Harness Feelings, Emotions, and Narratives to Reinforce Your Arguments

Author Maya Angelou summed it up best: “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”

You cannot persuade most people through fact and logic alone. There are scores of people who believed that, who have been in situations where persuasion was critical and assumed that “the facts will speak for themselves.” You can locate many of those people in unemployment lines or jail cells.

It is imperative to give voice to your facts, and that involves relating them to human emotions – and that process usually involves telling a story.

Here’s a terrific example of a story used in a direct-mail piece for the Wall Street Journal; reportedly, it brought in $2 billion in revenue. and has been used as a model for countless other direct-mail pieces.

The letter connects feelings we all share about success in life, appeals to emotions, particularly fear of failure, and most importantly does so by telling a story that keeps us reading.

Here is the opening:

Dear Reader:

On a beautiful late spring afternoon, twenty-five years ago, two young men graduated from the same college. They were very much alike, these two young men. Both had been better than average students, both were personable and both – as young college graduates are – were filled with ambitious dreams for the future.

Recently, these two men returned to college for their 25th reunion.

They were still very much alike. Both were happily married. Both had three children. And both, it turned out, had gone to work for the same Midwestern manufacturing company after graduation, and were still there.

But there was a difference. One of the men was manager of a small department of that company. The other was its president.

What Made The Difference

Have you ever wondered, as I have, what makes this kind of difference in people’s lives? It isn’t always a native intelligence or talent or dedication. It isn’t that one person wants success and the other doesn’t.

 The difference lies in what each person knows and how he or she makes use of that knowledge.

 And that is why I am writing to you and to people like you about The Wall Street Journal. For that is the whole purpose of The Journal: To give its readers knowledge – knowledge that they can use in business…

— Source for WSJ Letter: Copyblogger, The Greatest Sales Letter of All Time

For more, see the Amazon page for my latest book, Write Like a Pro: Ten Techniques for Getting Your Point Across at Work (and in Life)

Author: admin

Carl Hausman is Professor of Journalism at Rowan University, the author of several books about media, and a commentator about the role of media and ethics in civic life.

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