Persuasion depends on three basic “appeals”: credibility, emotion and logic. This was news about 2000 years ago, when Aristotle defined these appeals as: ethos, pathos and logos (the three Greek musketeers of persuasion). Though they’re now somewhat more refined and sophisticated, they’re still serviceable today because human nature (sadly) hasn’t really changed much in the intervening years. To be persuasive you have to use at least one, and preferably all three of these appeals – and notice that two of the three are emotional appeals:
- convince the audience you’re trustworthy (ethos)
- stir the audience’s emotions (pathos)
- provide logical arguments and solid supporting evidence (logos).
The mistake many business writers and presenters make is assuming that you can persuade an audience using just logical arguments. Unfortunately, psychologists tell us that those swayed by arguments alone are those who support the appeal before it is even presented – in other words, they’re the people who are using your arguments to reinforce their own biases or to bolster their uncertainties. (It’s also why the most avid readers of the new car ad are those who have already bought the car – see cognitive dissonance.) Continue Reading »
Persuasive writing isn’t the exclusive preserve of heart-tugging fund-raisers and slick advertising copywriters. In fact, to really give your career a boost, try thinking of everything you write as essentially persuasive in nature.
I’m not exaggerating. Remember, even a routine e-mail has to persuade the reader to open and, finally, to read and maybe even respond to it – no small feat when you consider how many other e-mails it’s competing with. (How many e-mails do you get each day? How many do you delete before opening?)
The first commandment of persuasive writing is: “know thy reader”. It’s actually the first rule of any form of successful communication, and it explains why we get all those phone calls around dinner time asking us if we’d mind completing a short survey (while our dinner cools). I hate to disillusion you, but that person collecting information about you isn’t really interested in your friendship. They are, however, interested in getting to know you better.
And that’s so their employer’s sales/customer relations departments can communicate with you much more persuasively. Basically, they want to know whether you might be interested in their particular product or service and, primarily, whether you can afford it. By the way, this explains why most of us are not on the local Ferrari dealer’s mailing list. Continue Reading »
Information Overload = Information Overlooked
Overheard at an electronics trade show: “If this is the Information Age, how come nobody knows anything?”
Maybe it’s because nobody’s really listening or reading. We skim e-mails and reports and only listen or read the parts we find personally relevant. The irony here is that there has never before been so much one-way “communication”. We all keep sending, though it’s apparent that nobody really wants to receive. Office communication surveys reveal that, in an ideal business environment, each of us wants to be able to contact anyone – instantly – though we, ourselves, would prefer to remain selectively inaccessible.
The overwhelming speed of information, made possible by the new information technologies, is the single greatest (though not the only) obstacle to real communication in business. That’s because, with so much to read, who has time? I know a senior vice president of a telecommunications firm who claimed to process more than 130 e-mail messages a day. This was in addition to his usual full-day agenda of meetings. His coping strategy was brutally simple: at the end of each day, he skimmed them quickly and responded to none. “If it’s really serious,” he claimed, “somebody always manages to reach me.” Continue Reading »