The Secret to Persuasive Communication

The Secret to Persuasive Communication

Originally published with the Forbes Coaches Council October 2, 2017.

There are lots of tips and techniques for crafting a persuasive bit of communication. But there’s one fundamental secret that underlies all of them. What is this secret weapon or becoming a powerful communicator?

Honesty.

Why? Because to successfully persuade someone, you need to be able to match your skill in communication to the difficulty of the presentation. Are you proposing a huge change or just a minimal one? Are you asking a lot of your audience or just a little? Knowing these three variables — degree of change, degree of involvement and degree of skill — allows you to allocate adequate time and resources to the challenge ahead. Knowing yourself and knowing others makes your communication more empathetic, sharper and more compelling.

The most easily assessed variable is the level of change. Are you recommending a change of direction in your audience’s work? Are you proposing a major new initiative (one that will perhaps require a significant budget)? Will there be additions to payroll or will people lose their jobs? Significant changes like these require a sensitive, comprehensive message that acknowledges and proactively addresses the inevitable questions and concerns.

Second, consider the level of involvement you are asking of your audience. Is this particular audience lending support and approval for your recommendation? Will they have to implement some of the changes, or manage those who will? Or are you asking for a commitment of resources, time and risk? The more you ask of the audience, the more they need to believe in you and your message.

Finally, what is your level of skill? At my company, we’ve discovered that most people fall into one of three categories of overall skill: professional, leadership and executive. The key difference is what each speaker communicates to their audience:

 A professional-level communicator can persuade an audience to hear their message (if you’ve sat through any PowerPoint presentations, you know that just recognizing and remembering the speaker’s main point means they’ve done a pretty good job).

 A leadership-level communicator can persuade an audience to care about their message.

 An executive-level communicator persuades his or her audience to act on their message.

When you break down your communication into these three variables, it isn’t difficult to analyze this matrix: If the challenge ahead is a high-change, high-involvement presentation and your skill rests at the professional level, the time and resources you’ll allocate to preparation must be much greater. Perhaps you’ll enlist more support and feedback from your colleagues, perhaps you’ll seek outside coaching. Just by adequately preparing yourself, you will be much more likely to gain success.

Honesty works in other ways, too. Part of assessing the level of challenge requires you to think carefully about your audience and understand their needs. By listening to, understanding, and addressing these needs and concerns directly, your audience will come away feeling like you were speaking specifically and directly to them. And when someone speaks directly to you, they’re a lot harder to ignore.

Finally, honesty — about yourself, your message, and your audience — always enhances your credibility. If you can be authentic in front of an audience, you’ve taken the first step toward persuading your audience because they will trust you. If you are clear and direct about what you’re asking of your audience, it conveys respect for their time and commitment. If your recommendation is laid out simply and emphatically with a strong business case that is easy to understand, the logic behind your plan will be persuasive. As a speaker, there is nothing more powerful than engendering a sense of trust, integrity and empathy with your audience. By definition, these things can’t be faked — but by listening, preparing and being honest, you can earn them.

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