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Most of us find ourselves having to persuade someone else of something – whether it’s a proposal for a new project to a boss, a VC pitch, or a proposal of marriage – when the stakes are high and we care a great deal about succeeding.  How can you increase your chances of success?

1.First, think about your audience. Start any serious effort of persuasion by thinking hard not about how you feel but how your audience feels.  If you don’t succeed in getting in the minds of your audience you won’t succeed in changing those minds.  What’s on their mental agenda?  What are they afraid of?  What do they want?

2.Second, think about the best way to persuade that audience.  What’s the best way to get your message across to this particular audience?  Is it a casual conversation?  A formal document?  A presentation?  A presentation with Power Point slides?  A blog, a book, a series of articles?  A PR campaign?  A romantic dinner with roses, champagne, and a ring?  Every audience and every act of persuasion has an optimal moment and medium, and too many people make the mistake of assuming that, say, a Power Point slide deck is automatically the best medium for all messages.  Not so.

3.Third, think about how your persuasive act solves a problem that the audience has. Few people are interested in hearing new ideas just for the sake of newness.  We are all information overloaded already.  But we are always interested in hearing how you might solve a problem that we have.  So tie your persuasion to a need that the audience has and you’ll get a much friendlier hearing.

4.Fourth, think about what you want your audience to do differently as a result of hearing from you. A classic mistake that people make when attempting to persuade is to forget to close the sale or actually ask for the thing that they want.  People rarely say ‘yes’ to questions that haven’t been asked.  Don’t forget to make your case.

5.Finally, prepare for the act of persuasion itself.  You’re now ready to give the speech, have the conversation, or ask for that hand in marriage.  If you’ve thought hard about steps 1 -4, you have a good idea about what is at stake, what will make the audience listen positively to your idea, and how to close.  Now it’s time to think about the right timing, the atmospherics, and the length of the persuasive act itself.  Once you know what you’re going to do, then it’s time to rehearse, and rehearse again.  If it’s important for you to succeed with your act of persuasion, then it’s important to rehearse because, as someone famous once said, “No battle strategy survives first contact with the enemy.”  You can’t control everything in the moment.  You need to have rehearsed so well that you can adjust on the fly if necessary.  It’s important as part of your persuasive arsenal that you always appear under control, poised, and ready for anything.

Then keep your actual persuasive moment focused on those things that you can control and you should do well.




  1. Thanks Nick, sound advice as always! I like it when a speaker gets the audience to experience something, to bring the message home in a powerful way. Bill Gates did this when he released some mosquitos into the theatre when he spoke at TED – “Why should malaria be confined to poor people?”

    I also heard of a movie theatre that communicated a persuasive argument for not using a smartphone while driving. Before the main feature they screened a clip showing someone’s hands on a steering wheel, driving down a tree lined road. Somehow they managed to send an SMS to people in the theatre – as everyone reached for their phones the driver on the screen suddenly swerved and crashed into the trees!

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