On 15th August, we invited a panel to Shoreditch House to share their secrets on how best to bring people round to your way of thinking.
Whether pitching an idea, pushing for change or resolving a dispute, knowing how to persuade plays an important role in most aspects of work. But are we always approaching it in the best way? And how can we improve our chances of success?
With the help of an expert panel, on Tuesday the 15th August we shared practical advice on how to boost your powers of persuasion. Discussing how to prepare beforehand and how to build rapport, we learnt how to ensure you're communicating your message in the most effective way.
We were joined by Lucy Mann, director of new business consultancy, Gunpowder. For more than twenty years, Lucy has helped agencies build their internal capabilities for winning new business. She shared a series of simple strategies that can help companies succeed when pitching for new work, explaining why process and structure lie behind the most persuasive approaches to new business.
We also heard from Hilary Gallo, author of The Power of Soft. Taking a new approach to negotiation, Hilary believes that you can be nice, and still get what you need. He's solved complex negotiations at corproates like Clifford Chance and Accenture, as well as mediating small disputes and everyday issues. He explained how people can leverage the power of soft to take a stronger, more effective stance in negotiations.
Also joining them was Ben Ludlow, speechwriter at The Department for Transport. Authoring speeches and articles for government ministers including the Secretary of State for Transport, Ben is responsible for articulating complex messages in compelling and persuasive ways. He shared techniques for crating convincing arguments, explaining why clarity and concision are key when communicating across any platform.
Here's what we learnt.
Do Your Research
One belief shared by our speakers was the importance of research in helping to understand, and therefore more successfully negotiate with your audience.
Lucy discussed her approach to working with a new agency, explaining that she usually starts with an audit to assess its objectives. She noted that pitching new business can put people out of their comfort zones, meaning they may avoid asking questions. But she stressed that asking questions actually gives the speaker more power, and that being prepared with research enables you to ask better questions more confidently. This in turn allows you to investigate the agency’s decision making process and therefore understand their criteria, helping secure a successful pitch.
On the other hand, Lucy advised against trying to show your audience everything you know from your research. Hilary supported this, acknowledging the importance of researching your audience's aims in order to build a relationship with them, but not to overdo it. He said too much research beforehand could lead you to make assumptions about what your audience want, and that the focus should still be on the relationship itself.
This idea of building a relationship cropped up more than once throughout the morning. Hilary continued that, without a good relationship with your listener, they won’t trust or be open to your message.
He referenced a metaphor from his book of the human body, where the head represents logic, the gut trust and the heart empathy and understanding. He said all too often our thinking is solely logical, but that it's difficult to persuade with logic alone: if an audience’s instinct tells them not to trust the speaker then no amount of logic will persuade them.
So how do you build trust? Hilary said fundamentally it is about listening to your audience. It sounds simple, but in today’s world we tend to rush things and are encouraged to be prolific. Hilary questioned how much time we spend genuinely just observing and listening.
Ben added that politicians have a low starting point when it comes to trust. To combat this, he said he first determines what issues the audience may have with the politician or policies in question, going back to the importance of research. He would then address the issue up front at the beginning of the speech—or alternatively mention it briefly at the start but only address it in full at the end, to keep the audience listening the whole way through!
Balance It Out
Once you've done your research and built trust, successful persuasion comes down to technique. Hilary, who once belonged to the corporate legal world, said the “iron first” technique is one he used to see all too often, one of intimidation and aggression—an approach he himself used to take. After having an “epiphany” and ending his career as a lawyer, Hilary wrote The Power of Soft in antithesis to this.
He noted that being kinder in your approach is not the same as being weak, and that you can be both strong and soft in the right way: it’s all about balance. He said a key to this is maintaining a strong core, understanding what you want to achieve, but without putting on a tough exterior.
Less Is More
Another persuasive technique mentioned was the practice of writing economically. Ben noted that people talk about concision in writing, but that he liked to use the word “economy” to suggest the value of each word. Words cost both the speaker and listener time—he asserted that the quickest way to turn an audience off is to waste their time. Ben added that writing with economy forces you to be disciplined in your message to include only the essential, helping you to get your point across more effectively.
From High to Low
Another useful technique shared by Ben was about contrast. He described persuasive language as having three levels: big ideas at the top, such as those relating to philosophy, art and science; the language of functionalism and business in the middle, surrounding strategy and budget for example; and smaller, everyday ideas at the bottom that people can identify with. He said a communicator should avoid those middle worlds, instead switching between the top and bottom levels to capture an audience's attention.
Ben used pitching the iPhone model as an example, where Steve Jobs described it as a device which could simultaneously "unite art and science" and help you order pizza.
Concluding the useful discussion, we’ll return to something Hilary said on creativity: "Don’t think of persuasion in the context of one power over the other, but as a creative act." He explained that negotiation is closer to this than we realise—that persuading someone shouldn't be about gaining possession of a territory, but about opening up to and sharing ideas.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:15th August, 2017 at 9:00am
End:15th August, 2017 at 11:00am