the only way to seed ideas in people’s minds.
And science is being backed by experience. Peter Guber, the producer of films like Rain Man, Batman and Gorillas in the Mist has written a book: Tell to win: connect, persuade and triumph with the hidden power of story in which he explores how he uses stories as a persuasive tools.
Guber says in an interview with Arianna Huffington: “The concept of Tell to Win is about the power, resonance and virility of telling purposeful stories in the room, face-to-face to your listener or listeners to propel your goal and ultimately have your audience take ownership of it and advocate it as their own.”
Importantly, Guber does not advocate getting rid of statistics, figures and powerpoint decks, instead he says they should be embedded in a purposeful story which gives the audience an experience thus making the information memorable, resonant and actionable.
Guber’s five top tips for successful story telling are:
- Capture your audience’s attention first, fast, and foremost and then keep it.
- Motivate your listeners by being authentic and let that authenticity shine through.
- Build your “Tell” around what’s in it for them.
- Change passive listeners into active participants.
- Use state of the HEART technology online and offline to turn listeners into viral advocates and customers into raving fans.
I end by referring to the master storyteller of the last century, Walt Disney, who said, when speaking about storytelling: “You don’t build it for yourself. You know what the people want and you build it for them.”
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