The 7 secrets to being persuasive

mental errors

The only way to be truly persuasive is to understand the human mind.

The human mind doesn’t work by rules of logic when it comes to being persuasive but there are rules involved when seeking to influence others.

Tali Sharot is a professor of cognitive neuroscience at University College London and her new book is The Influential Mind: What the Brain Reveals About Our Power to Change Others.

In this book, Sharot has helpfully identified 7 factors that influence our ability to be persuasive.

1. Prior beliefs

Don’t start off by telling people they are wrong. The reality is when people hear things that contradict their beliefs, their minds turn on defensive mode. So, instead, start with common ground between your position and theirs and then move on to try and influence them to your side. Once you find middle ground with your opponent you’re halfway to being persuasive.

2. Emotion

Emotion affects judgement. One of the most persuasive ways to communicate arguments effectively is to share feelings. Emotions are contagious and by expressing our feelings the audience will empathise with you.

If the time is not appropriate to share emotion, for example, in policial or legal debate, then try to inject emotion through storytelling. Take the audience on a journey with you, help them to understand where you are coming from and by the end of your story, they should be able to take up your point of view.

3. Incentives

A little story – hospital staff started to be electronically marked in terms of feedback. Every time a doctor or nurse washed their hands, the numbers on the board went up. Interestingly, the number of workers washing their hands increased to almost 90%. The takeaway – provide an incentive, if you want someone to do something. Whether this is following an order or following your way of thinking, be imaginative and think about how you can subtly incentivise them do it. Remember subtlety is key – nobody likes to be told what do to – and if they think they are being ordered around they are highly likely to rebel.

4. Control

Former FBI lead international hostage negotiator Chris Voss says it’s critical in any negotiation to give the other side a feeling of control. And the research agrees.

So, when you seek to be persuasive, don’t order but instead, give options. Guide them towards the light and they will often believe they got there on their own.

5. Reframe negativity

People often don’t want to hear bad news and will do their best to ignore it. So, if we have to deliver bad information, we have to reframe it, as a positive. This is because when people hear positive information, they become curious and intrigued. So in effect, you are reframing the message to highlight the possibility for progress, rather than the doom.

6. State of mind

An interesting exception to the above rule. Researchers found that people under threat were far more inclined to take in negative information.

Another interesting point is that when we feel positive we are far more likely to take risks.

So the point is, align your speech with the other person’s mood. When they are low they are far more receptive to suggestions that make them feel safe, when they’re up they’ll be more responsive to riskier ideas, or thoughts.

7. General consensus

Whether it be a negative or positive consensus, if there is a following backing one side of an argument over the other, people will support the general consensus.

What that means for the power of persuasion is try as best as you can (without obviously being misleading) to frame your position as the positive and popular one as it simply gives your argument more weight.


To read more on this topic read the magnificent blog on Barking up the wrong tree, on this topic, here.

Words you should use and avoid in your presentations


There are several ways to succeed in a presentation and mostly it’s down to how you make your audience feel. Did you make an impact? and, Did you add value?  Sometimes you can prepare everything perfectly but really let yourself down with bad grammar and wording choice that detracts from the overall credibility of your work and even in some circumstances irritate your audience. Here are some tips from  The Elements of Style by Strunk and White which are still relevant to all presentations today.

1. Don’t use overly long words when you can use short and familiar ones

There is nothing worse than hearing a presentation from a person trying to sound overly clever by using long and complicated words. The point of your presentation is not about you, it’s about clearly conveying information to your audience in the most user-friendly way. Anything else detracts from the meaning of your content.

2. Avoid euphemisms

You’re not kidding anyone and your audience will not appreciate hearing about the “profit improvement plan” which was the cause of the job losses.

3. Use metaphors sparingly – they are better on paper

Metaphors can often get lost in translation and can take the audience away from the point of your content. It might sound clever in your head but it would not be fun to confuse the room and try to recover audience engagement, in the middle of your presentation.

4. Don’t invent new words

Whilst it may seem obvious to not make up words, many people don’t actually realize that the words they use are fake. For example, the overused “prioritize” is an invented word; made by converting a noun, “priority,” into a verb by adding “ize”—a practice that the legendary New York Times columnist William Safire called “verbification of nouns.” Be careful to not fall into this trap.

5. Avoid clichés

They are known to irritate audiences and they can make you seem too informal in your presentation. Try to avoid saying any of these to keep your audience on side.

For more information and tips on what words to avoid in your presentation, click here.


How to be a more comfortable when public speaking

public speaking

Up to 75% of us share an anxiety around public speaking. Even the most confident people can turn into an embarrassed, anxious mess when they take the stage. Whilst the audience can almost never tell just how anxious the speaker is, it can be an exhausting and scary process if you don’t have the right processes in place to make your public speech as smooth as possible. Here are 5 tips, created by public speaking coaches, to help you feel more confident when you have publicly speak. Hopefully, after reading these tips and incorporating them into your public speaking affairs, you might even begin to enjoy it!

1. Know your content inside out

This doesn’t mean learn your speech off by heart but instead memorise your key points and core remarks. Do a couple of run-throughs in your head before you speak and remember to stay focused on impact as opposed to the minute details of your speech. You should be asking yourself, how you want your audience to feel after your speech?

2. Be yourself

If you’re funny, then be funny but if you’re not, don’t force it. The most engaging speakers inject some humanity into their speech. People respond well, to genuine even humble speakers who focus on the knowledge and not on their personal ego points. Rather than a performance see it as sharing your ideas and experiences to help others.

3. Don’t look for approval focus on contributing

If you focus on I want to be good, then you will stay inwardly focused. Instead, think about helping the audience to see something differently or hear a great piece of advice that helped you along your journey. Instead of thinking ‘I hope they like me‘ focus on ‘did I have an impact?

4. Practice makes perfect

The more you speak the more comfortable you get with speaking. Start with practicing in front of family and friends and then start pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone and putting yourself forward to all available public speaking opportunities. Without practice you’ll never beat the public speaking jitters. The good news is that it won’t take you long to feel comfortable with public speaking if you’re getting enough exposure – you’ll soon start to realise that it’s not all that bad.

5. Video yourself

Write a speech and film yourself delivering it. You will be surprised about how many things you might want to change and how many things you like. Watching yourself helps you to fix, distracting hand movements or long ‘ummms’ whilst you’re on the stage as it increases your self-awareness.



Habits of highly engaging communicators


When a conversation feels like a world of opportunity, instead of a burden, you’re likely speaking to a highly engaging communicator. You could listen to them for hours. The conversation is rewarding and you feel excited the entire time. Why can’t all conversations be like this? Well, they can be for you, if you pay attention to the habits of highly engaging communicators and inject them into your own conversations.

1. They go beyond small talk

They have a twinkle in their eye when you speak to them and you can just tell they are willing to take the conversation to a different place. They go a little deeper than the surface, how deep typically depending on the recipient. The most important point here is that engaging speakers, are not afraid to take conversations outside of the norm and that is what makes them so captivating.

2. They have energy

This is a mix between animation and charisma. It’s often difficult to articulate but when you speak with them you feel energized. They give you ideas, inspiration and will take your mind to new places. They are not overboard, or obnoxious but their gesticulations, make you excited and draw you into their words until you lose track of time.

3. They make it personal

They are not afraid of taking you into their personal life. They don’t play poker, they play honesty with a dash of vulnerability and this makes them incredibly engaging. We are far more likely to relate to people when they share personal stories. We are also more likely to remember these anecdotes because during the story we relate it back to ourselves. It’s an excellent method for leaving a footprint in the mind of your audience.

4. They illustrate why you should care

They don’t just spew their story and expect you to like it, they make a point of illustrating why they are telling you this particular story. They deliver everything with meaning. They give you context and ensure to explain what the point meant for them and what it can mean for you.

5. They ask questions

Conversations are not a one-way street and engaging communicators know this very well. They won’t speak for too long without asking for input from their audience. They don’t want to monopolize the conversation, so they make sure to ask questions. Conversations should be a win/win for all those involved, not a one-man show.

6. They tell stories

The most engaging communicators are also wonderful storytellers. Stories are not only entertaining but they also help to bring context and detail to descriptions that could otherwise feel intangible. They create 3D conversations. You start to attach images to the words you hear and even take yourself into the story. I have written extensively on the value of storytelling here and how to include it in your own communications.

7. They make eye contact

Eye contact builds fire. When someone stares into your eyes, you become more present. It’s no wonder that the most engaging communicators are well versed in the art of eye contact. Not too much, otherwise it’s intrusive but just the right amount of eye contact to make their recipient(s) feel engaged and almost, special. Eye contact demonstrates that the speaker is devoting their full attention to the conversation and usually, they can expect the same in return.


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