Part 3: More on persuading

This email is the third in a series on ‘communicating’ - how to persuade and convey in talks and reports. (Here's the first two - (1) and (2); there will probably be eight emails in the series.) Previously I suggested finding something arresting that rocks people back on their heels. That makes them think: “Wow, didn’t know that”. That has repeatability. That gives people something they can - and want to - tell others. Do this and you make people feel something. Good… but maybe not enough. Some people need logic.

"Some are more equal than others": not all logic is equal. Years ago, I listened as an in-house analyst explained to bosses why they should not proceed with an acquisition. “In our industry,” he said, “there aren’t first-mover advantages.” To support this statement, he presented analysis (based on stuff by Michael Porter, the Strategy Professor). I liked it. Bosses didn’t – they weren’t going to let ‘MBA guff’ stand between them and a juicy deal. His comments weren’t landing punches.

Then he said: “After all… the second mouse gets the cheese”. Memorable. Persuasive. Bosses dropped the deal. Of course, it wasn’t entirely due to the mouse–cheese comment – it was canned for several reasons – but I know two things: (1) the comment made bosses sit up and listen; and (2) when bosses spoke about why the deal was canned, they spoke about mice and cheese. The comment worked.

But why? Not because it presses a feel button – for it doesn’t. Ask yourself: how does the sentence make you feel? What emotion does it evoke? Not much. On hearing about mice and cheese, I can’t imagine you feel angry or pleased or whatever. OK, maybe you feel persuaded, but that’s not emotive.

Rather, the sentence prompts agreement. It’s a statement of logic, not emotion. However, it’s accessible logic. Which means it engages – study these two opening sentences:

“There aren’t first-mover advantages – let me explain why”

“The second mouse gets the cheese – let me explain why”

On hearing “first-mover advantages”, we hunker down, fearing a blizzard of MBA-speak. On hearing “mice and cheese”, we almost sigh with relief. “Phew,” we think, “we won’t be blinded with science.” Our ears are open, not closed. And if the presenter then lapses into some MBA-speak, we give it the benefit of the doubt – that it was said only because there was no alternative.

Of course, sometimes someone will counter the ‘mouse-cheese’ comment by saying: “The early bird gets the worm”. Stalemate. Two bits of accessible logic go head-to-head, and neither wins. But at least our opponent’s accessible logic doesn’t prevail.

Examples needn’t just be catchphrases (“the second mouse gets the cheese”). They can be parallels from past or present. Years ago, I had to convince bosses that efficiency savings from a new gadget wouldn’t improve profits, given that the entire industry would also buy the gadget. I thought of saying: “In non-monopolistic industries, efficiency savings don’t enhance corporate profits but are competed away to the benefit of consumers”.

But MBA speak wouldn’t float my bosses’ boat, so I instead said: “Years ago we bought fax machines and they made us more efficient, but our profits didn’t increase because rivals bought them too”.

When we talk about day-to-day stuff, people get it - so piggyback it. Refer to it. If your firm's fancy system validates financial counter-parties to ensure they’re financially secure, worthy, etc… tell people it’s a sort of If your system matches bond buyers with bond sellers, describe it as a dating website for bonds. Do this, and people get what you’re saying. And can repeat it to others. You’ve given it repeatability – which means people can be your advocate.

To conclude: for repeatability, (1) think of accessible logic – which mostly works on the head; and (2) find something arresting that presses a feel button – which mostly works on the heart (this previous email explains more). Head and heart. A complementary double-act.

That’s if you wish to persuade. Sometimes though we merely wish to convey. That’s next in the series.

Til next month.


PS accessible logic is not the same as ‘elevator pitch’. They’re different. A future email might explain how.

PPS the 'fax machine' story: it mentioned a ‘new gadget’ … it was the internet.

PPPS… three PSs?!? – yes. This is a very late edit, which is appropriate given it's about my wonderful editor (Mandy Tromans) – after she'd recently checked about 4,000 words for me and changed very little, she wondered whether she’d earnt her crust. To which I said it’s like going to a dentist… we don’t resent paying our dentist just because they fail to find problems, no fillings needed. Rather, we feel chuffed. Dentistry - accessible logic… and one I heard originally from an estate agent in 1992 – he said: “When people say: ‘You sold my house easily… surely you don’t expect your full fee…?’, I say: ‘If a dentist removes your teeth painlessly, would you pay them less than if they’d caused you great agony?’”. (1992...! See - we remember stuff like this. It sticks.)

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