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Testimonial Power

This past week, I fell victim to a well-delivered testimonial.  I had entered the presentation knowing my position and, as fund-raising was a part of it, how much I was willing to give.  By the end of the presentation, though, I found myself digging a bit deeper into my pockets than I had planned and considering how I could volunteer to support the cause.

Testimonials have a great potential for influencing others.  Of all the types of stories available to you as a storyteller, the testimonial can change opinion faster than almost any other type.

And because of this great potential, it can also “go wrong” much faster, too.

Testimonials are handled differently from anecdotes.  Of the two, testimonials have a stronger emotional tie as there is an inherent belief that a testimonial is being presented is the truth.  An anecdote can also be true, but audiences usually need to be tipped off that this is the case.

The biggest major pitfall of using testimonials in a corporate environment is when the speaker delivers them in the first person.  If the storyteller is not careful, delivering an “I” testimonial can appear to be bragging or lecturing.  No audiences appreciate a braggart, and only audience members who completely support the presenter’s views tolerate a pedantic lecture.  Corporate audiences want to be treated as thinking adults.

You may recall from an earlier posting that I am a fan of the lecture technique in storytelling when it is done well.  However, this does not apply to testimonials delivered as a lecture.  “I believe this way.  Therefore, you should believe this way, too.”  That approach makes audiences squirm.

If you are delivering an “I” testimonial, it is an excellent idea to either have good credentials in place, or have a formal introduction done by someone else before you begin your presentation.  Of the two approaches, I’ve found the credentials to be the best.

Credentials are strongest when you are well-known as an expert, or when it is generally known that you have had an experience that would arouse interest, curiosity or admiration.  When Tom Peters talks about obtaining an edge in business, his audience never thinks, “Who is he to be telling us these things?”

Similarly, when the late Neil Armstrong talked about the need to fund space exploration, no one questioned why someone who was so soft-spoken was chosen to represent the cause.  Since he was the first human to walk on the moon, his audiences assumed his viewpoint was uniquely positioned.

Introductions generally work.  If someone else has taken the time to establish your credentials for you, it is assumed that they are valid.  This can backfire, though, if you are perceived as acting “bigger than your credentials.”  Authoring a book on Abraham Lincoln does not necessarily mean that you know who the next President of the United States should be.

The safest way to use testimonials is to read or recite what someone else has written.  The emotional linkage is there, people assume that what is being said is the truth, but they do not hold the presenter accountable for what is being read.  The storyteller, in this case, is an interpreter.

So, consider the power of testimonials in your storytelling.  Again, audience connections are strongest if you have been a participant in an event that interests your audience.  If not, then using a written testimonial from someone who is of interest generates almost that same level of engagement.

Emotional involvement with effectively delivered testimonials is high, which is a great advantage when you are trying to influence others.

Thank you for reading.