Part 2: Persuading

This is the second in a series of emails on ‘communicating’ - how to persuade and convey in talks and reports.

Imagine that, in our talk to bosses on our plan for ABC, we fear they're unaware of ABC's complexity – so maybe we show a 'jungle' photo. As we saw last month, don't. But what to do instead? It depends. Today, assume we wish to persuade.

Analysing analysis: to persuade, surely we show analysis. Maybe our analysis ‘proves’ that errors cost money. Or that training helps profits. Etc. But to no avail - people remain unconvinced. Yes, analysis helps us generate ideas and reach conclusions, but often it isn’t the best way to persuade others of these ideas. It struggles to get under people’s skin and win hearts and minds. People nod along to it – but don’t go along with it.

That’s because people can all too easily dismiss analysis if they want - they convince themselves it's flawed. Or different to our circumstances. Or just 'theoretical'.

Also, many of us struggle to remember analysis - so, even if it convinces us when we first hear it, we don’t remain convinced because we don’t remember why we were in the first place. Analysis has a half-life. Often, it merely beats us temporarily into submission.

Hence we’re unlikely to tell others we’re convinced... after we read a report, imagine our boss asks us: “That report... any good?”. We won’t say "Yes" if we can’t recall its specifics – we’d look dumb. “You say it’s good,” our boss thinks, “but can’t remember why?!?”.

Back to issue ABC: how to convey its complexity? Well, that’s the wrong question…. we fear that bosses aren’t aware of ABC’s complexity, so it's not enough to convey to them it’s complex. We must convince them it’s complex. Maybe rock them back on their heels and make them think: “Goodness”. Make them want to tell others what they’ve just heard. We need to give our message repeatability. It starts a chain reaction. We breathe life into our ideas. They soar. 

How though? Not with a 'jungle' photo. No-one ever thinks: “That 'jungle' photo... it worked for me! I must show it to others". Instead, try these ideas:

A bit of drama perhaps. Bring in a pile of legal books and land them with a 'thud' on the table: “Here are the rules we must follow”.

A ludicrous comparison: as part of a speech, Obama spoke of cutting red tape: “The Interior Dept is in charge of salmon while they’re in fresh water”, he said, “but the Commerce Dept handles them when they’re in saltwater”. “I hear it gets even more complicated once they’re smoked”, he added. Later, when asked which of Obama’s words they recalled, most people said 'salmon', even though he said it in just one paragraph. 

A number: “1,300 – the number of pages of rules we must follow”. Repeat ‘1,300’ once or twice throughout the talk. Maybe ask bosses about it in the talk: “How many pages…?”. Choose a decent stat though - to convince bosses to spend more on training, don’t say: “A training firm says training increases profit by 47%” (I found the stat online…). The stat is self-serving and too easy to dismiss.

Maybe combine the above ideas: a ludicrous comparison + a number. I once told my bosses that the firm spends three times more per person on pot plants than on soft skills training its staff (negotiating, presenting, etc). See this past email for more.

Don’t think like an analyst, think like a journalist. Journalists turn boring facts into riveting reads. The editor of a UK tabloid wanted stories to pass the 'Cor, Doris' test, i.e. people read a story, then say to a mate: “Cor, Doris, read that!”.

Repeatability. Cor, Doris. Maybe call it ‘an arresting angle’ if you want. Pot plants and salmon are arresting angles on dull topics (training, regulations). They bring topics to life. Arresting angles work in both talks and reports, but with talks, you’ve more opportunity for dramatic pauses (“I’ve two words to say… pot plants” (pause)).

But we’ve a problem. Some people like logic. They need it (I do). So stay tuned... the third email in the series looks at that - and as you see, there’s good and bad logic.


PS One last example: at my sons’ school, a teacher gave a talk to kids on the dangers of credit card debt. His slides didn’t show photos of banknotes (corny). Nor photos of fun – but expensive - stuff kids could buy. Nor photos of bankrupt down-and-outs (“this could happen to you”). No. He made it real. He showed photos of ten teachers that the kids knew, and asked: “Which of these got into trouble with debt?”. Nine had – and to this day, one won't own a credit card. Bang. Job done. (The presenter got permission from the ten to show their photos.) And the one that hadn’t got into trouble? The economics teacher.

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