We all have the gift to move people, to excite them, to inflame their imagination. This gift is the key to thriving in an ultra-competitive global economy like today, where rapid technological innovations are upsetting every sector.
Scholars, neuroscientists, economists, historians, entrepreneurs, investors and “five-star” leaders all agree that they master the ancient art of persuasion – combining words and ideas to move people to action – it is essential to go from good to large.
The ancient art of persuasion to thrive in the modern world
This book developed from conversations with people who are stars in their fields and who attribute much of their success to their communication skills.
While the tools we use to communicate have evolved, the way our brains are wired to consume information has remained the same.
The ability to convince others is the ability that will give you a competitive advantage in an era when the combined forces of globalization, automation and artificial intelligence have triggered a wave of concern in all professions.
In the next decade your ideas, and the ability to articulate those ideas effectively, will count more than ever.
Machines and persuaders compared
For today’s professionals, an average performance guarantees below-average results. The very nature of work is changing, as are the skills required to stand out, move forward and achieve greatness in one of the most transformative moments in history. If you are able to persuade, inspire and ignite the imagination of others, you will be irreplaceable.
Anthony Goldbloom – one of the top experts in the use of big data, named among the top 35 innovators in the world – claims that machine learning (the technology that allows machines to learn from data) will be responsible for most of the changes that will occur in job terms.
“Machines are very good at learning things they have already done before and repeating them” – says Goldbloom – “but to touch someone emotionally you have to surprise them” and the machines are not as good when they have to handle new situations.
If knowing means memorizing, then artificial intelligence can do what human beings do, or rather better. But a robot can never replace critical thinking, creativity, the ability to communicate and arouse emotions.
The technological change and the fears that surround it
Emotional connection is the winning ticket in a world where technologies such as automation, big data, artificial intelligence and machine learning are eliminating millions of jobs and disrupting entire sectors, activities and careers.
People around the world are understandably concerned about the pace of this change and what it could mean for the future of work. But the history of the past 500 years has shown that every technological change, if it has destroyed many jobs, has also created new ones.
If we are unable to predict exactly which jobs will be automated, however, we are able to tell which roles will be occupied by human beings: those that require critical thinking, empathy, the ability to inspire, to ignite the imagination, to move emotions .
Since automation will replace most of the manual labor, your ideas today matter more than ever. The ability to communicate persuasively is the only great skill that will set you apart in the next decade.
Pathos and persuasion
Pathos is the act of obtaining the complete participation of an audience by appealing to their emotions. Stories are the most direct way to do it because they involve us emotionally.
Emotion is a brain mechanism that helps us remember key events and forget the rest. Stories are irresistible because we are made to think, elaborate our world and share our ideas through them.
Persuasion cannot occur in the absence of pathos, without appealing to the emotions of the audience.
The effect of stories on our brain
A research team from Princeton University has discovered – thanks to machines that scan the brains of people engaged in telling and listening to stories – that when a story is told, the brainwaves of the storyteller and those of all listeners move in sync.
This extraordinary effect is called “neural entrainment” or alignment of brain activity between speaker and listener. According to this research, the stories that highlight common ground between the speaker and the listener trigger a greater alignment.
Adapt the stories to our interlocutor
Jack Ma founder of Alibaba (the world’s largest virtual shop) is an irresistible speaker, his ability to tell compelling stories is a fundamental component of his success. Jack learned the technique from his parents, Pingtan professionals, an ancient Chinese art that combines music and storytelling.
Jack always adapts his stories to the audience in front of him, uses quotes from the most recent and popular films and claims that humble origins make good stories. The struggle, in fact, is part of human experience, we are made to find meaning in adversity, and success stories about the difficulties or triumph over the tragedy ignite our inner fire, inspire us to give our best.
Jack Ma was inspired by the story of Forrest Gump, the character played by Tom Hanks in 1994, a perennial optimist, who did not let his low IQ prevent him from realizing his dreams.
3 types of story that work
There are three types of stories that you can incorporate into any conversation or presentation intended to move people into action:
- Stories of personal experiences . The personal stories of a success achieved after an adverse event, of a triumph after a tragedy are powerful and allow you to create meaningful connections between people.
- Stories of real customers . How an employee’s job made a difference for that specific customer.
- Stories of fundamental events in the history of the brand or company . All major brands use this type of story to reinforce the values of corporate culture.
The three-act structure of the narrative
The market has changed and the skills we need to have changed. Uber, Airbnb ask us to do something that our parents would have told us never to do: get into a car or a stranger’s house.
Their founders had to persuade people to feel comfortable in unnatural situations. To gain confidence, they used an infallible storytelling method, also shared by all the successful Hollywood films, a method that you can use in your next presentation: the structure in three acts.
Act I – The set up
Film script: The characters are introduced, we get in touch with the hero’s world before the adventure begins.
Work presentation: The status quo, the current status of the company or sector, is described.
Act II – The comparison
Film script: The hero’s world is turned upside down, we learn about the obstacles the hero has to overcome.
Work presentation: Obstacles are outlined and solutions to overcome them are discussed.
Act III – The solution
Film script: The problem is solved. The hero’s world is transformed and everyone lives happily ever after.
Job presentation: Product, service or business strategy solve the problem and the company thrives.
A structure does not stifle creativity, it only makes the story easier to follow while still leaving room for surprise and inspiration.
In the 1949 book The Journey of the Hero Joseph Campbell claims that there is an almost identical universal myth in all epic stories: a hero embarks on a journey, survives some key tests and emerges better than before: the hero has transformed himself.
The hero’s journey inspires us because we identify with the protagonist, with his defects, his courage and his transformation, his journey becomes our journey.
How does this structure work? Why do you build deeper relationships between people thanks to it? Neuroscientists have found a possible answer.
The stories cause the release of a molecule called oxytocin, also called the “love molecule”, a neuromodulator that increases social bonds and creates trust. The architecture of the human mind is ancient and basic human needs – belonging, being saved, having aspirations, understanding, being understood – are eternal.
Stories educate, entertain, inspire, create trust and ignite our collective imagination.
3 principles to follow for a great presentation
The human brain does not record all the details of an event but the general meaning of an experience.
Our ancestors, in front of a tiger, did not wonder how many teeth he had but: “Will you eat me?”, “Do I have to run away?”. For an effective presentation you have to deliver what the brain wants: the big picture.
Three principles to follow for a great presentation:
- The best presentations have a single theme . Everything else (stories, examples, data) supports the key message.
- Think about your next launch or presentation as if it were a logline of a Hollywood movie, as if you had only one sentence available to describe your idea. Make it as simple and clear as possible.
- Introduce your one great idea within 15 seconds of the start of the presentation. Public opinion about a speaker is formed in the first 5/15 seconds. Neuroscientists call this phenomenon “instant judgment” and it’s the way the brain evaluates whether a person is a friend or an enemy.
Make complex information simple
Simple words and phrases are powerful weapons in business, they can attract customers, motivate employees, beat competitors. Simplicity takes a lot of work, but it’s worth it, once you get it you can move the mountains.
Remember: Abraham Lincoln inspired generations with a speech that lasted 2 minutes, John F. Kennedy took 15 minutes to declare that we would go to the moon, Martin Luther King articulated his dream about racial unity in 17 minutes. If you are unable to sell your idea in 10/15 minutes, keep correcting it until you can.
Some tips to make complex information simple:
- Download legibility software for your text , such as the Hamingway app. They are tools based on reliable algorithms that judge the quality level of your text. They show you the lowest level of education required to read and understand any piece of writing. Simple words and phrases – what we aim for – will give lower ratings.
- Correct and edit your work more than once to continuously improve it. Great communicators make their job easy.
- Keep in mind that your audience will be distracted within ten to fifteen minutes. There seems to be an evolutionary reason behind this phenomenon. But the fact is that the brain is bored after a certain interval. So get to the point, and get there quickly.
How to give your ideas a “verbal beauty”
To give your language what Aristotle calls “verbal beauty” you have to make use of analogies and metaphors .
The analogy is the combination and comparison of two different things to show how they resemble each other, it pushes the listener to think of an idea in a new way. Metaphor is a means of describing something figuratively.
When Shakespeare writes that “Juliet is the sun” he is using a metaphor to say that Juliet is a bright light in Romeo’s world and the center of his universe. These rhetorical figures energize the listeners by moving them to action, give clarity to the language making learning pleasant.
Look around for an original idea
A person cannot give birth to an original idea out of nothing.
The great innovators – Picasso, Jobs – have had the best ideas looking outside their fields and experiences, and have caused radical breakdowns of the status quo.
The 7000 pages that Leonardo left us show how curious he was about the world and how much his interests ranged from art, science, engineering, to humanities.
The most creative geniuses in history are such because they see links between all things and are able to connect different fields to create new ideas.
In order for an idea to appear, ideal conditions must be created:
- boost your brain by connecting ideas from different fields;
- listen to soundtracks, read many books, go for walks;
- even better, do all this while traveling to a completely new place.
Overcoming stage fright
Great communicators one becomes one is not born. Many of the world’s most inspiring speakers have had to overcome stage anxiety and fear. You can do it too.
Neuroscientists have identified two techniques that will help you when you are under pressure: reevaluation and repetition . Reevaluating simply means reformulating the way you think about yourself and the events of your life.
Turning thoughts from negative to positive is the key to winning. Repeating a presentation again and again will increase your confidence for the big day.