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.)
But swaying the skeptical and motivating the immovable demands an appeal to the emotions. Unfortunately, many of us feel uncomfortable or awkward about crafting emotional or motivational messages – especially if it’s to a business audience. There’s a long-standing bias against overt emotional appeals in Western business culture – as if there were something weak (unmanly?) or suspect about them. But this attitude is changing. In reality, feelings have always been present in business situations. That’s because feelings are involved whenever tough decisions have to be made. If we examine our own decision-making processes, we’ll recognize that feelings are, in fact, a vital prerequisite to understanding and acting. This is not to suggest that presenting logical supporting arguments isn’t important – in fact it’s vital. But, as all professional “persuaders” know, to succeed, you must address the audience’s emotional needs.
Successful persuaders begin by analyzing the emotions of their audience (Communication Rule #1: Know Thy Audience!). What objections will the audience raise? Where, specifically, will the presentation meets its greatest resistance? What is the emotional character of this resistance: Fear? Anger? Uncertainty? What evidence can be presented to counter these emotions? What counter-emotions can be evoked to address these?
It’s always easier to express the emotional component of your persuasive message during a presentation or speech – the audience wants to “see” how committed you are to the ideas and opinions you’re expressing. A few words of caution, however; don’t be too emotional. Your audience wants a convincing demonstration of your commitment, not a demonstration that convinces them you should be committed. In short, don’t act irrationally.
In writing, we must be more careful in evoking emotions. Remember that emotions surrounding an important issue are always lurking just below the surface. Recognize these emotions and try to evoke those that can reinforce your persuasive efforts. Every culture has its core values – values which always evoke strong emotions. Think of President Obama’s speeches and how effectively he moved audiences to his cause by evoking the powerful emotions Americans value so highly: justice, democracy, freedom, security, family… Just reciting these values evokes a strong response. Well, companies have core values too – service, growth, value, tradition, trust… By skillfully referencing them in support of your proposal, you can help generate a powerful and positive emotional response to your appeal. Strong leaders are never afraid of demonstrating their commitment to the ideas they’re promoting. Simply put, this is why, if you want to look like a leader, you have to act like one. Like I said, it sounds simple.