How To Be A Persuasive Speaker (Ultimate Guide)
In this article, we are going to be taking an in-depth look at how to create a persuasive speech or piece of written text such as an essay or sales copy. There is a lot of information here, but I hope that you will find it useful having all these techniques in one place rather than having to hunt all over the internet for them.
All of the following techniques that we are about to discuss have been proven to help you communicate more effectively and to become a more persuasive speaker or writer.
Each technique is listed with a blue heading followed by red subheadings underneath, and because we will be covering a lot, be sure to bookmark this page so that you can refer back to it at a later date.
Right, so to begin with, lets start by looking at a very basic outline of how to create a persuasive speech, and then later, some specific strategies and techniques that you can use to help you more effectively convey your message.
What is the Aim of Your Speech?
Depending on the aim of your speech, there are a number of different techniques that you can use to ensure your speech gets the desired result. We shall briefly look at these techniques now, and then discuss them in more detail throughout the rest of this article.
1) To Present a Solution
The most basic and also most common way to use the art of persuasion in your speech, is to present a problem to your listener and then to solve it by presenting a convincing solution. Ideally, your solution should also be backed up with supporting evidence to make it seem more credible and believable.
This technique works extremely well when your listener is unaware that a problem exists because the solution that you present will seem more valid and persuasive.
When your listener knows that a problem exists however, they may also be aware of other possible solutions which could then make your solution and overall speech appear less persuasive.
2) To Defend Your Position
With this technique you can inoculate yourself against an opponents attack. It involves disproving your opponents points by challenging their arguments and providing evidence to the contrary throughout your speech.
Using refutation is most effective when you know that your position is going to be under attack and you have anticipated in advance what those attacks are likely to be.
To conclude your speech, allow the person, or people who you are trying to persuade, to ask you follow-up questions to deal with any remaining objections or uncertainties.
By providing the opportunity to be asked and then answering questions, you will increase your perceived level of credibility and your overall persuasiveness.
We discuss this technique in more detail later on in this page here.
3) To Establish Cause and Effect
If you want to emphasize the causes of a situation (i.e. what factors made something happen), start your speech by talking about the effect first and then examine the causes.
For example, if you are speaking about obesity and how it is caused by eating too much junk food, start by talking about the effect (obesity) and why it is a problem. Then speak about the causes (junk food) and how they relate to obesity later on in your speech.
If you want to emphasize the effects of a situation, first present the present the problem at the beginning of your speech and then move on to a discussion of the effects.
If your speech was about the effects of obesity on health, you could start by first discussing the problem of obesity and then talk about the various effects it has on health and society.
4) To Motivate Someone
The following persuasion technique can be used when trying to motivate or inspire people. It is commonly used by motivational speakers or salespeople when giving speeches to large audiences.
Grab your audience’s attention
The first step when speaking to anyone is to gain their attention, because if you can’t gain your audience’s attention then your words will fall on deaf ears.
Attention can be gained by using shocking imagery that is either physically or verbally presented, by revealing an interesting fact or statistic, or by telling a humorous joke.
The next step is to think about the needs of your audience. What do they want? And how does your information directly relate to them? In other words, why should they care what your speech is about?
Remember, persuasion is about giving people what they think they want, and in order to do this, you need to know what their basic interests are.
After addressing the audience’s needs, your speech should now explain how your proposal or plan will satisfy their needs.
How are you going to make things better or change things for them? Think of your audience as having an itch and you can satisfy them by scratching that itch through the message you convey.
To increase the power and impact of your message, your speech should paint a picture of how bright the future will be if your audience adopts your solution.
Alternatively, you could use negative visualization and paint a picture of how bad things will be if your solution is not adopted.
A good example of negative visualization can be seen with a phrase used by President George Bush when trying to persuade the American public to support a war in Iraq:
End with a call to action
At the end of your speech, tell your audience what specific action you want them to take. Be specific and clear, telling them exactly what you want them to do. If this call of action is not specific, the audience may come to their own conclusion which may be different from what you intended.
Specific communication techniques that you can use
Now you have seen a basic outline for creating a persuasive speech, in the rest of this article, we are going to be looking at specific techniques that you can use to further enhance the persuasiveness of your message.
Primacy & Recency Effect
Various tests on memory and recall have shown that when presented with a list of information, people are best able to remember the items at the beginning and end of the list.
This is known as the primacy and recency effect, and is something which you can exploit to make sure that people remember the most important parts of your message.
The Primacy Effect
The primacy effect occurs when the information that you present first has the greater impact. This can be useful if you have some good and bad news to present. In this case, delivering the good news first will produce more of an attitude change than if you presented the bad news first.
This means that the good news can make the bad news seem better than it actually is, thereby lessening the overall effect of that negative news.
The Recency Effect
The recency effect occurs when the information presented last has the greater impact. This can be useful when presenting information to someone who will immediately decide upon your proposal.
In this case, presenting your key points at the end of your speech will keep those points fresh in the listener’s mind. However, if the listener will take several days to decide on your proposal, then the primacy effect will occur which means that they will best remember the very beginning of your speech.
The Power of Persuasion in Court
A good example of primacy and recency effects can be seen in court. Lawyers know that the very start of a court case can win or lose them the case. This is why they make a great effort to implant their most important points into the jury’s minds at the very start of a trial.
At the end of the trial, they then clearly conclude their main points to ensure that there is no confusion about the information which they have presented.
People today are very busy and rarely have much time or attention to give you. If you want to persuade someone who is busy, you have to get straight to the point and gain their interest.
This can be done by making a bold or shocking statement that will make the listener look at you and pay attention. In advertising, this is known as the “hook”, and once you have someone hooked, you can then reel them in for a more detailed discussion.
Using evidence to support claims or statements can vastly increase the persuasiveness of your message.
However, bad evidence from untrustworthy or unreliable sources can have the opposite effect and decrease the persuasiveness of a message. Both of these effects occur due positive or negative associations that are formed in your listener’s mind.
Positive association occurs when something is perceived to be positive simply because it is associated with something else that is positive.
Likewise, negative association occurs when you perceive something to be negative because it is associated with something else that is negative. So choose your evidence carefully when using evidence to support your argument.
Here are some important points on how to do this:
- Choose evidence from sources which are widely recognized as being trustworthy, accurate and reliable.
- Evidence supported by an independent expert, or another person, is more convincing than just presenting the evidence alone.
- Evidence supported by statistics or past experiences (e.g. testimonials) are perceived as more credible that just the evidence alone.
- Specific facts are more persuasive than general facts.
- Evidence consistent with a person’s pre-existing belief systems is much more convincing than evidence which conflicts with their belief systems.
- Use examples or case studies as evidence.
One & Two Sided Messages
If you are trying to persuade someone to your point of view, it means that they currently hold views which may be contrary to your own.
If this is the case, giving both sides of an argument will increase your perceived credibility as you will be presenting an unbiased and balanced viewpoint.
This will make the rest of your information seem more believable which will then increase your overall power of persuasion.
On the other hand, if someone is a firm believer in you and your message, then you stand little to gain by balancing your argument or by acknowledging other points of view. Your supporter doesn’t want to hear about someone else’s point of view, they just want you to reinforce their own values and beliefs.
This means that they won’t be looking to pick apart your argument and so you can bias information in your favor. However, in the real world this situation is quite rare and you will most commonly encounter people who have a mixed viewpoint. So generally, it is best to use two-sided messages.
Inoculating Yourself Against Attack
In ancient times, doctors discovered that by injecting a mild dose of a disease agent into a patient, they could inoculate that patient against an attack by a more virulent form of the disease. A similar principle can be used in persuasion.
For example, if you are trying to persuade someone, but you know that someone else is likely to say bad things about you to that person, you can inoculate yourself from that attack by anticipating the negative things that are likely to be said.
This could involve bringing up possible attacks that person is likely to hear about you and then disputing them and stating why they are not true. In the future, when they hear those attacks, they will be much less likely to believe or be influenced by them as you have already prepared them for it and explained why they are not true.
If the information they are likely to hear is shocking, then by exposing them to it once, the next time they hear the information it will appear less shocking. This is known as desensitization.
An important point to remember though when using this method, is that you should only inoculate yourself against an attack that you know for sure is coming. Otherwise, you may appear insecure and worried about what other people think of you, which then suggests that you may have something to hide.
This tactic is most useful when speaking to large groups of people, such as during a debate. However, it is also useful when protecting yourself from rumors or lies that are being spread about you.
Comparisons, or contrasts, can be used to make something seem better than it actually is. To do this, you simply compare what you want to promote (i.e. a product or idea) against something similar, although not necessarily related, which makes your promotion look better.
For example, when the Nintendo 64 games console was released it was promoted as having more sophisticated electronic components than the first space shuttle.
This certainly sounds impressive, until you discover that a modern-day calculator also has more sophisticated electronics than the first space shuttle.
Today, comparisons are frequently used by companies that wish to promote the purchase of a new product to replace an old product. You can see this when new video game consoles are released, as they will often tell you how much more powerful they are over the last generation console.
The contrast technique is effective because it takes advantage of the way that the brain processes information. This involves a natural tendency of the brain to compare new information with previously stored information. The original information is used as a benchmark, which the new information is then compared and contrasted to.
Attractiveness After Contrast
In one experiment, researchers asked young males to rate the attractiveness of potential blind dates after watching a TV program which starred very attractive women.
The experiment found that for the men who had viewed the TV program, they consistently rated the blind dates as being far less attractive than the men who did not watch the TV program. In other words, seeing beautiful women on TV caused men to see real women as less attractive and less desirable.
The contrast principle is often used by women when going out together looking for men, either intentionally or unintentionally. Very rarely do you see lots of attractive women in the same group.
Usually, it is much more common for a reasonably attractive girl to go out with several less attractive friends. By contrast, this makes her appear much more attractive and desirable to other men.
Contrasts in advertising
Contrasts are frequently used in selling and advertising. For example, when real estate agents try to sell a house, they will often show you the worst house first before showing you the house that they really want to sell you. By contrast, the house will appear more attractive than it actually is.
In selling, the contrast principle can also be applied to money with the intention of getting you spend more. A good salesman knows that by selling you a large expensive item first, such as a computer, car or expensive suit, getting you to buy smaller less expensive accessory items becomes a lot easier.
Often, these smaller items are vastly overpriced and where the salesman really makes their money. But by contrast to the expensive item, the extra money does not seem like very much at all.
The contrast principle can be used to shape both your own and other people’s opinions in all sorts of different ways. Use it to your advantage wisely and you will have an extremely powerful technique to add to your persuasion toolkit.
A metaphor is an imaginative way of describing something by saying that it is something else. For example, “time is money“, “cool as ice“, “boiling mad” and “frozen with fear” are all examples of metaphors.
One of the main reasons why metaphors are so powerful when communicating with others is because they allow you to personify abstract ideas.
In other words, metaphors allow you to make something which may be dull and impersonal seem alive and exciting, thereby helping you to create a vivid and lasting impression in your listener’s mind. The more vivid, descriptive and exciting your metaphors are, the greater of an emotional response they will have.
To use a metaphor, think of the idea that you want to convey and then link that idea to something anyone will be able to recognize. The simpler you can make this association, the more effective it will be.
Focus or divert attention
Metaphors serve as a frame and give the listener a window to look through. This window will focus their attention on a particular point of view, whilst at the same time restricting their focus from looking elsewhere.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a master persuader or a skilled linguist to use metaphors, as virtually everyone uses them in their own particular metaphoric style.
These metaphors reveal which windows a person sees the world through, which then tells you how they view life. This is something which you can use to your advantage.
One way to do this is simply to make a mental note of the type of language that a person uses and how they tend to describe themselves, other people or the things around them. Usually, these descriptions will reflect a particular interest they have such as sport, fashion or the military.
The next step is to think of a simple metaphor that summarizes the type of language they use to describe things. So if they tend to use a lot of military phrases such as “this is going to be a hard battle“, create a metaphor that reflects this interest in the military.
By doing so, you will frame things in the same way as to how they like to look at the world. If done correctly, you can then change how a person views something without them even realizing that you are trying to alter their perspective on an issue.
An analogy is a way of introducing an idea by quickly comparing it with something familiar and simple. For example, “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get” is an analogy. If we wanted to use a metaphor, we could say something like “life is sweet“.
When using analogies, you first present one idea and then compare it to another idea which other people are already aware of. The reason you do this, is because it makes your idea easy to understand once you have something to compare it against as a frame of reference.
Analogies can therefore have the same impact as metaphors, by allowing you present a complex idea in a simple and visual way. The easier your message is understood, the more effective it will be and the greater your chances are at successfully persuading your target.
Another technique that can be used to persuade, is to tell a story. This is something that all good communicators will make use of to ensure that their message is both easily understood and interesting.
Stories are particularly useful for persuasion because they:
Grab the listener’s attention
Just like a movie, stories have a plot and characters which the listener can relate to. This makes your message interesting and easy to follow.
Simplify complex ideas
A story is a good way to describe something complex in a simple way as they can include both metaphors and analogies.
Stories tap into the listener’s emotions
When you can relate to a story’s plot or character, it is more likely to evoke an emotional response than a series of dry facts.
Stories are memorable
Stories create vivid images in the listener’s mind. This makes it easy to remember the story long after it has been told. Stories are therefore also a good way to implant new beliefs or ideas into a person’s mind.
Features & Benefits
Salespeople are taught that in order to make a sale they must first show how their product can meet a person’s needs. The more needs their product can successfully satisfy, the greater the likelihood of someone buying it.
In order to successfully satisfy a person’s needs however, the salesperson requires some knowledge of the features and benefits that their product offers.
Features are the facts that describe what a product is and how it is made or operates. Features are cold, remote and impersonal. In other words, features do not relate directly to a person’s needs.
Benefits on the other hand, do relate to a person’s needs. Benefits are statements of ways in which the product, or the features of that product, will help a person to fulfill their needs. Benefits are therefore warm, tempting and personal.
Making the sale
Successful sales usually occur with a mixed description of a product’s features and benefits. For example, this new computer processor runs at a speed of 3 GHz (a feature) which can save you time by allowing you to run the latest applications smoother and faster (a benefit).
To someone who has little technical knowledge of computers, just stating the feature by itself (i.e. the processor speed) means very little as it’s impersonal and conveys no direct benefit to them.
But once you add a benefit (i.e. what a fast processor can do for you), this feature (the processor speed) then seems more attractive and desirable because it fulfills your needs.
This is an important point to remember about persuasion, because many persuaders make the mistake of simply talking about what they want, what they need and how they are feeling. To the listener this means little, as it is of no benefit or relevance to them and does not fulfill their needs.
Remember, they are asking how they will personally benefit from your proposal and you must satisfy these needs through a mixture of features and benefits. Features will attract their attention, whilst the benefits will produce the action (i.e. buy the product or agree with you).
Using benefits to your advantage
Once you have decided upon a list of benefits, your next step is to decide which of those benefits most appeal to your listener. However, in order to do this, you first need to understand what is likely to motivate a person to take action.
Speaking in very general terms, people tend to be motivated to gain something which they do not have, or are motivated to avoid losing something which they do have. This can be further simplified by saying that people are motivated away from pain and motivated towards pleasure.
This of course, is a very big generalization that lacks specificity. Some things which specifically motivate people are:
- To make money
- To save time
- To avoid effort
- To achieve comfort
- To have health
- To be popular
- To experience pleasure
- To be clean
- To be praised
- To be in style
- To gratify curiosity
- To satisfy an appetite
- To have beautiful possessions
- To attract the opposite sex
- To be an individual
- To emulate others
- To take advantage of opportunities
Ultimately, the benefits you choose to present should satisfy and appeal to the things that motivate that person the most.
The stronger the motivation to fulfill that need, such as the need to be healthy, the greater the likelihood that they will take action upon your proposal and the greater the likelihood that you will successfully persuade them.
Make yourself unique
Whilst the methods described above are absolutely essential for successful persuasion, unfortunately, they are not enough.
The reason they are not enough is because your target (i.e. the person you are trying to persuade), will most likely also have other people trying to persuade them. This is known as competition and gives the person other choices and options to think about.
Therefore, whilst you may have some tempting benefits that fulfill their needs, someone else may also present the same benefits that satisfy the same needs.
In cases like this, you need something extra, something that makes you unique and makes the target want to choose you over your competitor. In other words, what can you offer a person that someone else cannot? What is your unique selling point?
To help you better visualize this point, imagine that you have two identical bowls of ice cream but one ice cream has a cherry on top. Which are you most likely to choose? Probably the one with the cherry, because it gives you that little bit extra, something different.
Of course, if you do not like the difference that you are presented with then you will reject it, so be careful just how different or unique you choose to be as your uniqueness may not be to everyone’s taste!
Of all our emotions, fear is perhaps the most powerful of all human motivators. Fear can restrict action, such as by preventing you from doing or experiencing something, or fear can promote action, such as by motivating you to buy something like an alarm system or an insurance policy.
When it comes to persuasion, fear can therefore be used to get someone do something or prevent someone from doing something. A good example of this can be seen with governments who use the fear to justify war or to justify passing certain laws.
One of the main reasons why fear is such a powerful motivator is because when we feel threatened or in danger our ancient reptilian brain takes over. This can cause us to react irrationally with little or no consideration for the consequences of our actions.
When we are not in fear, we use a different and newer part of the brain to weigh up the pros and cons of a situation thereby causing us to react logically rather than irrationally.
As you can see, fear can be an extremely powerful persuasion tool because it causes a person to react in a way that makes persuasion easiest for you. This is called mindlessly responding to persuasion.
Using fear to persuade
In order for fear to be successfully used in persuasion, it must meet four conditions:
- Your statement must really scare the person. The threat must seem real and have direct consequences to them.
- You must offer a specific recommendation on how to overcome this threat.
- The person must believe that your recommendation will work and be effective.
- The person must believe that they can easily carry out the recommendation.
If you can successfully meet these four conditions, you will be able to use fear to persuade people into taking a certain type of action. This process is sometimes referred to as a problem, reaction, solution response or PRS. You create a problem, get a reaction and then offer a solution.
Lets take a look at a real example of this, by examining how Tony Blair persuaded the British population to support a war in Iraq.
Condition 1 – Scare the people
In England, we were told that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq that could reach England in around 90 minutes if Saddam Hussein fired them at us.
Condition 2 – Offer recommendation to overcome threat
The UK Labour Government, under Prime Minister Tony Blair, told the British people that in order to eliminate this threat we needed to remove Saddam Hussein. Unless Saddam left Iraq, this would be done with military force.
Condition 3 – People must believe recommendation will work
By removing Saddam and finding the weapons of mass destruction, there would no longer be any threat to Britain.
Condition 4 – People can easily carry out recommended action
It didn’t take much action on behalf of the public. All they had to do was support the war.
Fear of loss
Another type of fear is the fear of loss. It has been found that in general, people are more motivated by the prospect of losing something they already have than at the prospect of gaining something they don’t have.
In other words, if you think that you are going to lose something, you will be more motivated to take some kind of action than you would be if you thought you might gain something.
So if you wanted to use fear in persuasion, stressing the potential losses or negative consequences of not taking a certain action are good ways to motivate someone. If you look at advertisements, you can see this technique being used often.
One thing that is commonly overlooked when attempting persuasion is a person’s mood. In a good mood, people are far more likely to listen and agree with what you are saying than if they were in a bad mood.
Good moods tend to lower a person’s defenses, whereas bad moods raise defenses thereby making persuasion more difficult.
When attempting persuasion, you should therefore always assess a person’s mood before trying to influence them in one direction or another. If a person is in a good mood, go ahead with your persuasion attempt or approach them during times when they are likely to be feeling happy.
However, should a person be in a bad mood, do not attempt persuasion unless it is your only opportunity to do so. Instead, pick another day or try to change the mood of that person by telling them a joke or an uplifting story.
The importance of humor
Humor is an extremely powerful tool to possess in your persuasion toolkit. When you make someone laugh you cause that person to release endorphins which physically makes them feel good.
If you can do this often enough, soon they will learn to associate you with a good feeling thereby making you a more likable person in their eyes.
In terms of persuasion, humor is useful because it can quickly gain you attention, rapidly create rapport and make you and your message more memorable. In addition, it can also relieve tension, decrease a person’s stress levels and motivate them.
All these factors add up to make you become perceived as a more likable and nicer person. Once someone likes you, their defenses are lowered, which means less resistance to any persuasion attempts. You should therefore make it an absolute top priority to become a person who people like to be around.
How to use humor
When using humor to persuade, make sure that it is relevant to the conversation or topic. Use humor to introduce, summarize or highlight certain key points to give them added impact in the listener’s mind.
Your humor should make a point or state a fact in a humorous way, as this will increase the likelihood of its acceptance by the listener.
However, be careful when using humor, as people tend to resist humor if it is overused, irrelevant or think that you are purposely trying to be funny. Remember, you trying to change a person’s mood, not trying to impress them.
If you can do this with a few humorous remarks stop and end there. Don’t overdo it otherwise your humor will lose its effectiveness.
Emotions are the single most powerful force of persuasion. Without emotion, words are dull, lifeless and fail to motivate action. This is the importance of evoking emotion in your listener, because without it, your attempt to persuade would just be idle chat.
Some of the main reasons why you should be using emotions when trying to persuade someone are:
1) Emotions distract
Emotion arousing arguments cause us to drop our natural defenses. Emotions bypass our thinking logical brain thereby causing us to react impulsively. Emotions can therefore be used to distract a person from your true intentions.
2) Mindless persuasion
Emotions require less mental effort than a logical response. When driven by emotions, we rarely stop to think about the pros and cons of an argument.
This causes a person to “mindlessly” respond to persuasion, thereby making them much easier to convince or win over.
3) Emotions create interest
Emotion based persuasion attempts are usually much more interesting than logic driven persuasion attempts. To evoke emotions successfully, you must use vivid and descriptive imagery. This is usually done by describing something or telling a story.
Logic driven persuasion attempts focus on facts and features. These are usually cold, impersonal and bland, thereby generating little or no emotional response in the listener. This makes it less interesting, and less persuasive.
4) Emotional messages are easily understood
As emotional based persuasion attempts involve the use of vivid descriptive imagery, they are more easily understood, remembered and recalled.
When your message continues to linger with a person long after you are gone, future persuasion attempts are likely to occur more easily and more rapidly.
5) Emotions influence behavior
Emotions have the potential to change behavior (i.e., get a person to do what you want) more rapidly than logic.
When you buy some shoes for example, it is emotion that causes you to purchase them. All shoes serve the same basic purpose, but what differentiates them is the emotional responses that they create in you. This evoked emotion then causes action, which occurs as a purchase of the shoes.
6) Emotions improve recall
When emotions are associated with vivid imagery they are easily understood, quickly processed, easily remembered and easily recalled.
To illustrate this point, fill in the missing letters in the words below.
F_ _ K
If you are like most people, you would have first recalled the more vivid suggestive words: Fuck, Shit and Sex. However, these words could just have easily been Fork, Shin and Six.
The reason you are more likely to recall the suggestive words first, is because they create vivid and powerful emotional associations which makes them more memorable and meaningful.
Intensifying & Downplaying
Whilst there are many different strategies that you can use in persuasion, in general, all these strategies can broadly be divided into two types: Promoting your strengths and hiding your weaknesses.
The first strategy involves intensifying or highlighting the features of something you want to promote. In other words, making it look better by talking about its good points.
The second strategy involves downplaying features you would prefer remain hidden or changing how people perceive something so that it is no longer seen in a negative light.
By using these two strategies, you can shift someone’s attention away from what you don’t want them to see, whilst at the same time, focusing their attention on what you do want them to see.
A combination of these strategy can therefore enable a person to:
- Intensify their strong points.
- Intensify an opponent’s weaknesses.
- Downplay their own weaknesses.
- Downplay their opponent’s strengths.
Let’s have a look at these two persuasion strategies in more detail.
When you want to intensify your own good points, or intensify someone else’s bad points, choose one or more of the following tactics:
The simplest and often most effective way to intensify either the good or bad, is to repeat the same idea over and over again. The way our brains work usually require us to be exposed to some information repeatedly before we begin to take notice or act on it.
But be careful when using this tactic, as an overuse of repetition may make you appear “big-headed” or jealous/resentful of another person. It is therefore far better to spread repetition out over time, rather than to cluster it together.
Association can be used as an intensification tactic to make something appear better or worse than it actually is. Positive association is frequently used in advertising, most notably by Nike, who use sports stars to advertise their products.
By associating a certain product with a certain sports star, the advertisers automatically absorb that fame, credibility and respect for themselves and their product, thereby making the product seem more appealing.
Negative association involves associating a person or product with something negative. This tactic is often used in war, whereby one country accuses another of associating with bad people or things (i.e. terrorists, bad leaders, weapons etc…) to paint a negative picture of that country in the mind of the public.
This occurred in the Iraq war, whereby Iraq was associated with weapons of mass destruction and Saddam Hussein.
One of the easiest ways to intensify a message is to change its content. This could involve focusing only on the good points about yourself or focusing on the negative aspects of another person.
When persuading, you very rarely want to focus attention on your own weaknesses. For similar reasons, you very rarely want to promote the strong points of a competitor.
Rather, you would much prefer to downplay your own weaknesses and downplay your competitors strengths. Below are three tactics which can be used for this purpose.
Omission simply means leaving out damaging information. For example, you give your girlfriend a diamond necklace but you don’t tell her that you stole it. The result is that you present a half truth, or biased information, that makes something look better than if the full details were revealed.
Diversion is like a magic trick. You shift the focus away from what you don’t want the audience to see by doing something that distracts their attention. For example, your partner is angry at you for missing a date last week, so you give them a gift and they forgive you.
The final way to downplay your own limitations or your competitor’s strengths, is to create confusion. This can be done by presenting lots of evidence contrary to a certain opinion. This tactic is very common with medical companies.
Often, you will find companies sponsoring research which supports their own product and/or sponsoring research which disproves alternatives.
Like the contrast effect, reciprocation is another technique which takes advantage of how the brain works. The basic principle involves giving something to somebody with the aim of creating a feeling of indebtedness within them so that they will want to do something for you in return.
A good example of this can be seen with Hare Krishna devotees during the 1960s. These devotees attempted to collect donations from the public by asking for money to support their organization. However, this method was largely unsuccessful and people soon began to regard Hare Krishna’s as a nuisance.
It was not until the Hare Krishna’s changed their approach that they finally began to raise money. In fact, they raised so much money that they soon built a global network of temples and communes. How did they do it? By using the law of reciprocation!
Rather than ask a person for money straight away, they would first give a flower as a “gift”. Only then would they ask for a donation. By doing this, they created a feeling indebtedness which the person felt obligated to repay.
Today, this technique is used by many charities and even shops. For example, you may receive “free gifts” in the mail such as a pen, calendar, toy or sample.
All of these gifts are not given as acts of kindness, but instead, are given to evoke a response in you to feel obligated to repay that gift by purchasing their products or donating your money.
Offsetting the effects of bad behavior
The reciprocation rule is so powerful that it can even make us accept requests from people we dislike. This was shown by one experiment where two people were asked to sell raffle tickets to their colleagues.
Before attempting to sell any tickets, one person deliberately tried to make himself more likable by being kind and considerate to others. In contrast, the second person deliberately tried to make himself unlikable by being rude and inconsiderate to others, but later on then bought everyone a drink.
When it came to selling the tickets, the experimenters found that the rude person who had exploited the reciprocation rule by buying his colleagues a drink, sold twice as many tickets as the person who had deliberately tried to be nice.
What this means is that even though someone may dislike you, by giving them a small gift or favor prior to making your request, you can vastly increase the chances of them doing what you ask.
So the key thing to remember is to make the person who you are trying to persuade feel as though you have given something up just for them. They will then feel obligated to give something up for you.
Reciprocation in negotiations
When it comes to negotiations, the law of reciprocation can be extremely useful. One common technique is to make a demand which is greater than what you actually want. The next step is to make a small concession, whereby you lower your demands and then wait for the other person to lower their demands.
This can be used in negotiations to make it appear as if you are giving something up with the purpose of making another person also give something up. In effect, you are evoking the law of reciprocation to make them feel obligated to lower their demands.
You may find unscrupulous car salesmen using this tactic, whereby they give you a reduction off an already inflated price to make it seem as though you are getting a good discount and deal.
Reject & Retreat
This technique involves making two requests with the intention of getting one request purposefully rejected in order to make the other request seem more desirable.
To show the effectiveness of this technique, an experiment was done with students at a local blood bank. One group of students were asked if they would mind giving one pint of blood the follow day. The second group of students were asked if they would mind giving one pint of blood every 6 weeks for the next 3 years.
When the students in the second group rejected this extreme request, the students were then asked if they would mind giving a single pint of blood sometime tomorrow. The researchers found that those in the second group who were given the extreme request were far more likely to come in the next day to give blood.
They concluded that the reason this technique worked so well was due to two main reasons:
1) The first extreme request sets up a contrast effect. This makes the second request (giving a single pint of blood) seem much more reasonable and acceptable than the first request (giving a pint of blood every 6 weeks for the next 3 years).
2) By withdrawing the first request, you trigger the reciprocation rule and make the person feel obligated to agree to the second request. This is interesting because in reality you have no obligation to either request, but you are being made to feel as if you do.
It is important to note that this technique will only work when your initial request is seen as reasonable and realistic. If it is too extreme then the tactic can backfire, since it will lack credibility and any concessions you make will not be seen as genuine.
Researchers have found that by getting someone to make a small commitment first, you vastly increase the chances of them making similar but larger commitments later on.
This technique is often used by shops, especially online stores. They know for example, that if they can get a person to buy something from them once, they are much more likely to buy from them again rather than a competitor.
This occurs because people have a natural tendency to act consistently. So when we do something once, we tend to do the same thing or something similar in the future. We feel some degree of commitment to it. Maybe you can see this in yourself?
People often become committed to certain brands of clothes or electronic equipment. For example, some people claim that the XBox 360 is the best games console. Others claim that it is the Playstation 3. Whilst others claim the best console is the Nintendo Wii.
In the majority of these cases, the people who claim their respective console is the best most likely owned the previous generation of that console made by the same company. In other words, they have developed a brand loyalty and feel some degree of commitment to purchase that company’s product again.
In the case of the Playstation 3, many Sony fans waited until the release of the Playstation 3 before buying a new games console.
This was despite the fact that the XBox 360 was available at a much cheaper price and had a large library of games, including many of those available on the Playstation 3, with equally good, or in some cases, better graphics.
Another example could include the websites that people visit. Despite their being millions of websites on the Internet, people tend to visit only a select few on a repeated basis.
Below you will find some strategies on how you can get someone to act consistently through commitments.
Buy once, buy again
Get someone to buy something from you no matter how small and they are likely to buy from you again and buy more. People become comfortable shopping in the same places and buying the same things.
Commit to paper
Written commitments are much more powerful than verbal commitments. If you get someone to commit to a certain action on paper, it will hold much more weight than a simple verbal agreement. Written commitments provide evidence and so are less likely to be backed out of.
Commit in public
Public commitments are much stronger than private commitments. A commitment made in public is much more likely to be honored than one made in private.
This is because our reputation with a large number of people is at risk should we not follow through on what we promised. Breaking a commitment to just one person however, may be perceived as an acceptable loss.
Make the effort!
The greater the effort, the greater the commitment. The more effort you put into something, the more likely you are to support and believe it in. This effort can take the form of physical effort, money or time.
For example, people who have spent their whole lives with a certain belief are much less likely to change that belief even if evidence proves they are wrong. It is important to note here that effort must be voluntary. Forced efforts do not result in lasting commitments.
Because of our natural tendency to act consistently, you must be very careful not to blindly follow the wrong course of action after committing yourself to something. This means that you should become aware of the things you repeatedly do and ask yourself if there is a better alternative.
For example, many people will purchase brand named shampoos and continue to use products by that brand over and over again. This is despite the fact that these brand named shampoos cost 2-3 times more than the stores own brand and often contain exactly the same ingredients.
This same principle applies to human behavior. Often people will keep doing the same things day after day and then wonder why their life doesn’t change or improve. They become committed to following a set course of action, despite the fact that it is doing them no good and that there are better alternatives.
So always make sure that the thoughts and actions which you are committed to, really are the best option. If not, break that commitment and move on to something else.
Perceived authority plays a very big role in how persuasive you are. If someone thinks that you have expertise in a subject (e.g. a doctor, lawyer, teacher etc...) they will be much more willing to listen to what you have to say and do what you ask of them.
The importance of authority in persuasion was demonstrated by a famous experiment carried out by psychologist Stanley Milgram in the 1960s.
In this experiment, a volunteer was asked to administer an electric shock for every wrong answer that the test subject gave. With every wrong answer, the strength of the electric shock was increased.
Despite cries of pain and pleading for the experiment to stop, the researchers found that when the volunteer was told to continue, they would keep on shocking the test subject even going so far as to shock them with lethal voltages of electricity.
The test subject of the experiment however, was an actor, and never actually received any electric shocks. The experiment was designed purely to see how far the volunteer would go when given instructions by another person in authority.
From this research, it was concluded that the volunteers acted the way they did due to a deep-seated sense of duty to authority that we all have within us.
Despite the fact that many of the volunteers wanted to stop, they could not bring themselves to defy the wishes of the authority figures (the researchers). It also showed just how easily a person could be ordered to kill someone if an authority figure order them to do it.
This sense of needing to obey authority can be seen in all aspects of life. Without it, society would have little order and soon collapse.
This is why being seen as an authority figure can have such a powerful impact on your ability to persuade, and so is therefore something that everyone should work on creating for themselves.
The power of uniform
One of the quickest ways to gain authority is through the clothes you wear. For example, police, military and legal uniforms are all signs of authority and tell us that we should obey a person’s orders. The power of uniform was demonstrated by another famous experiment, this time in the 1970s, called the Stanford Prison experiments.
In this experiment, two groups of volunteers were dressed as either prisoners or guards. Both groups lived in a mock prison together for several days. During the experiment, the volunteers very quickly adapted to their role of either prisoner or guard.
The guards became very dominant, even going so far as to abuse the prisoners, who themselves, later became psychologically disturbed. Some of whom had to be removed from the experiment early.
The conclusions of this experiment were similar to those obtained a decade earlier from the Milgram experiments. Those being, that authority can cause a person to perform acts that are beyond what they would normally do.
In this case, dressing up in a uniform rapidly created authority for the guards, ultimately causing them to dominate and abuse their prisoners.
Many people have compared the findings of this experiment to the torture that occurred at Abu Ghraib by American military personal on Islamic men.
When applying these studies to persuasion, make sure to always establish yourself as an authority figure whenever possible. You can do this though qualifications and expertise you have in a particular area.
In addition to this, choose your dress style wisely. The correct clothes will help to reinforce your authority and therefore your overall persuasiveness.
The scarcity principle is an extremely interesting phenomenon and one that you can use in virtually every aspect of your life. It simply states that we put the highest value on things which are rare and hard to get. Conversely, we put the lowest value on things which are easy to get and extremely common.
An excellent example of the power of scarcity can be seen with the release of the Nintendo Wii. Due to shortages of the console during Christmas time, many parents faced the prospect of disappointing their children.
The result was widespread panic, and soon there were long lines at stores full of parents who were hoping to buy the new console. However, because there were shortages, all the stores sold out very quickly.
Parents without a Nintendo Wii were forced to buy the console from sellers on eBay who had pre-ordered the console and were now charging 3-5 times what the console was actually worth.
All of this demand, created by a shortage of the console, lead to major news organizations covering the story. This created valuable free advertising and further increased the perceived rarity and desirability of the console. Needless to say, the Nintendo Wii was a massive success.
Using scarcity to enhance your relationship
The power of scarcity can also be seen in relationships. When first starting out in a relationship, if you want it to last, it is a good idea not to see your partner too often. By limiting how often they can see you, you automatically create a sense of scarcity about yourself. This increases your perceived value and therefore your desirability.
Should however, you see that person every day, they will soon grow tired of you and take your company for granted. When we take things for granted we also perceive them as being boring, and when we are bored, we look elsewhere for excitement.
This is especially true in long-term relationships such as marriage. Research has shown that the first two years of a marriage are the best. After this period, things begin to decline and it is usually slightly after this point that divorces occur.
To give marriage the best chance of survival, it is far better to ensure that you do not saturate your partner with your presence. Instead, make it something rare and valuable that they want to hold on to, such as by purposefully creating periods of absence between you.
However, a word of caution, do not make this period of absence too long. Otherwise, you will be forgotten and they will look elsewhere.
Wanting what you can’t have
The scarcity principle can also be seen in other aspects of our lives, most notably, during our teenage years. Many teenagers are told by their parents that they cannot see a particular movie, that they cannot smoke, that they cannot drink or that they cannot mix with certain people.
However, by imposing these restrictions on their children, these parents do not realize that they are inadvertently increasing the perceived value of those banned items, events and people, thereby making them more desirable.
An example of this can be seen with films that had previously been banned in a country but were then later released. Such films will often proudly display on their front cover how many countries the film had been banned in. The more the better!
Another example can be seen with illegal drugs. In countries where drugs are illegal such England or America, drug and alcohol use tends to be relatively widespread amongst the population.
But if you compare this to countries where drug use is legalized, such as Holland, drug use by the native population is far less common, as is the number of drug addicts.
Promoting irrational behavior
The scarcity principle works best when things we value become difficult to obtain. This effect is further amplified if there is competition for that item, as was shown by the Nintendo Wii.
Competition for scarce resources serves as an extremely powerful motivator, because it causes us to react with primitive and emotional responses rather than with logic and reasoning.
The effect of this can encourage people to buy things that they would normally not buy and pay more than they would normally pay. Simply because they feel that they are competing against someone else to obtain it. If you can get something someone else can’t get, the satisfaction you receive from obtaining that item will be all the more greater.
So remember, if you want to be perceived as being valuable and desirable, don’t make yourself too common by being available to everyone at all times. People like this are taken advantage of and often treated with little respect.
Reviewed – 26th March 2016