To be a power persuader means learning to be an impactful influencer.
You need to learn how to use tactics and tools that move your persuasive efforts from simply educating your audience (static, because it’s a one-way communication model) to influencing them (dynamic since it engages them in the process and sparks them to action).
Annet Grant, founder of Executive Speaking Inc., says, “By shifting your focus from education to influencing, you can build the credibility you need to get where you’re trying to go. When you try to educate someone about a particular subject, you implicitly assume you have the power. When you try to educate your audience, you’re asking them to trust your information. When you focus on influencing others, you make them feel like they’re the ones with the power. You’re asking them to trust you, not your information.”
Where the persuasion process can get derailed is when cognitive biases (mental shortcuts) kick in. They impact the way our brains receive, process, store, and retrieve information thereby ultimately influencing whether or not your audience changes their behavior and attitudes – despite your best efforts and every tool in the box.
To further complicate things, Malcom Gladwell, an author whose work focuses on the implications of social sciences, says that “When people are overwhelmed with information and develop immunity to traditional forms of communication, they turn instead to advice and information from people in their lives whom they respect, admire, trust.”
Determining whom you should influence – for example, a leader of a group or a segment of the population, or a family member with the most purchasing power – will help you capitalize on the tendency for people to seek out choice confirmation from their inner circle.
And it will take more than throwing information based on simple logic (presenting facts and statistics) at just anyone who will listen if you want to beat mental shortcuts – even if you present that data with the excitement of a birthday party full of toddlers.
What can you do to ensure your messages have the most influential impact?
Constructive persuasion involves three stages – discovery, preparation, and dialogue – and four key elements:
- careful preparation
- the proper framing of arguments
- the presentation of vivid supporting evidence
- the effort to find the correct emotional match with your audience.
To level up your powers of influence, follow these hacks:
- First, understand your audience. Who are they and what do they need to know before you present them with the information you want them to know. Conduct a reconnaissance mission: listen in to conversations both online and off to discover common knowledge gap areas then prepare how you’ll present your information to the right people at the most receptive time and place.
- We’ve written about how a person’s worldviews influence how they react to information input and how they shape opinions. The brain’s tendency to make decisions based more on emotion than logic means presenting your information in appropriate frames (narratives) and using language that will resonate with that audience. Storytelling has been shown repeatedly to be an effective device for instigating behaviour change and it makes it easier to incorporate metaphors and analogies that people can relate to.
- If someone seems less than impressed, make an effort to improve their cranky mood before launching into your key messaging. To make them more receptive to your information try to inspire a smile by telling a dad joke or ask them about their recent vacation (hopefully it wasn’t a disaster!).
- Share the good, the bad and the ugly: Address the perspectives your audience is already considering as well as alternate perspectives and their outcomes. Rather than jump right into why your perspective is right, begin with premises you know your listener agrees with. Then, subtly highlight the negative outcomes of the opposing viewpoint so you can bookend the presentation by showing why your way is still the best.
- While acting self-assured and confident is shown to increase the power of influence, make sure you’re actually right! You’ll lose all credibility and trust if your conclusions aren’t airtight.
- Consider the power of nudges: ‘Nudge’ is a concept in behavioral science, political theory and economics which proposes positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions as ways to influence the behavior and decision making of groups or individuals. A nudge increases the likelihood that someone will make a particular choice, or behave in a particular way, by altering the physical or communication environment so that you trigger the cognitive processes that will lead to the outcome you desire as opposed to ‘faulty’ ones.
Influencing people through persuasive tactics is NOT a form of manipulation or pressure. Persuasion is an ethical tactic that uses communications tools to describe the logic and benefits of an idea to gain your listener’s agreement.
Annet Grant writes, “Persuader[s] rarely change[s] another persons’ behaviour or viewpoint without altering his or her own in the process. To persuade meaningfully, we must not only listen to others, but also incorporate their perspectives into our own.” And this is how we will truly move the #farmtoconsumerconvo forward.
 Conger, Jay A., The Necessary Art of Persuasion. 1998. President and Fellows of Harvard College.
 Grant, Annet, “The Necessary Art of Persuasion.” Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.