Few Things Persuade Like a Word Picture
A word picture can be defined as the use of words in a story format to create a graphic and vivid image in someone’s mind of a listener in a way that resonates with him or her. Word pictures convict people of the truth of something because in them people can see themselves coming to the same conclusion as the speaker suggests.
Constructing a Word Picture. Begin creating a word picture by identifying a situation or dilemma which the listener has experienced. The situation may be specific to an individual or group of individuals, or simply a common experience shared by almost everyone. The key is to understand the key emotion(s) associated with the situation, and use the word picture to re-create these emotions in the mind of the listener.
For example, we’ve all had a computer malfunction that happened just when we were completing something time sensitive and critical. Think back to the last time this happened to you, when you needed to prepare and produce a time sensitive document, and were running short of time to complete it. As you neared its completion, suddenly – POW – your computer unexpectedly freezes up. Worse yet, you’ve forgotten to save any of your work. Nothing you could do but start all over again and know that others who were waiting for the document would be unhappy. Remember that nervous feeling in the pit of your stomach and on the back of your neck…your blood pressure rising…and feeling angry at the computer for failing you?
This is an example of word picture. Did it pull at your emotions and for a moment make you relive your unhappy computer experience?
Word pictures combine three powerful elements:
- Storytelling about something with which the listener can easily identify;
- The listener as the main character of the story; and
- Drawing on the emotional engagement of the experience.
The Adaptable, Useful Word Picture. What makes word pictures so effective is that they can be used in so many different ways. Here are three different examples of how the computer freeze-up word picture might be built upon to prompt the listener to take action:
- In SALES. Perhaps you are working with a prospect who has been considering a computer system upgrade. After reminding the prospect of what it was like to have computer malfunction and lose their work, the salesperson continues: “Now, think of how much easier it will be once you’ve completed your upgrade. Not only will your computer be much less likely to freeze, but your new system will be so much faster. So instead of coping with slow system that chronically freezes, you’ll now complete your work faster without all the drama, and with your extra time you can enjoy a leisurely morning latte.”
- In a JOB INTERVIEW. Suppose your interviewer has asked you to describe an improvement you made in your last position as office manager. Building on the word picture of the computer malfunction and loss of documents, you continue, “That’s what it was like when I got there. The entire team regularly experienced computer problems. So I researched solutions and chose to upgrade our systems with the configuration that would give us speed and reliability improvements. As a result, our staff had an 18% increase in productivity and we eliminated the Number One complaint in the department. Not only did stress levels drop and morale increase, but we used the new system to initiate an improved project management system.”
- MANAGERS, to convince someone to take action. Perhaps you noticed people not practicing good computer habits by periodically saving documents on which they are working. Using the computer freeze up example, you might propose a save every page approach and say, “By saving every page you complete, instead of losing the entire document in the unlikely event of a computer crash, most of your document can be recovered. In just a few minutes you’re back, moving ahead cheerfully to complete the task! Without all the stress you can enjoy your morning coffee as you work.”
In all three examples, you prompted people to take action as a result of them personally identifying with the problem and its emotional cost, and then showed how taking the recommended action resulted in turning an emotional loss into an emotional gain. The listener was initially the story’s victim, and then becomes its hero.
Compare and contrast the same process without a word picture. No personal identification by the listener, no reliving of his or her emotion in the moment, and a somewhat sterile call to action.
Whenever you are called upon to influence or persuade, consider how employing a word picture and telling a story with your listener as its hero, will create a compelling reason to move in the direction you desire. I love working with people and organizations who want to improve their effectiveness! Here are several outstanding resources that can help you and your organization to go to the next level:
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