Tips for More Persuasive Communication
The ability to persuade – to be able to sell an idea or win people over – is perhaps the single most important skill to give you the edge in the knowledge economy. As legendary investor Warren Buffet puts it: ‘You can have all the brain power in the world, but you have to be able to transmit it.’ He once told a group of business students that improving their communication skills would boost their professional value by 50%. In case you want to boost yours, here are some simple tips to make you a more persuasive communicator:
Show, don’t tell
If you tell people something is important, it comes across as opinion and as such stays outside their experience. Demonstrate the direct impact that same something will have on their world, on the other hand, and you bring it ‘inside’: far-away theory becomes close-up-and-personal fact.
Persuasive speakers know that by telling the audience a story that “reveals” their message it will have a far more compelling effect than just saying their message. When we listen to a story we identify with the characters and feel what they are feeling, their message becomes our message. The same goes for an example. An example that shows people how something works is far more memorable than talking through a process. If you want people to buy into an idea or initiative, show people them the impact it will have on them, don’t tell them.
Create an information gap
Presenting a simple puzzle or problem that your audience won’t immediately be able to resolve – creating an information gap – is a great way to engage an audience and create a need for whatever you are about to tell them. Information gaps create tension and, if sufficiently compelling, will hold attention for the time it takes to hear your potential solution. Use this technique upfront during the introduction to your presentation (or at the start of a new section) for maximum effect.
Simon Sinek used this technique to great effect at the beginning of his 2007 TED talk “How Great Leaders Inspire Action”. The talk starts with Sinek giving the audience three examples all of which, he says, have something in common. But what is it? Sinek asks question after question of his audience “why did these people succeed where others didn’t?” creating an information gap that left the audience hungry for knowledge. It’s over two minutes into the talk before he reveals the answer to those questions, by which time the audience is hooked. His talk has over 52 million views… and counting.
Use the rule of three
‘Hands, Face, Space’; ‘Reuse, Reduce, Recycle’; ‘Location, Location, Location’. Many of the best, most memorable and effective slogans, be it in politics or marketing, follow this rule. Why? Because grouping items in simple threes offers enough scope to be both sufficiently substantial and wide-ranging, while still being easy for an audience to process and remember. Any more and we struggle to hold all the concepts in our head at once. On top of this, the third item in a group of three has a stronger “landing beat” when spoken out loud, which helps to reinforce the message. [See our blog on Using Your Voice In A Presentation for more information on this.]
Ask a question
Rhetorical questions encourage your audience to engage with what you’re saying and truly consider whatever point you’re making: ‘So, what’s the solution?’; ‘So are we happy with the status quo, or do we want more?’ The simple act of asking a question changes the dynamic of the presentation. They are also highly effective signposting statements when you’re moving from one section of your presentation to another: ‘So, what are our next steps?’
Speak in pictures
‘We intend to put a man on Mars by 2024,’ said Elon Musk when he launched the Space X programme in 2002, conjuring a powerful mental image that ensured every member of the audience understood the power and scope of his intention. ‘We intend to become the leader in the space industry through team incentivisation and strategically targeted initiatives’ would not have had quite the same impact. And yet this is how many business leaders speak. But if people can ‘see’ what you mean, they’ll understand your idea more easily. And they’ll be far more likely to remember it.
Make it personal
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that addressing your audience directly will make people feel more connected to you. What’s less well known is that it will also boost your trustworthiness and credibility. So rather than talking about targets for ‘the company’ next quarter, talk about what ‘we’ want to achieve. Likewise, instead of saying what a new product or process does for ‘people’, talk about how it will change ‘our’ lives. And don’t forget to take ownership of your thoughts and opinions by starting your stories and anecdotes with ‘I’.
Say it like you mean it
Our final tip for more persuasive communication is possibly the simplest. Don’t be afraid to have a strong point of view.
The most convincing communicators sound like they believe what they are saying. They speak with passion and use strong, decisive language. Qualifiers such as ‘quite’, ‘sort of’ and ‘somewhat’ effectively serve as verbal caveats – avoid these at all cost unless there’s a reason you’re deliberately trying to downplay your argument. Instead, talk of ‘a significant impact’ or ‘a transformative outcome’. And if you really want to land your message, use short, monosyllabic words to drive it home. Remember, communication works best when it’s simple, direct and easy to follow.
There are many other techniques you can employ if you want to learn to communicate more persuasively. If you’d like to know more, get in touch here or email firstname.lastname@example.org.