Persuasive Storytelling Rule #1 Adapt Your Vocabulary

Storytelling is how we share ideas and experiences. We use this skill to help sell ideas and help our teams and stakeholders understand our users. I’ve come up with six rules for persuasive storytelling and this lesson breaks down.

Rule number one, adapt your vocabulary to match your audience. Your audience can be anyone, including multidisciplinary team members, stakeholders, clients or third party vendors. Our goal as storytellers is to have our stories resonate with our audience. But this can be difficult to do when we don’t speak their language. Whenever I’m working on a project in an industry that’s unfamiliar to me, I sit in meetings, talk to clients or stakeholders, or participate in usability studies and absorb everything I can like a sponge. I have my sketchbook in front of me and I write down any words, phrases or acronyms that the people around me are saying that I’m not sure about.

For example, if I’m working on a project in the financial industry, I might hear terms like 401K or IRA and hear users talk about the process of withdrawing funds from retirement accounts. Maybe I have some basic understanding of what these terms mean and what the process is like, but I want to make sure I’m on the right track. When I get back to my desk, I’ll start to research the details around everything I wrote down and draw out. Any processes that I learn about diagrams, sketches or just basic definitions will help me understand more about the industry I’m immersing myself into while I’m working on this project. Now that I know more about that industry, I feel more confident going into future discussions with my clients and users when I’m more confident about my knowledge of the work that they do. I can feel better about approaching them with new ideas to help solve their problems.

Aligning on vocabulary is crucial to telling a story that will build trust among your clients and stakeholders. When they hear you using words that they’re familiar with, they know you’ve done your research to understand what they do and the problems they encounter on a daily basis. And you’ll have an easier time building buy in for your ideas.

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