Tag Archives: persuasion

Data Display of the Day: How to Sell Without Selling

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In my class, Professional Communication and Presentation, my students and I devote a significant portion of time to persuasion and selling. From my perspective, every presentation is persuasive. Even when the on paper purpose is to inform–quarterly report, update, process, lesson–there is an underlying current of persuasion that cannot be ignored. Even if a presenter is informing an audience on how to complete a process or how to engage in a process, he or she is really persuading the audience that his or her approach to completing that process is viable, worthy, or preferable to another method. In addition, every presenter must persuade the audience that he or she is credible and worth listening to. So, it naturally follows that learning more about persuading and about one of its most prevalent types, selling, can help each presenter grow his or her skills. Selling today (just like persuading) involves more finesse, innovation, and a knack for visualization than in the past. Most consumers today see right through infomercials and are much more drawn to subtler forms of persuasion–advertisers know this and continue to adapt. Presenters too must adapt to our new world of communication and content interaction. Today’s infographic, brought to you by Daily Infographic, discusses the subject of passive persuasion, or selling without selling. There are a few key ideas in this infographic we can apply to persuasive presenting:

1. People buy into ideas that appeal to their needs

According to today’s infographic, people buy products for a variety of reasons. Each of these coordinates with one of Maslow’s needs (physiological-basic needs, safety-replacement or value, belonging-urgency/scarcity, esteem-name recognition, self-actualization-a good cause), which is a good starting point for tailoring a message to a particular audience. What is interesting about the reasons people buy products is how readily we are driven by higher-level needs like name recognition. By purchasing an Apple product for instance, a consumer becomes part of one of Seth Godin’s “tribes,” a group of others whose values align around a brand. Harnessing Maslow’s needs when crafting a persuasive message taps into the very reasons audiences make the choices they do–WIIFM or “What’s In It For Me”.

2. People buy into well-designed products

A well-designed product is appealing–from color and form to function, usability, and novelty, user-focused design can truly make the difference between a product that thrives and one that fails. The same goes for slide decks. If 85% of consumers say that color is the main reason why they choose a product, and 93% of consumers are concerned with visual appearance, then it’s clear that design is king. David McCandless, of Information is Beautiful, provides a bit of insight into why visualizations are so useful in disseminating information. Our vision is our primary sense, and we are bombarded by an incredible amount of information each day, most of it visual (Source). By harnessing the power of design, we can speak to audiences in two languages–the language of the eye (visuals) and the language of the mind (text, numbers).

3. People buy into products that use surprise and unexpectedness

The final lesson we can draw from today’s infographic is that surprise and unexpectedness draws audience’s in and sets the conditions for persuasion. Chip and Dan Heath codified the formula for ideas that stick in Made to Stick. One of their primary modes of crafting sticky ideas is unexpectedness. When the brain encounters something incongruous, something that does not adhere to the schemas or cognitive patterns already in place, it cannot help but want to find a solution. This is why mysteries and thrillers are so popular–they break a schema and then through careful construction, create a new way of thinking.


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Are your communication habits killing your credibility?

In studying the three modes of persuasion, ethos or credibility, pathos or emotion, and logos or logic and evidence, we learn that strong persuasion is about creating a balance between these three essentials to effective rhetoric, the art of persuading others.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

Rhetoric is a balance of three modes. Think of it as an equilateral triangle.

While the dominant mode may change depending on the speaking context, and while many disagree on which mode of persuasion is truly the most important, it cannot be denied that an imbalance between these three can negatively affect your audience’s reception of your message. Too much pathos and the audience may feel manipulated, too much logos and the audience is disconnected from the humanity of the topic. What happens when we don’t tend to ethos or credibility though?

According to the article “8 Conversational Habits that Kill Credibility” by Geoffrey James, credibility often comes down not to dress or decorum but language (also definitely the realm of logos and pathos). What we say can either show we are credible, trustworthy, and have the audience’s best interest in mind, or leave our audience feeling we are biased, pompous, or untrustworthy. So, what are the 8 habits you need to avoid to build strong credibility?

1. Avoid Shop Talk

Jargon may make you feel better and you’ll assume your audience sees you as a knowledgable fount of information and wisdom, your audience is over business speak. A colleague recently expressed his disgust at the word “followship” used as a replacement for “leadership”. Why do we need to redefine leadership as anything but what it is?

2. Avoid Overused “Truisms”

The cliche “don’t count your chickens before they hatch” was awesome…100 years ago. Now, it’s an instant sign to your audience that they should stop listening to you because you are out of touch at best or lazy at worst.

3. Avoid Fancy Language

Verbose diatribes infrequently engage participatory assemblages… in other words, the bigger the words you use, the less likely that your audience will listen to or retain your message. Keep it simple!

4. Avoid Verbal Fillers

Non-fluencies like “um” or “uh” can be difficult to filter out, particularly because they are part of our conversational structure, so from my perspective a random uh or um won’t necessarily kill your credibility. However, when they become so frequent that they are noticeable or when those fillers include words such as “like” or “basically”, they communicate to your audience that you are not confident in your message or ideas.

5. Avoid Statements as Questions

James calls these “upticks”. When one raises the pitch at the end of what should be a statement and phrases it instead as a question. This one is a subtle credibility killer. The raising of your voice can communicate a lack of confidence in your ideas and message. Much of our credibility comes from an ability to phrase ideas assertively and with confidence.

6. Avoid Doublespeak

The term doublespeak was first introduced in George Orwell’s 1984. Doublespeak is language that deliberately seeks to distort and confuse meaning. The purpose is to often make difficult truths more palatable (aka, lying by omission). James refers to these as weasel words–no one trusts a weasel. One of the biggest challenges of strong persuasion is presenting ideas as they are, no matter how ugly or difficult.

7. Avoid Blaming your Audience

Placing blame on the audience by way of a “fake apology” (I’m sorry you didn’t get the point) is disingenuous . It also shows a lack of empathy for your audience, a definite necessity of a credible speaker.

8. Avoid Useless Information

Often times, when we don’t know what we are talking about, we rely on information overload–a barrage of mostly useless (to the audience) information that works to actually increase anxiety in most speakers. Focus on audience relevance and audience centeredness to ensure your information is useful.

What is your biggest credibility pet peeve? Take the poll and compare your results to other readers. 

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Content Development: Generating Good Ideas

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Weeks 3 and 4 of the campus iteration of Professional Communication and Presentation are all about persuasion. Over the course of two weeks, students brainstorm and develop a persuasive topic; they then organize it using the Ignite model of presenting; the culmination of this process is the students delivering the presentation for their classmates.  We begin our discussion of persuasion by talking about the importance of thorough idea generation and idea creation.

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The core of a strong persuasive message is a unique and bold approach to a topic. Audiences by now have heard it all–especially in the speech class environment, where teachers often provide students with a list of generic, sterile, and over done topics like gun control and going green. So, instead of saying yes to the first “I want to save the world” idea a student pitches, we take students through a brainstorming exercise meant to help them hone their ideas down and really land on that once in a lifetime topic. The ultimate goal is to end the session with a clear big idea.

Before we get there, we talk about not only where good ideas come from but also what makes a big idea strong…

Coming up with a topic that is personal, unexpected, narrow enough for a five minute speech, and defendable through logic and reasoning is a difficult task, particularly in our “first draft culture” (Source). In Resonate, the course textbook, student learn that “the first, most obvious idea generated” is usually not the best one (Source).

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According to Duarte, it takes three or four rounds of idea generation (using convergent and divergent thinking) to land on that best choice.

So, in class, the brainstorming process involves both collecting ideas from as many relevant sources (what Duarte refers to as mining for gold) and creating new ideas (which requires us to move out of the head and into the gut). At this phase, a presenter’s best friend is sticky notes or paper. The goal, as Alex Rister puts it, is to “dig out your topic.”

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So, what makes for a great idea? In the “Choosing an Ignite Topic” infographic, I refer to an excellent brainstorming article by Andrew Dlugan, curator of public speaking blog, Six Minutes. Dlugan believes that the perfect topic is a blend of what you know, what you love, and ideally, what’s relevant or important to your audience.  I used to say, well, you can do well with two, but after four and a half years of watching PechaKuchas and Ignites, it’s become clear that all three are necessary for a topic to succeed.

A great big idea is also something unique and novel. Often, we land on the speech topic website topic because it seems like it makes sense to us, it’s the most logical and rational. However, this is not necessarily where great ideas come from (or not the only place). In Resonate, Duarte includes a wonderful description of Randy Olson’s Four Organs of Communication, which can help explain not only what appeals best to our audience but also where a great idea can come from.

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Duarte explains why working from the lower regions, where emotion rules, can actually break a cycle of conditioning in most presenters:

People are more conditioned to generate content from their heads, because institutions encourage and reward employees who spend most of their time in their analytical region (head), so most people avoid the emotional region (heart, gut, and groin).  (Source)

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Once a presenter hones their topic down to a topic that blends all of these characteristics, it’s time to develop a big idea. The big idea is the core of a presentation; a presenter cannot determine what emotions, reasonings, and values he or she needs to appeal to without that big idea. Next time, I’ll cover how to turn that awesome topic into a solid big idea for a persuasive presentation.

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Links of the Day: One superteacher’s story and pitch decks

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It has certainly been a while, readers! I can admit, I’ve been sucked into some professional and personal adjustments/changes that have created a mountain of excuses and pushed blogging further down on the list, but I realized today, hey, you know what I DO have time to blog. No excuse! So, today, I bring you two excellent links. The first comes from a current student who is preparing his first discussion in this month’s Professional Communication and Presentation class. The student’s task is to analyze a TED talk’s content. One question asks students to look at what research the speaker uses or cites. The student had a very relevant and valid question. What if your TED talk doesn’t really reference research? In class, we discuss the importance of creating a balance between fact and emotion. This balance, according to Nancy Duarte, is “alluring”, but imbalance can hurt a speaker’s credibility (Source).

He then shared Pearl Arredondo’s inspiring TED Education talk with me. Arredondo grew up the daughter of a gang member and was written off by many teachers as a problem student. Years later, she became a teacher herself and realized that fighting the battle to improve education wouldn’t happen unless she and her community took education into their own hands. She started a middle school devoted to empowering students to excel as technology and thought leaders in the 21st century. Arredondo’s talk is inspiring as a teacher who believes it’s up to us to reform education from the ground up. It’s also a wonderful example of a presentation that uses storytelling structure to communicate a persuasive message. It also manages to remain alluring in it’s balance of emotion and fact, using the story of one student turned teacher to put this situation into the bigger context of educational reform. Check out the talk below:

The second link of the day comes from Script Magazine by way of super writing center coordinator, Nicole Chapman. Nicole is currently pursuing her Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and shares this excellent article on the importance of a clean and well-designed set of visuals to accompany a pitch aka a pitch deck. Author Martin Shapiro believes scriptwriters can take a cue from start ups pitching to a vc. In addition to being “able to talk intelligibly about the business aspects of movie marketing and distribution”, scriptwriters should be able to create a set of slides to accompany the story/tone/approach of the script. Click on the sample slide from Shapiro’s pitch for a film adaptation of the series Chopper:

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Rhetoric Lessons from TED

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The three cornerstones of public speaking, credibility, emotion, and logic, have been drilled into countless students of both written and oratory rhetoric. This is done with good reason. Aristotle, a man whose insights permeate philosophy, literature, and the arts, knew his stuff. He codified the very science and art of persuasion, while also engaging in one of the first forms of psychological analysis of the human mind’s response to the rhetorical appeals. Aristotle brings light to three important aspects of the human psyche; these directly relate to a speaker’s ability to most effectively persuade a given audience in a specific situation:

We trust speakers who we judge as credible, and trust is a relative term based on a series of variables. This is ethos.

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We demand sound, unbiased, and clear evidence placed into a logical organization and pattern. This is logos.

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We are only persuaded when we are led to feel something, to perceive the problem emotionally. This is pathos.

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Earlier this week, Alex Rister of Creating Communication shared this excellent video with her readers that helps further explain just how important each of these are in our age of information overload.  Conor Neill, the creator of this excellent new TED-ED resource, asserts that it’s the balance and interplay between all three of these areas that leads to true persuasion.

Rhetoric in Action

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Susan Cain Photo Credit: jurvetson via Compfight cc; Jill Bolte Taylor Photo Credit: cr8it via Compfight cc; Amy Cuddy Photo Credit: poptech via Compfight cc

One way to tap into the power of rhetoric is to study how great speakers apply the three appeals, ethos, pathos, and logos. Let’s take a look at how three TED presenters put rhetorical theory into practice in their presentations.

Susan Cain’s “The Power of Introverts”: Improve ethos through shared experience

Cain does a masterful job of developing her ethos, which is a blend of trustworthiness, similarity, reputation, and authority (Dlugan 2010), by drawing on personal stories–her experience being an introvert at “ROWDIE” camp, her choice to write a book and her determination to share her suitcase of ideas with the world. These personal stories build her reputation and authority. But, what really lends her complete credibility is her use of similarity. Cain connects her stories to our shared experiences, our culture of character, our culture of personality, our workplaces, our schools. She draws from the world’s most respected introverts, Abraham Lincoln, Ghandi, in describing the power of introverts. Cain places all of her audience in the problem her big idea helps to solve–we have big problems in the world; we need to value the power of introspection, solitude, and self-reflection on the human experience.

Jill Bolte Taylor’s “A Stroke of Insight”: Improve pathos by showing you care

Bolte Taylor’s talk was one of the first I watched and one of the first I shared with my students. Reception to this talk is always mixed–some students completely dig Taylor’s big idea–that we can choose to step into a right-hemisphere state of mind where we view ourselves as part of a collective universal being. Other students find Taylor’s message to be too “touchy-feely.” Regardless of reception, one cannot help but be impacted by Taylor’s delivery. As a neuroanatomist, we expect Taylor to be cold, detached, scientific. This perception is reinforced by her matter of fact explanation of the human brain while holding an actual human brain. But, Bolte Taylor jarrs the audience’s perceptions by channeling the power of pathos. The experience of having a stroke is conveyed through emotive and physical storytelling. Taylor weaves in beautiful metaphors and invites her audience to experience the stroke that led her to her shareable idea. It’s her willingness to let the audience see her vulnerability, her acceptance of death, her realization that life is not really about me but about we that leads to true persuasion.

Amy Cuddy, “Body language”: Improve logos by visualizing evidence

The content of Cuddy’s TED talk on body language is useful in considering the impact what we do not say when we present can have on an audience’s perceptions and their willingness to accept a message. But, when we move beyond content to analyze the structure and delivery of this message, an important lesson about how to integrate examples and evidence emerges. Cuddy sets the tone for the presentation by calling attention to the body, by asking her audience to become aware of their bodies. Immediately, the audience is put into the mindframe of the presentation’s big idea–that body language does more than just reflect mood; body language can change and shape our minds and in turn our behavior. She then tells the story that led to this big idea, interweaving testimony, examples, and case studies paired with video, images, and simple data display. As a viewer, I found myself hypersensitive to my posture and body language for the duration of the speech: I mimicked the power poses; I recalled the many times I’d noticed myself and others displaying the non-verbal behavior Cuddy describes and displays. Cuddy’s rich examples bring her logic to life and help her achieve her goal–to persuade her audience to “fake it til you become it”, to use body language as a means for personal growth and change.

Note that these speakers all used the three appeals together. Rhetorical appeals do not exist in a vacuum; they work with each other. I like to think of a strong argument as the Starship Enterprise–Star Trek the series and the Enterprise as a ship work because of the interplay between Spock (logos), McCoy (ethos), and Kirk (pathos). Without these three, the Enterprise crew cannot function; without these three, there would be no Trek. Tap into the three rhetorical appeals and bring your big idea to life in a way that will truly move your audience to action.

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Calling your Audience Types to Action

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Last week, I discussed the importance of audience segmentation as a means of persuading the members of your audience to take on your big idea. This week, I want to explore how you can use the research you gleaned during audience segmentation to call your audience types to action. A great presentation ends with a strong call to action–your audience cannot take your idea and spread your message without a clear sense of what you want them to do. In this segment, I’ll be referring to one of my favorite TED talks, LZ Granderson’s “The Myth of the Gay Agenda,” so make sure to watch the talk before moving on!

In the Harvard Business Review’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations, Nancy Duarte identifies four types of audiences to leverage in your call to action: Doers, Suppliers, Influencers, and Innovators. 

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Each subgroup in your audience has a different role in supporting your message and helping your idea come to life. Duarte’s suggestion is to focus on one call to action, but one that can incorporate the skills of each of the four groups.

What appeals to each group?

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Doers are the worker bees (Duarte 2012) in the audience. Give them workable solutions and clear steps to follow.

For doers, it’s all about a specific action. Doers are the people in your audience who are best able to spread your idea via a specific and actionable task. In Granderson’s talk he outlines specific actions his audience can take in correcting the problem of inequality for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered citizens. At one point in the talk, Granderson displays a map of the United States developed by the Human Rights Campaign showing that it is legal for someone to be fired for their sexual orientation in 29 states. He asks the audience to focus on their state of Michigan, which is not shaded. He repeats this imagery several times. Our actionable point for doers–change those unshaded areas by following the super secret gay agenda aka the Constitution of the United States.

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Whether vegetarian or omnivore, cows were and are my favorite suppliers–a girl cannot live without fromage. The suppliers in your audience have a wealth of resources available. Don’t exploit them or think only in terms of tangible resources.

Suppliers, the folks with the goods and resources to propel your message forward, want to know what tangible resources you need to succeed. Granderson doesn’t ask the suppliers for money or material goods (remember, there is no selling at TED); instead, he asks his audience to donate time, effort, and respect to the cause of catching America up to the Constitution.

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Just as a strong flock follows a strong leader, others are led to take on your idea by the influencers in your audience. Change the influencer’s perception via your call to action by spinning a new perspective on an already existing problem.

Influencers help change the perceptions of others. Their status as leaders helps them mobilize others to your cause. If you can inspire an influencer, you’ve made a cheerleader for life.

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Chimpanzees have the amazing ability, like other animals, to use tools to better the daily processes of their lives.  Innovators are persuaded by the ingenious applicability of your big idea. Harness that in your closing.

Innovators are those who can use their already existing abilities to help you grow your idea (perhaps saving it, improving it, or enriching it). Innovators thrive when the call to action gives them a problem to solve through big ideas.

Granderson is in a room full of influencers and innovators–TEDsters are leaders in their industries and communities–they belong to an organization whose mission is to spread ideas. The majority of Granderson’s talk, it seems to me, is for these two final groups. He asks the audience to recall the past–when entire groups of people were treated based on what they were, not who they were, when our country systematically denied unalienable rights to its citizens for no justifiable reason. He juxtaposes the solutions we found to those problems with the problem still alive today–discrimination based on sexual orientation–and leaves his innovators and influencers with a simple message:

So when you hear the words “gay lifestyle” and “gay agenda” in the future, I encourage you to do two things: One, remember the U.S. Constitution, and then two, if you wouldn’t mind looking to your left, please. Look to your right. That person next to you is a brother, is a sister. And they should be treated with love and respect. Thank you. (Source)

By blending in actionable elements into your closing that appeal to each of these four groups–those who will work with you, those who will help supply you with needed tools, those who will influence others to join your cause, and those who will help you evolve your idea to further awesomeness–you can help motivate your entire audience to action.

Typefaces used: Edmondsans (James T. Edmondson) and Bebas Neue (Dharma Type)

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The Rhetoric of Presentation Design: Pathos

Image: HikingArtist.com

Aristotle said that “[There is persuasion] through the hearers when they are led to feel emotion [pathos] by the speech.” Pathos is the art of isolating relevant emotions, determining what causes those emotions, and eliminating competing or detrimental emotions. The human spectrum of emotion is complex, and one’s emotional timbre regarding a topic can be difficult to convey to others.

Interesting design take on Plutchnik's wheel. The different colored lights and their placement indicates a particular relationship and as such a particular emotion. This is an awesome example of proximity and its role in the conveyance of emotion and relationships.

So, while speakers respond to credible, knowledgeable speakers, it is inspiration and heart that motivates one to act. It is effective emotion that helps cross the divide between agreement and action. So, how can you utilize your slides to help you establish, develop, and maintain your pathos?

1. Use the picture superiority effect to maximize an image’s impact.

Contextualize this statistic from the U.S. Energy Information Administration by pairing it with a visual that speaks for itself.

Image: Locace

2. Use visuals to surprise your audience.

This is one of my favorite visualizations by David McCandless. Break down your audience's expectations and use simple visuals to reveal hidden truths and patterns.

Image: Information is Beautiful

3. Use familiar images to appeal to a shared value.

Image: ~MVI~ (acquainting with durban)

4. Use video to bring emotion to life.

I positively love sharing this video with my class when we discuss the impact a short story can have on our perceptions of an idea. Embedding creative commons videos into your slides is easy. Try downloading a TED.com video, then drag it into your slides as you would an image.

5. Use moving images to increase interest.

Image: Restless mind

Statistic: Children’s Defense Fund

This is a technique I learned from one of my on campus students last month. I can’t wait to try it in my own presentations! It’s not quite the Ken Burns effect, but it’s a nice way to do something different with a bit of ingenuity and the push transition.

Image: misswired

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