We know that stories can be entertaining and inspirational, but they also can be persuasive, for a reason many people are not aware of. When an audience focuses on a story line, they pay less attention to the subtle message intended to influence them.

We persuade others in two ways. One is through advocacy messages, such as advertisements or political speeches, in which a person arranges facts in a particular order and explicitly argues a point of view. For decades social psychologists studied persuasion from this perspective.

Today researchers are devoting more time to the study of narrative as a means of persuasion. We know, of course, that everyone likes stories but how are they persuasive? Why do they induce people to think or act in a particular way?

According to social psychologists Melanie Green and Timothy Brock, when people hear or read engaging stories, they become swept away in the characters and events and they focus on the storyline, a process called “transportation.”

Here is why using stories to help you persuade is effective:

  • By only implying the message, the writer does not explicitly advocate a particular point of view, so people tend not to counter-argue because they have not heard a specific position they can argue against.
  • People do not think of stories as attempts to persuade them, because unlike in an advertisement, there is no explicit message.
  • When people become absorbed in the narrative, and particularly when they identify with the characters, they do not analyze the story for flaws and do not notice messages that conflict with their beliefs.
  • People pay less attention to messages in stories because the messages are implied, so the audience often does not notice them.

Select stories that reinforce your main point, keep the stories short, and use vivid imagery. It is a powerful way to get your message across.

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Ken O’Quinn conducts writing and managerial workshops for corporations. A former Associated Press writer, he is the author of Perfect Phrases for Business and is a contributing author of Focus on Them, about leadership.