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How To Perfect the Art of Persuasion & Influence as a Skill

For entrepreneurs and startup founders, being persuasive is much more vital than having a vision. Immediately, this statement might seem to contradict the countless number of articles that have been written surrounding how startups should be figuring out and nailing down mission and vision statements right away. Again, this may sound a little jarring to hear at first, but let me explain further and it will make sense.

Visionaries

The reality is that visionaries, such as Steve Jobs, have not been extremely successful because they thought of something revolutionary or original overnight. Rather, they were talented at constantly convincing or persuading many people to follow them on their journey to something amazing and original.

In order for startup founders to be successful, they need to cultivate persuasion as an actual skill and make it a daily habit. That is the way they are going to get the venture funding, recruit the talent, and gain the necessary momentum to make their finish goal become a reality.

An eight-year veteran software product leader for Google’s Chrome browser team, Tyler Odean, has mastered the persuasion skill and uses it as a tool, to wrangle massive organizations — engineers, designers, and executives — toward product decisions and developments.

 

He found out how powerful it is, as a software product manager in particular, to have the ability to rally a bunch of his coworkers to his and others’ view points.  As mentioned in the link above, he now gives regular talks on this subject, and how it applies to his new position of directing, relevance, rankings, and search products at Reddit.   

In his talks, he presents the science that has taught his approach, as well as many patterns that developed in his career: how our brains process information, the cognitive biases that shape a person’s reality, and more importantly, how all this information can be used to change other people’s minds.

Read on for persuasive tactics startup founders and entrepreneurs can use to raise money, build great teams and convince the world to love what their products or services build.  

First We Need to Understand How Our Brains Make Decisions  

Analyze 

If we actually analyze what visionaries really succeed at, they instill in us a consistent, confident and coherent plan that makes people feel safe. And we do not necessarily trust them because their vision is perfect, but because there is sense, order, and control wielding it.

They often communicate quite clearly without giving us all of the answers. Elon Musk comes to mind. And what most people think of as a vision is actually persuasion. This feeling that visionaries create can be conveyed by the two-system model for how the brain experiences and receives information in decision making.

System One

System one – is the part of the brain that handles the simplest things: sensory input, automatic, and unimportant decisions (i.e. I’m going to open the door), casual social interactions, and other inbound signals that can be processed rapidly and rather simply.    

System Two 

System two – is the higher order, logical part of the brain. It is the part that thinks at the speed of voice in your head. It brings the processing power to bear on decisions and situations that require much deeper thought.

Now system 1 is involuntary; System 2 is deliberate. System 1 thinks in black and white; System 2 sees many shades of gray.  

If you think about all the things the brain is constantly doing — it’s not just impressive, it’s insane. But people are able to do it because of the part of the brain that they’re aware of. System 2 is constantly outsourcing the bulk of System 1.

You can think of System 2 as a beleaguered, overworked but very smart manager. System 1 is the army of interns that he or she has hired to solve all the easy problems they can delegate — even though they can make mistakes.  

Another way of thinking of System 1 is viewing it as childlike. Just like a six-year-old views everything in terms of cause and effect — and has absolute certainty about the things they know — this part of the brain will either believe something with utmost conviction or not.

There will be nothing in between. System 1 has no time for ideas such as ‘this thing has a 50 percent probability of being true.” That’s reasoning. That’s System 2, and the thing about System 2 is that it is always looking for evidence that something isn’t right or isn’t to be believed. It is a skeptic.  

Now you may be wondering, what does this have to do with making a persuasive argument?  

If you speak to System 2 (i.e. pose or suggest something complex enough that it requires reasoning), you’re asking to be doubted. I am sure that many of us have had a thought while listening to someone ‘I don’t know why you are wrong, but I still do not believe what you are saying.” Well, that is System 2 doing its job.

Persuasion  

To actually persuade someone, you need to speak as much as you can to System 1 — the child, the interns. They want to believe you because, for them, it just makes so much sense: what’s not to trust or love?

The trouble is, most technology people express themselves with complexity, nuance, facts, and figures. That is their default, and it doesn’t appeal to other people’s unconscious processor.

Time and time again, growing up in school and later in professional life, we have learned to build strong, well-reasoned arguments with a lot of evidence. But nobody taught us to talk to System 1 — even though that is what we need to do to actually accomplish things we want to get done.

You Must Harness Biases to Make Your Case    

The next step to becoming a persuasion expert is understanding the biases and shortcuts the human brain automatically makes to cope with the onslaught of information the world throws at us.  Figuring out how to master these shortcuts makes it easier to speak to System 1 more of the time.

There are five cognitive biases that are specifically relevant to the founder’s task of getting customers, investors, and employees on board:

  • Availability

  • Anchoring

  • Representation

  • Coherence

  • Framing.

Let’s dive into how each shows up and how it can be put to use.   

Availability  

Availability bias makes the ideas that come to mind easily seem more true for people. Someone’s brain is first and foremost a threat-detection engine. The more times you see a thing, the more confident you will be that it won’t kill you — because it has not killed you yet, right?

Think of it like this, you are probably okay with the mosquitoes where you live — but go to a foreign country and the insects are scary. We are all more familiar with things we have encountered often in our lives — which includes ideas.   

  • You’re also susceptible to trends.
    As you’re developing your ideas, be aware that you’re probably being influenced to think that familiar, less outlandish concepts are better.

  • Your child will always be beautiful to you.
    (Remember the Seinfeld episode about the breathtaking baby?) You spend more time thinking about your idea and company than anyone else on the planet. So, it’s going to seem like a no-brainer to you — but probably not anyone else without doing some work.   

We all at some point will encounter the smell of BS or nonsense. We must kick or remind ourselves to be suspicious of those situations. This may put you in a predicament where you assume some things or some people are more compliant than they actually are.

One tactic or tool you can use is to find a friend in a totally different industry or milieu that you can call and ask them, “Hey, you don’t spend all day thinking about this. How does it sound to you?” And if they say that it sounds worthless or poorly conceived, don’t immediately assume or jump to a conclusion that they ‘just don’t get it’ (a very common founder fallacy).

You are not going to be successful if people you talk to don’t get it. Don’t stop developing new ways to explain it until they finally they do.

Availability bias   

Now at the same time, you can use availability bias to your advantage by generating as much familiarity with your brand or product as possible. If you make yourself ubiquitous on social media platforms (this could be having influencers share about you, for example), share over email, in the news media, through word of mouth, you’re going to become the no-brainer you want to be.

This does not come without hard work and dedication. It takes a lot of preparation and elbow grease, but creating a sense of familiarity is one of your most effective marketing advantages.   

Anchoring   

When someone is going to make a decision, the first thing a person sees usually becomes a powerful reference point for them. And once it is established, these reference points are difficult to change.

As an example, the first number you throw out when you are talking about pricing your product or the size of your fundraising round will always be the most important number you say. So you better be okay with the direction that number takes you in, think of any Shark Tank episode.  

What is an unknowable value?

This is especially true in seemingly ambiguous scenarios when you are dealing with unknowable values. As an another example, if you are a wine expert aficionado and I tell you that a bottle you are familiar with is worth a million dollars, you will likely respond ‘no, it’s not worth that.’  

But if guessing the valuation of a three-person startup with just a slide deck and an idea in a brand new market, no one has a clue what that’s actually worth at this stage. You have the chance to establish a solid or durable reference point that will give you an edge. Take the time to consider that carefully.  

Comparing values

Anchoring plays an even more significant role when you are comparing values. It can become a limiting factor that you have to acknowledge if you want to move in any given direction. So if you initially throw out a valuation of $10 million, but then you want to move it $15 million, you have to basically convince the potential investor that it’s worth all those values in between individually.

Why is it worth $11 million or $12 million, etc.? The next time you are pitching, make sure you respect your own anchor points when making these arguments.   

Let’s take a simpler and sillier example: there is a good reason why late night hosts (such as Colbert, Fallen, Myers) always start the show with the statement, “We’ve got a really great show tonight!”

Because it makes no difference — you know they are always going to say the same thing, no matter what. As soon as you have thought about whether tonight’s show is great, it’s been anchored in your mind that it is — your outlook on it is already positive, thanks to System 1.  

It doesn’t matter that you know they always say the same thing no matter what. As soon as you’ve contemplated whether tonight’s show is great, it’s been anchored in your mind that it is — your outlook on it is already positive, thanks to System 1.

Representation

After any experience, people develop a representative image or memory of what happened — and they reason off that image. As an example, if a person has an argument with someone, they take away one or a handful of representative images of how that went down. No one gets to choose what sticks, it just happens.  

For startup founders and marketers, this hits on a very important point: people will remember a totally random sample of the information you tell them about what you do. Do not assume that it will be the best sample. It will not be the summary or elevator pitch you wish you could hand them.

It’s often a random set of data. So many entrepreneurs, given the opportunity to get in front of an audience — such as investors or industry reporters — often think they need to say it all.

They think they have to tell a full story about their company or product so it can be well understood in the exact or perfect context you want. People often pack meetings with every selling point they can imagine. But most times, that is actually the worst thing they should do.

The 30-minute session

People are going to remember hardly anything you cram into that hour or 30-minute session. Because they are going to remember random parts, you are going to want to construct a message that — when sampled at any point — will reinforce your argument of pitching and remain persuasive.  

So keep it to the highlight reel and stick to a very short, simple message that you repeat in different ways over and over. When there are fewer things to remember, your audience is more likely to take away and remember what matters.

Another tip is to stick to your strongest points, as well. The way the brain works, even if you have delivered a ton of extremely compelling arguments, one weak one can spoil the whole thing.

For example, let’s think of two hypothetical set of products:

  • The first includes 5 iPhones, one of which is broken.     

  • The second includes 3 iPhones that are in good condition.     

Now, thanks to System 2 of our brains, we all know that the first set is the better choice, and most people will choose it when presented with both options side by side. However, when they are shown one set at a time, they tend to put a higher price on the undamaged set.

Even though they intellectually comprehend the values is the same, they still emotionally respond to the damaged goods. You audience is always creating a representative picture of who you are and what you can do for them. And if you give them an image that involves or contains negative elements — in which anything that is not utterly awesome is negative — that can be more damaging than it should be.

Many startups have the impulse to throw boring or unexciting benefits into their pitches — something like good battery life as a selling point. This can actually distract from what is truly unique and special about your app, product, or service.   

Coherence       

People often want everything to always be the same or consistent. We want smart people to be smart. We want good people to be good. The same goes for ideas. The reason is that humans want predictability and equilibrium so badly in our lives, that we are pretty willing — and eager, even — to believe that things are more consistent than they actually are in reality.

This leads to a few common behavioral concepts:  

  1. Halo effect:
    If you like one part or thing about an idea or object, you will then like other things about it as well. Conversely, if you dislike one thing about it, you will tend to dislike other facets as well. Life is just easier when your feelings on a subject have a consistent valence. Such as a product that was recommended by a friend you love and trust will seem well made. A product that seems well priced will also seem reliable.
      

  2. Confirmation bias:
    Most people would prefer to live in a world in which we are the smart, capable-minded protagonist. It takes effort for us to contemplate or admit our own mistakes or being wrong. We have to burn calories to do it — it’s proven in the lab. As a result, humans always lean towards interpreting new information in a way that confirms or reinforces what they already thought or believed.

Are you wrong — or has new information come to light?

It is much more difficult to persuade someone that they are wrong than to convince them that there is new information that should change their thinking or perspective. So anytime you are trying to convince someone to change their minds, you should always frame it as an opportunity to be right going forward — and not an admission of past error.   

Let’s say you are a product manager or startup founder trying to get a team to ship faster. There is little point in arguing that they should have shipped a product code update last week. You should only talk about when and how they can ship things within a quicker period in the future, based on the information you have today. This is the only conversation worth having to get people to see your point of view.

Framing

People are often incapable of reasoning about the world in the absolutes.

We usually default to the next best thing: comparative reasoning. Framing determines what choice will be seen as normal or default.  An easy way to think about this is imagining you have three cups of water — one cold, one hot, and one that is room temperature.

If you dip your finger in the room temp water after the hot water, it will feel cold. If you do the same after the cold water, it will feel warm.     

To make whatever you are offering appeal to a human being, be aware that any information you put out there will be consumed or viewed through a comparative lens.

And if you do not specifically tell your audience which comparisons to make, they will make them on their own. And these automatic comparisons will probably not be as flattering as the ones you would have chosen for them.    

The Tactics    

Cognitive biases create our reality. The best we can do is accommodate and lean into them — as we will not be able to escape them. This can be good news if you know how to turn them to your advantage, in being convincing or persuasive.

Let us go over 7 actionable tactics for leveraging the inevitable mental shortcuts people make to create messages that speak directly to System 1 — messages that are quite easy to agree with and act on as well.  

Keep it simple.  

This saying may sound incredibly obvious and not very original. Humans vastly underestimate exactly how simple they need to be. It’s quite often one of the biggest areas where mistakes are made. I am not talking about a short paragraph or even single syllable words, nor a question either. The most people can process without consulting System 2 is a very short, declarative phrase using the simplest words possible.   

As an example say you are building a slide pitch deck to convince an audience of something.  Anytime you have included a bulleted list or paragraph of text, or maybe even a graph without a very clear, obvious explanation, you have already lost their attention.

In any of those scenarios, System 2 has switched on and is already doubting the information it’s being given.

It’s better to stick with a few words that viewers can consume and understand before they even make the choice to. By using short declarative sentences on the slides behind you will repeat over and over again in your audience’s mind while they are listening to you talk. ‘We are growing fast, we need more capital to continue scaling. With that money, we will do X’  

Ultimately you want your message to sound and feel like a ‘See Spot Run’ story. The words you pick should feel intuitive, nearing the point of being almost too basic. That’s the level that’s going to speak emotionally to your audience.

It’s very important to keep in mind, you may spend all day steeped in your own business plan.

Understand, however, that the people that you are trying to convince of your plan do not. Try to avoid rapidly shifting between different parts of your story and expect people to always follow you. Too many startup pitches go back and forth between growth and revenue plans. Try to avoid this.

You want your story to build one block at a time. You should focus on repeating whatever it is that you really want to have stick in people’s minds. At the end of a meeting, an audience member’s brain will be randomly sampling recent moments, subconsciously trying to remember what you’ve just shared.

It’s often the very simple, declarative points that will stick out because they encountered them more often and immediately understood and agreed with them in their heads. It’s like the chorus of a song — very few of us remember many the words to verses, but we can usually remember the chorus.    

Make your solution or plan vivid & easy to visualize.    

While startup founders need to keep their own availability bias in check, they also need to factor in and incorporate into others’ availability bias to be persuasive. Just as people are set up to favor things that feel familiar, they also have a strong tendency to favor what they can fully visualize.    

For example, if someone were to offer $100 verbally to be paid immediately or hand you a white envelope containing five brand new $20 dollar bills, the second offer would seem better because you can picture it really completely. People gravitate towards this type of specificity, even when it’s not logical. This is a powerful bias and tool for persuasion.   

A lot people know this example, but it further cements the point. Let’s say I described a woman who loves folk or hippy music and was active in Vietnam or nuclear protest movement decades ago back in college. Then I asked you whether she was more likely to have become a lawyer or a feminist lawyer, most people would probably answer, ‘feminist lawyer’ because it seems most in line with the rest of the story.  

Obviously, there are no feminist lawyers who are not lawyers. By definition, ‘feminist lawyer’ is a narrower category — which makes it less likely that it’s the right answer. 

By adding descriptive detail to a scenario, you make it statistically less likely — but you make the picture clearer so it seems more likely — by making the picture clearer, it seems more likely.   

So, when you are presenting your company or product to key stakeholders, paint a picture.   

Don’t just say have a lot of users. Describe Mike the CTO from a mid-market printing firm in Michigan and how he loves using your product between meetings and because it saves him so much time.

And you could literally show a picture of him smiling as he uses your product. Now for any success, you are seeking to convey, make sure that your description is underscored with a specific image — and not left as an abstract concept.   

Ruin surprises on purpose.

Now System 1 of your brain hates surprises. It freaks out really easily, which it usually summons System 2 to the rescue, which can only say, ‘I’m not freaked out.’ System 2 is never going to have a more positive reaction than System 1 will.  

Every time you surprise someone, you risk making them suspicious. Even when they don’t become suspicious of you, they will still be a bit less comfortable with you and what you are telling them than they were before.

Obviously, when you are first pitching an idea to someone, there is no way around a bit of surprise. But you can try to ease them into it. One thing I recommend that you do, in a presentation or talk when you are going to share something new, say, ‘in the course of this presentation, I plan to show you X’ before actually showing them anything.   

Another way to reduce surprises is to tell your audience that someone or a company they already know and respect — or simply identify with — already use your product, or is client or partner of you.   

Humans so desperately want to seem normal and do what seems normal, so the more you can mainstream an outlandish or brand new product or idea, the better it should be perceived.  

The shopping cart.

When Sylvan Goldman (shopping cart inventor) first introduced the shopping cart to his grocery store in 1937, he paid models to push them around and pretend to shop. People saw this, and even though their first thought may have been, that’s weird. Why would anyone need that when they have baskets?  By using the models for demonstration, they made it look normal — attractive people were willing to try it.

Comparing this product breakthrough to now, it may seem hard to square with a technology-infused world that is all about game-changing innovations and dramatic product unveilings. You must remember, there is a difference between persuasion and generating buzz or excitement.

There is persuasion and there is hype. If you actually want someone to buy into what you are saying or offering — and you do not have the massive credibility of let’s say Apple — then you want to take as much surprise out of it as you can.    

Make it easy to agree.

Trolly problems understood.

Trolley problems’ help us understand the way people make decisions. In the context of one of these problems, there is a runaway trolley and you — as the pretend track switcher — have to decide and ethically rationalize who it should hit, given multiple choices.    

For example, let’s say that a trolley can go in one of two directions, and there is a set of people in its way on each track you could choose. If I tell you the trolley is headed to the left, you will probably let it keep going that way. The same logic could be said if I told you it was headed to the right.      

The thing about this exercise is that most people choose not to take actions because people are very loss averse. It’s natural to want to minimize regret, and we tend to ascribe more regret to acting rather than failing to act. This is because failing to act doesn’t truly or really feel like it was our fault.

Anticipate this instinct.   

If you’re trying to be persuasive, you can anticipate this instinct. If you desire a particular outcome, make sure that your stakeholders need to take action to achieve a different one. “Always, always, always phrase what you want to have occur as the thing that will happen if nobody does anything.”

If you send an email to your team asking, ‘should we ship the new widget?’ you are putting the onus of the action on them. They now have to proactively say yes.  But instead, if you phrase your email to say something like, ‘We are going to ship the new widget. Any objections?’

The default will be to do what you want. The onus of the action is on the employees who want to object or push back and you adjust it to be cognitively harder for them. This may sound like a small thing, but it works almost every time, try it for yourself.     

Setting their reference point.

Most people hate losses much more than they like gains. But people do not always evaluate losses and gains relative to what they have — rather they evaluate them relative to what they feel like they have.

Think of it like this, if you were convinced you were going to get a promotion or bonus, and it falls through, you might experience that as a loss, even though – technically speaking — you didn’t lose anything. You just didn’t gain anything.

Adjust the reference point. 

When you need or want to persuade someone, you can purposefully adjust their reference point — alter what they feel like they already have locked in — to get them to do what you want. If you talk as if something is already true, and you do so simply, continuously, and in a way that is easy to visualize — people will start to feel like it is true.    

Common in sales pitches.

Rather than telling the customer to buy something, the salesperson or advertising campaign tells them that their time is running out to purchase. They, therefore, have the opportunity to buy now in hand, and if they don’t they might lose out if they don’t act.

This is why brands always push or incentivize a person to try clothes on or test drive a car. Because once people start contemplating their ownership and can picture it in action, that is their mental reference point. You are trying to change the framework to: they will suffer a loss if they decide not to buy.      

Another example, imagine talking to a potential job candidate whom you want for your team, who is deciding whether to join your startup. You should start speaking to them as if they have already made the decision to join.

Say something like, ‘you will have this much equity, and this will be your desk, and these people will be on your team. You should start using the collective first person — ‘We have this opportunity ahead of us’ or ‘We can solve this problem together.’

Speaking this way can make it sound like they already have something concrete — and they will have to willingly give up all of those things by turning down your offer. People don’t like to give things up if they can help it.    

Control how you are compared.        

There are many different ways to control how you present information about your company, but the most crucial one is to curate how it’s compared to other options in your industry. You cannot stop your target audience from researching and comparing you to your competition. What you can and should do, though, is to take steps to ensure those comparisons put you in the best light.

Your presentation can control how salient and dominant those comparisons are. As an example, if you put two products or service offerings next to each other in your slide deck, that comparison will be dramatic. If you put one at the beginning and one at the end, that comparison will be much weaker.

If you make a comparison really explicit — you show value A, value B, and the delta — then people will remember that difference. If you know you’re the better option, you might want to make the comparison quite stark. However, if you are nervous about the comparison, you will want to mention the downsides of your competitor separately without putting it right next to your offering for easy comparison.    

Job candidates are always comparison shopping, so this exercise is particularly applicable in this scenario. The most useful comparisons you can make are to something or a company that’s very similar to yours but slightly worse in some aspect.

The similarity makes it easy to draw the comparison, but in a way that flattering to you. Similarly, with their products, many software companies will make competitor comparison ‘X vs Y’  landing pages on their products such as VWO does with Optimizely.  Which they use to bid ads on the competitor’s branded name search to try to get customers to switch.  

Options

Let’s say that someone has three product options — A, B and another version of A that is a little bit inferior. It is then much easier to simplify the choice by immediately discarding the weaker, inferior version of A. At the same time, A starts looking a lot better.

So, now they have swayed their decision between A and B in A’s favor, even though nothing about their A or B changed. It might be useful for you to insert a slightly weaker version of your product or argument into a comparison to push it in your direction.        

Then there is pricing — where comparison becomes a powerful marketing tool. Many tech companies will offer tiered for software: individual, small business and enterprise level packages. And a lot of companies make the mistake of thinking they have to sell each one of these packages. You don’t. Sometimes the purpose of offering a package should be just to force favorable comparison for a more expensive package.

How to change the perception.  

You can make something seem bigger or smaller, or more or less likely, or more or less risky — all based on what you place next to it. So remember, when you want a fact or figure to be more memorable, for example — or to seem more likely — make it easier to visualize. Conversely, for anything you are trying to downplay, make it vaguer and repeat it less often.     

A classic example is that if you want a figure to seem large — use the phrasing: 1 in 5 or 1 in 150. If you want a figure to seem small, use a percentage. When you say, ‘1 in 1,000 people are affected,’ your audience pictures a real person.

When you say, ‘0.1 percent of people are affected,’ the automatic response is to think, ‘Well, that does not sound like a huge number.’ If your mandate is to raise venture capital to fight a disease that impacts people, you would go with the former.       

Coax — don’t demand — people to your viewpoint.

Hollywood movie persuasion is not the same as persuasion in real life! Don’t try to copy what you see on screen in a movie. We have all seen some narrative or version of a hero delivering a relatively long, moving, fluid speech to move the minds and emotions of the people around them.

It often appears as though a single argument shown in a single moment has radical change on how the people feel. It’s like suddenly everyone wants to battle the aliens, or agrees the enemy is not so tough. In real life, this is not how the brain works.    

In fact, if someone tried to do this in real life, you would probably get defensive and close yourself off. You would probably think, ‘Why are giving me this speech? I have got my knife or gun, and I am going to defend myself and fight no matter what you say.’

The grand oratory–humpf–forget it!

So let’s forget about the notions of grand oratory persuading your audience to do what you want. It’s more useful to instead think about how you can work with your team, or board members, or job prospects, to gradually move toward your viewpoint over time.   

When a person attempts to change your mind immediately, you often raise your guard. You feel like they are trying to rob you of your own agency with a clever pitch. You feel like they are telling you that you are wrong. It’s like when a salesperson seems too polished, that it makes us feel suspicious and untrusting of them for this reason.  Your mind says, ‘how dare you try and change the way I feel about something in such a short period of time?’

Now with that being said, there are a few tactics or ways to implement more successful, smoother persuasion. 

If you are planning to use a slide deck to make your pitch, send it to your audience early. Doing this will serve a dual purpose:

  1. It ensures that your slide deck is designed professional enough that it can stand on its own. Keep in mind, this is an important test you will want to pass.

  2. It takes away the element of surprise and keeps you from making an overly dramatic reveal or appeal.

Too many people believe they have to be there in person whenever some reads or looks at their slide deck. They have a vision that their skill or speaking abilities will be so overwhelmingly moving that it will win or change minds on its own — which, if it were true, would probably be disadvantageous. Whatever you managed to push them into believing wouldn’t stick with them the way you need it to — the way it sticks is when they are willing to buy in and make the conscious decision to actually believe you.    

Conclusion and takeaways

The art of persuasion is a multi-faceted endeavor that requires you to think holistically and proactively about how you are crafting and building an argument. Hopefully, the strategies and tools listed above will give you all the levers you need to do just that. You can consider using a checklist whenever you have a pitch, are about to close a funding or seeking a new candidate for a job.  Are you taking all these elements into account?

For extra due diligence, ask yourself these five gut check questions before you launch any new products, do a major rebranding or pitch investors:   

1) Where would my pitch confuse or trip up a child?     

Now obviously I am not suggesting that you should be treating potential investors or new job candidates like children. But the aim or goal is always to appeal to System 1 — the childlike part of the brain. So ask yourself whether there is anything about your main argument and furthermore of how you are conveying it, that an 8-year-old would not understand or believe.  

If there is, then the odds are good that you will awaken your adult audience’s System 2, and you will have to work much harder to alleviate their doubt.   

2) What is the one thing I want my audience to remember?  Is it also the important thing in my argument, message, or pitch?   

Basically, you want everything to be as prominent as it is noteworthy for people to remember. Increase or decrease prominence using repetition (or not), simple and vivid statements (or not). Prominence and importance must align and match.    

3) What words or sentences can I cut from my pitch?      

Sometimes making a point prominently isn’t about more — it can be about less. Try to cut out literally every word you possibly can from every message you send. This can be viewed in the most neurotic, thorough way. No word is too small to cut. Modifiers are not always necessary.  

Give the brain as little as possible to process. Because if the argument you are trying to make is even slightly too dense, System 2 will be called in comprehend it, and System 1 won’t even have a chance to accept what you are saying.

4) Is my preferred outcome the default?

Try to keep in mind that people usually ascribe more regret to acting compared to failing to act. Take advantage of that human quality. Moving a team toward a goal can be as simple as phrasing a question in a way where no action or no response actually helps everyone make progress.

5) Is there anything I can do to increase people’s familiarity with my ideas beforehand?

Although it may not always be possible, you should ask yourself, ‘Who are the people I need to have to agree with me?’ And, ‘Is there a way to meet with them before I need to sell them or pitch them something?’ Perhaps an email can accomplish this, or a chat with someone they know and trust.

You want to be able to speak to your audience’s availability biases. Figure out what they care about, and gradually show them that you are smart, trustworthy, and you value the same things before you ask for something.

Resist the urge to downplay.   

Lastly, try to resist the urge to downplay the impact of cognitive biases. Once you understand they start to feel like common sense. You may be thinking that it is impossible to use relatively simple tricks on extremely intelligent people (such as Silicon Valley VC’s or engineers) you are trying to hire or get them to invest in you. It doesn’t even matter if they know about the biases themselves.      

I cannot explain to a person how an optical illusion works — but they can still see it.   

You must remember that people are not computers, yet.  Even if the person you are trying to convince already understands the ways in which biases can be leveraged to influence them, they are certainly not immune. The most important thing to know about cognitive biases is that they are applicable to everyone — without exception.    

Jeremy Webb Blog | Startup Grind https://www.startupgrind.com/blog/how-to-perfect-the-art-of-persuasion-influence-as-a-skill/

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Jeremy Webb

Chief technologi.st & Adventurer about.me/jeremy.webb

Jeremy WebbHow To Perfect the Art of Persuasion & Influence as a Skill

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