We often have to present to tough audiences. And, more often than not, the purpose of the speech is to persuade. Whether we are trying to sell a product or service, or just a good idea, persuasion is important. In this session, we are going to cover a simple three-step process to help you persuade tough audiences. First, we will talk about human nature and how persuasion works. Then, we will talk about the actual three-step process that works very effectively.
Human Incites to Be Aware of Before Trying to Persuade Others.
Before we talk about techniques and skills needed to persuade others, let’s start with how human beings are wired. There are a few common traits among all people that are pretty important to remember. Often, when we fail to persuade audiences, it is because we are going against human nature.
When I was younger, I lived in Boulder, Colorado for a summer. To stay in shape, I would job up the mountainside. Jogging up a mountain is really challenging. I had to work against gravity. However, what made the process worthwhile is that the way back to my apartment was really easy. What most people do to persuade people is like jogging up the mountain. The process that we will cover later goes with human nature. It is like jogging downhill. That is much easier.
People Like Other People Who Agree With Them. They Dislike People Who Disagree With Them.
This sounds pretty obvious, but you would be amazed how often people use an argument to try to persuade others. When we start our persuasive message by proving to the audience how correct we are, we can experience unfortunate consequences. You see, when we hear other people talking about how right they are, we automatically assume they are telling us that we are wrong.
In the early days of Standard Oil, John D. Rockefeller had great business sense. His partner, Samuel Andrews, knew how to refine crude oil into kerosene. New oil companies popped up every month. Rockefeller knew that all the oil found would need to be refined. Andrews knew how to refine it. Their partnership grew quickly.
Eventually, another engineer figured out a better way to refine the crude, though. Andrews felt slighted. He took the change personally. In a heated discussion with Rockefeller, he threatened to leave the company. The next morning, Rockefeller gave him a one-million-dollar check for his 16% of Standard Oil. The new engineer didn’t persuade Andrews. Andrew felt slighted. He left the company in anger and missed out on billions of dollars in the process.
Human Nature Makes Us Want to Try to Play Devil’s Advocate When People Try to Persuade Us with Facts.
Another key aspect of human nature is the want to challenge assertions. The moment I tell you that I know a fact that is absolutely 100% true, you will likely want to argue. It is human nature.
In addition, when we start a statement with an opinion, we also open ourselves up to disagreement. Anytime a group of people is sitting around a boardroom table and one person starts with, “Well I think…” you will likely see a disagreement start shortly after. A person on the other side of the table will often respond with, “That might be a good idea. However, I think…” Then the discussion becomes a popularity contest.
So remember that winning people to your way of thinking is hard. People naturally tend to want to argue. If you try to persuade a tough audience the way that most people do, you have a lot going against you. So, let’s explore a better way to persuade others.
A Simple 3-Step Process to Help You Persuade Even the Toughest Audience.
Back in the early 1900s, Dale Carnegie wrote a book called The Quick and Easy Way to Effective Speaking. In the book, he outlined a persuasive technique that he called “The Magic Formula.” The first time that I read the book, I thought that Carnegie was absolutely brilliant. The technique uses human nature to work with the persuader versus against him.
Of course, later, I realized that many famous leaders used the same technique. In fact, Jesus used the technique to teach multitudes. Over 300 years before Jesus, Aesop also used the technique. Nearest I can tell, throughout all of human history, great leaders have used this formula. For some reason, though, the average person still wants to go against human nature and argue.
Carnegie’s magic formula was to (1) start with an example or story. (2) Then give your advice or opinion. And finally, (3) tell the audience how the audience will benefit from the suggestion.
Start with an Example or Story to Reduce Defenses and Build Rapport.
Carnegie was absolutely correct. Stories are magical. By the way, for those of you who read the post How to Manipulate People, you may recognize some of this. Manipulators often use stories to get the listener to fall into what they call a “trance.” This is basically getting the listener to think of a mini-daydream. These manipulators know that the mind is more malleable when in a trance-like state.
I’ll give you an example. A couple of days ago, I woke up pretty groggy, so I jumped into the shower to wake up. Afterward, I dried off and stumbled over to my sink to brush my teach and shave. When I did, I banged my toe something fierce on the bathroom scale that was at my feet. I gritted my teeth because my wife was still in bed, and I didn’t want to wake her by shouting out foul language.
As I told that little incident, there is a good chance that you saw a mini-movie in your head that took place in your own bathroom. When I got to the part about banging my toe, you might have actually gritted your teeth a little. The key thing here is that as I was telling the story, you were right there with me. You were playing along. Your natural defenses didn’t pop up.
Most likely, you probably weren’t thinking, “That is totally not true.” The opposite is probably more likely. You were probably thinking, “I believe that because I’ve done something similar in the past.” That is the power of stories. They work with human nature instead of against it.
Next, Reveal the Moral of the Story.
Back when I was in first grade, my teacher used to read us an Aesop fable every day. You may recall some of these yourself. For instance, the Tortise and the Hare or The Fox and the Grapes are very famous ones. These little mini fables were stories told to both entertain and to teach morals. The last line of each fable began with “The moral of the story is…”
Basically, Aesop didn’t want to just tell the story and have each person figure out the reason it was being told. He actually told us why each story was important.
If you think about it, the reason why the fables work so well is because of the entertaining stories told first. If Aesop used the current boardroom strategies to persuade, his fables would have sounded like the following.
- Well, I think you should pace yourself and be slow and steady.
- In my opinion, you tend to despise those things that are out of your reach.
- Here is what you should do. Show a little kindness for gosh sake.
When you hear those morals stated that way, what kind of reaction do you feel? Most likely, you are thinking, “Heck no, run fast if you want to win.” And, “Only immature people feel that way.” Or, “I’m as kind as the next person. Why are you pointing fingers?”
In reality, though, those are exactly the morals that Aesop taught. By starting with the story first, though, we hear them and think, “That’s a pretty good idea.” You want your audience to react this way too.
Finish with How the Advice Will Benefit the Audience.
In the manipulation session, I mentioned that the difference between persuasion and manipulation lies in the purpose. When people persuade, they are doing so for the benefit of the listener. When people manipulate, they do so for their own benefit.
So the ending to your persuasive speech needs to have a benefit to the audience built into it. That way, there is no way for the audience to think you are trying to manipulate them. Going back to human nature, people are pretty self-centered. We always want to know, “What is in this for me?” So if you tell them what they will get, they are more likely to agree with you.
A Few Tips and Example to Help You Persuade Audiences Better.
When I teach salespeople how to communicate better with customers, I get them to focus on solving problems. For instance, I often ask them, “What are a few of the major problems that you solve for your customers? Why do they need your product or service?” For instance, when customers hire my company to help them, it typically falls under a few major challenges.
They may have a meeting or convention scheduled and a lot of stuff on the agenda is dry and boring. So, they hire our instructors to add some fun and interactivity to the agenda. Or, they may have challenges like new management or maybe a merger where company cultures are being blended. So if we know that a company is experiencing one of these challenges, we can use this formula to show how we can help them.
Persuade Your Audience Example #1: Add Fun to a Meeting.
A couple of weeks ago, a non-profit in Pennsylvania hired me to do a virtual breakout session for them. The director of the association mentioned that the group met virtually every month. However, a lot of the time, the meetings were very one-sided. She tended to have to do a lot of the talking and wasn’t getting a lot of feedback — even when she flat-out asked.
Knowing this, within the first few minutes of my session, I gave the group a mini-assignment. Then, I divided them up into Zoom breakout rooms with a partner. I just asked them to tell their partner the idea that they came up with. After a couple of minutes, I shut down the breakout rooms and had the group return to the main session. Then, I asked them if any of their partners had a really good idea that they liked. Instantly, I had the group reporting what their partner said one-by-one.
It is a very simple technique that makes virtual meetings more interactive and fun. The moment that the person who had the idea heard his or her partner speak up and praise the idea, their confidence soared. From that point on, I as the meeting leader didn’t have to do a whole lot to get the group to respond. They actually want to.
So the point of the story is that there are fun simple and turnkey things that we can do in your next meeting. And if we do those things, your team will have more fun and be more interactive as well.
Persuade Your Audience Example #2: Helping a Company Where Team Cultures Are Being Merged.
Years ago, a client company purchased their two biggest competitors. The owners of the two companies used to work together, but had a falling out. The apprentice decided that he didn’t like the heavy-handedness of his ex-boss. So, he started a competitive company. He created a democratic culture. When the companies merged, the cultures clashed.
Because I knew I was walking into a minefield, I suggested that we start by doing an assessment. I interviewed and surveyed dozens of people from each of the merging companies. Next, I compiled the data and presented it to the three executives. I showed them how their team viewed them as leaders. As they flipped through the results, they didn’t say a word. Once the initial shock wore off, the new CEO looked at me and asked, “Okay, so how do we fix it?”
I knew that I had to respond delicately. But they were paying me to help them. So I turned to the two executives that had the strained relationship. “You two worked together for over a decade.” They nodded. “During that time, you learned a tremendous amount from this man didn’t you?” I said to the apprentice. He nodded. Then I turned to the other executive. “When this man was on your team, morale was off-the-charts high, wasn’t it?” He nodded. And since you split, neither of your companies have grown as fast you did when you were together.
Once we got the executives working as a team, we found it very easy to train the team. So if you hire us to help you with this merger, we can give you an independent third-party assessment. This will keep egos from interfering with progress.
Did the Examples Use Human Nature Effectively?
The big question is, did the examples make you want to argue with me? If not, then why not?
A good technique to you can use to apply this is to fight the urge to argue. Instead, before you respond, ask yourself, what is an example I can use to explain my opinion? Then start with the example. Next, offer your advice. Then finally, give the audience a reason why they should follow your advice. If you do, you will be more likely to win people to your way of thinking. (See what I did there?)
For additional information on this subject, see 7 Keys to Influence and Persuade Others