7 Surprising Ways to Boost Your Powers of Persuasion

If you don't know how to effectively get people to see things your way, it's time for a refresher course in the gentle art of persuasion.
President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.
August 21, 2014

From Facebook ads to friendly fliers, from podcasts to presentations, from blogs to billboards, and from political speeches to love letters, we've all been on the receiving end of a tsunami of persuasive messages. On any given day, we're bombarded with thousands of messages that try to catch our attention and persuade us to think, do or feel something or other.

Today, there's such a proliferation of written opinions on the topic of persuasion that persuasion has practically become a household word. As a small-business owner, if you haven't been paying attention to the persuasion principles others use, you could be missing out on a powerful influencing tool.

If you'd like to ramp up your marketing, here are 7 persuasion tips to keep in mind.

1. Be Smart About Numbers

A Scientific American article from a few years back, Why Things Cost $19.95, showed that using precise numbers when pricing items for sale was more persuasive than using round numbers. The author cited a study that spanned five years of real estate sales in Florida and compared list prices with the actual sales prices of homes. The study revealed that homeowners who listed their homes more precisely—say $494,500 as opposed to $500,000—consistently got closer to their asking price. In other words, when faced with a precise asking price, buyers were less likely to negotiate the price down.

When you price your services, for example, don't use round numbers. This isn't about cheating people but about preventing prospective customers from getting you to discount your price below what you're worth.

2. Wear a Pink Shirt

Color is a powerful force that can affect how we think, feel and behave without our conscious awareness. Pink—or, more precisely, Baker-Miller Pink, also commonly known as Drunk Tank Pink —is one such color.

Adam Alter, an associate professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business, is the author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave. In the book, Alter writes about a host of studies where pink had a persuasive effect. For example, door-to-door charity workers who wore pink shirts saw their donations rise threefold. Schools who painted their walls pink noted that students were calmer and more engaged. What's more, research shows that the color pink suppresses angry behavior among prisoners. As Alter noted in a video last year, our associations and expectations when we see the color pink have a tranquilizing effect.

Maybe wearing a pink shirt to a heated negotiation session might be worth a try.

3. Lead Others to Self-Discovery

When you're trying to persuade people to do something, such as convincing a reluctant employee to change a negative behavior, don't tell them why they should change. Instead, help people discover their own reasons for changing. As Micheal V. Pantalon, Ph.D., a psychologist at the Yale School of Medicine, puts it, "People usually act for their own reasons, not someone else's reasons."

In Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone to Do Anything—FAST, Pantalon reveals his highly effective influencing process that's based on precisely that principle. The process involves asking the person you're trying to persuade six questions, two of which are:

1. How ready are you to change on a scale from 1 to 10, where 1 means “not ready at all” and 10 means “totally ready”?
2. Why didn’t you pick a lower number? Or if the person picked a 1, ask them what it would take to turn that 1 into a 2.

This second question gets people to articulate their own reasons for doing something. When people do this, they're more likely to buy into those reasons and make a stronger effort to adhere to the change.

4. Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Skepticism is at an all-time high these days among consumers. The "Edelman Trust Barometer for 2013" shows that the majority of people need to hear company information three to five times to believe messages. Keep this in mind when you set out to deliver a message whose goal is to persuade. Make a point of repeating your message at different intervals, through different mediums. Familiarity, it seems, breeds acceptance.

5. Know Which Principles to Appeal to

Let's say you're a financial advisor and you believe that a young client of yours is too conservatively invested. You want to persuade her to choose riskier, high-return investments that are more appropriate for her age. Do you tell her what she stands to gain if she chooses riskier investments (thereby appealing to greed), or do you tell her what she stands to lose if she doesn't invest in riskier options (thereby appealing to loss)? 

The answer, according to Robert Cialdini, Ph.D., a world authority on persuasion, is to appeal to loss. Eliminating the risk of losing something is more attractive to someone than increasing the prospect of winning something.

Loss language is motivating, Cialdini says, because it taps into the "scarcity principle," outlined in his book, Influence: Science and Practice. The scarcity principle is one of Cialdini's six principles of persuasion. It works on the premise that what is scarce is more desirable—we are loss averse and don't want to miss out on something. You can learn more about all of Cialdini's priniciples in this video.

6. Use Baby Pictures

Baby images are a powerful attention magnet—scans show they engage our brains. They can also influence us. Let's say you're delivering a presentation about avoiding pesticides in oranges. You can display an image of an orange with your text. But if you replace the image with one of a baby with an orange close to its mouth, you add an emotional component that increases the persuasive power of your anti-pesticide message.

In Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing, author Roger Dooley adds an important variation to the idea of using a baby picture to attract attention. He reports on a study of how people view ads with babies in them. Employing eye-tracking technology to measure the direction and duration of a viewer's eye movement, researchers discovered that viewers fixated on the baby's face and gave quite a bit less attention to the headline and ad copy. But when using a side-facing baby image in which the baby is looking toward the ad's headline, the ad headline and copy got far more attention. The study concluded that this applies to any pictures you use in ads.

It's worth keeping this in mind the next time you use an image in an ad or in your PowerPoint presentation.

7. Use Monroe's Motivated Sequence

When you make a presentation with the intention of persuading your listeners to do something, use Monroe's motivated sequence—a time-tested organizing structure that was the brainchild of the late Alan H. Monroe of Purdue University. Here's the five-step process:

Step 1: Capture the attention. Hook your listeners right away, and make them want to be attentive to your message. There are several gambits to achieve this, such as a brief story, a startling statistic, a powerful quote, a remarkable visual, a question or a rhetorical question. For additional ideas on opening hooks, see my previous article "12 Ways to Hook Your Audience in 30 Seconds."

Step 2: Establish the need. Explain why there's a problem that needs to be addressed. This is the step that makes your audience realize why they should care. You want them to think "I need to hear this" or "We must do something about this!"

Step 3: Satisfy the need. Tell  your listeners how you're uniquely positioned to fill that need. This is your solution to the problem or the issue that requires attention.

Step 4: Visualize the results. Take your listeners through a positive visualization, that is, help them see the benefits of adopting your solution or proposal. Then take them through a negative visualization—help them see the downsides of not taking any action. Your aim here is for them to think "This is a great idea."

Step 5: Ask for the action. Clearly outline the action you want them to take. The goal here is for them to decide "I want to do this. Show me how to get it."

Understanding a few principles of persuasion and acquiring some persuasion tools will help you be a more effective communicator and bolster your chances of business success. The underlying foundation for using any persuasion tools, however, needs to be authenticity and integrity—these are important pillars for earning trust. And when it comes to persuading, trust rules.

Bruna Martinuzzi is the founder of Clarion Enterprises Ltd. and the author of two books: Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations and The Leader as a Mensch: Become the Kind of Person Others Want to Follow.

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Photo: Getty Images

President and Founder, Clarion Enterprises Ltd.