01 May 2018

The Persuader's Tool Box

"Character may almost be called the most effective means of persuasion."


In case you're just joining us we're examining the concept of "persuasion."  In March we began with Dr. Robert Cialdini's research on this topic, "A Short Course in Persuasion."

Then in April we looked at a perplexing condition sometimes referred to as, "Partial Attention Syndrome."

We now turn to the "persuader" with the assumption that what's being proposed is of a clear and ethical purpose.  The warning for nefarious activity is found in an old proverb, "Lead good people down a wrong path and you'll come to a bad end."   

The toolbox

Creating a "persuader's toolbox" is one way of addressing a variety of leadership styles, settings, and topics. In doing so it reminds me of my dad's toolboxes which were filled with hammers, pliers, screwdrivers, wrenches, and tape measures.       

Here's a tool that's often overlooked--a question. Whether it's a formal presentation or conversation, what will make the listener want to agree with you?  And in your situation, what's the best way to make that happen?

In addition to a legitimate proposition, and asking the right questions, what else should be in the persuader's toolbox?

o  A persuasive theory

A persuasive theory seeks a favorable response from the audience.  It begins with "why."    

Carefully chosen language becomes a motivating argument that causes others to want to decide in favor of (fill in the blank).  The theory, or reason to believe you, should be communicated succinctly in a few sentences. Offering too much information is likely to overwhelm an audience.  

Image result for images for "word"

Think about how preparation in the early stages might improve the chances for success.  Sorting through information ahead of time makes it easier to understand what you're asking people to do.  It's the job of the presenter to sort, not the audience.

As Robert Louis Stevenson once said, "All speech is a dead language until it finds a willing hearer." 

o  Stories and themes

Our research business was asked to help arrange a mock jury.  The law firm and jury consultant put the package together. Recruiting participants were up to our staff.  It was that engagement that prompted a closer examination of how lawyers try to persuade juries. 

What did we learn?

Experienced courtroom practitioners attempt to know their juries (or judges), while rolling out what they hope is a persuasive theory of the case (See United States Government v. Microsoft Corp., 2001)

Image result for images for microsoft logo

"A skillful trial attorney knows how important it is to join a series of facts with a unifying theme as jurors deliberate and rely on themes to sort out the evidence.  If attorneys don't provide the theme jurors will do it for themselves," according to University of Washington law professor, William S. Bailey. 

Employees, customers, voters, even congregational members, are juries of their own making and require context by which to make decisions.  

In his autobiography, prominent litigation attorney David Boies writes: "There is much to be said for staying on message, but when you seek to persuade, you must address the concerns of the people you are trying to convince."  

Image result for images for coca cola

What's the difference between a story (Coca-Cola's history) and a theme ("More Than a Soda Company")?  

"Stories are about the growth of character.  They provide the mythic and emotional skeleton.  Themes are the development of ideas and conceptual coherence," says Tristine Rainer.  Powerful themes are those that resonate with ordinary human beings.  A good theme acts like glue enabling a few details to stick.    

Ask yourself--do you need a story or theme to persuade?  Likely both.   

o  Rule of 3  

Writing in Forbes Magazine, Carmine Gallo makes a strong case for staying close to the "Rule of 3" when presenting ideas.  Gallo begins by quoting the U.S. Declaration of Independence which celebrates three inalienable rights:

-And the pursuit of happiness

Image result for images declaration of independence

He reminds us that those three powerful ideas inspired France to arrange its own freedoms into groups of three--"liberty, equality, and fraternity."

Gallo says Apple co-founder, Steve Jobs, loved threes.  Macintosh; iPod; and iPhone.  The iPad came in three models:  16, 32, and 64 GB of flash storage.  The iPad was "thinner, lighter, and faster than the original."  

While our April StrategistBlog reported that attention spans have much to do with the person and context, using only three pieces of information (or words) increases the likelihood of some retention on the part of the listener.

Maybe that's why preachers are trained to prepare three-not four or five--point sermons.  

The longer the list the more difficult the recall.  

You get the idea.

o  Five persuasive words

Gregory Ciotti is a gifted copywriter.  I came across his "copy blogger" website and found his wordsmithing approach to persuasion intriguing.   

Here's a list of Gregory's "five persuasive words:"  

1. You     

Using someone's name is even better.

2. Free   

But used only when it makes sense and only in the right context.

3. Because   

People simply like to have a reason for doing what they do (Dr. Cialdini). 

4. Instantly  

We want things yesterday.  This idea is showing up everywhere.

5. New

New fixes to old problems.  New features, improvements.  New designs.

o The 3-6-9 principle

When it comes to messaging, which is central to persuading, I recommend clients think about the 3-6-9 principle from Robert Dilenschneider.  Mr. Dilenschneider is a professional acquaintance who, fifteen years ago, conducted a seminar for a board retreat that featured this multiplication formula:  

3x:   Number of times it takes to make an impression.

6x:   Number of times it takes to be reached.

9x:   Number of times it takes to be believed.  

Image result for images for the word repetition

This reinforcing matrix is a reminder that one time is not enough when attempting to deliver persuasive-type messages.    

o  Who you are

Content and context are vital to persuading--including the right platforms. But nothing is as important as your own character.  

A lot of what it takes to get and hold someone's attention, to be persuasive, rests with the individual doing the persuading.  In the beginning, Aristotle reminded us of a strong causal relationship between character and convincing others.  

The toolbox may help but successful persuasion is up to you.


(C) Bredholt & Co.

Note:  Images are copyrighted--Stack-On; New York Times; Microsoft; Coca-Cola; U.S. National Archives; dreamsOin1digital