Visuals, Stories and Analogies, Not Facts and Figures, Persuade

I recently attended a meeting where the presenter tried to prove a point using all kinds of statistics and charts over a 30-minute timeframe. Those of us who watched and listened were not the ultimate target audience but many in attendance would be expected to convey the message to the final audience. Unfortunately, the message is doomed for failure because when you’re trying to persuade people visuals, stories and analogies, not facts and figures, are your best bet to change thinking and behavior.

Facts and figures used correctly can make you more persuasive because they tap into the principle of authority. But, they should not be the primary way you attempt to persuade. Let me share an example from Chip and Dan Heath’s book Made to Stick to illustrate my point.

The Heath brothers shared a story about how unhealthy a medium sized buttered popcorn purchased at the movie theater was back in the 1990s. It contained 37 grams of saturated fat and people basically said, “So what?” Here’s an eye-opening stat; that’s almost twice as much as the USDA recommended daily allowance of 20 grams! And still, people thought, “So what?”

It wasn’t until the message was conveyed in a way that people could picture in their minds that change came about. What finally cause people to sit up and take notice? At a press conference the Center for Science in the Public Interest shared – with visuals – the following: “A medium sized ‘butter’ popcorn at a typical neighborhood movie theater contains more artery-clogging fat than a bacon-and-egg breakfast, a Big Mac and fries for lunch, and a steak dinner with all the trimmings – combined!” Use visuals, stories and analogies, not facts and figures, to persuade.

You don’t have to be a health nut to know that eating all three of those meals in a single day is not in your best interests. Now picture getting all that fat into your system over the course of a two-hour movie. All of a sudden people stopped buying popcorn which forced movie theaters to change how they made buttered popcorn.

Here’s one more example. This one comes from William Poundstone’s book Priceless. Many years ago, an elderly woman severely burned herself when she spilled a scolding hot cup of McDonald’s coffee on her lap. The burns led to an eight-day hospital stay for the 79-year-old woman. Eventually she won a $2.86 million-dollar settlement! As outrageous as that seems, McDonald’s blew it when they refused to settle for just $20,000. The lawyer for the elderly woman didn’t ask the jury for nearly $3 million in compensation. Instead, he only asked for one or two days of McDonald’s revenue from the sale of coffee. That didn’t sound like too much to ask the jury except revenue was $1.35 million per day! Use visuals, stories and analogies, not facts and figures, to persuade.

Here’s the take away – next time you attempt to change people’s thinking and behavior with facts and figures stop! Take time to think about how you might put those facts and figures into a picture, story or analogy that will resonate with your audience. Do so and you’ll be far more likely to hear “Yes!” as illustrated by the Heath brothers and William Poundstone.

Brian Ahearn, CMCT®, is the Chief Influence Officer at InfluencePEOPLE. His course, Persuasive Selling, has been viewed more than 120,000 times! Have you seen it yet? Watch it to learn how to ethically engage the psychology of persuasion throughout the sales process.

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