Archives For persuade

Reason and logic in a speech do not rouse audiences, lift their spirits, set their hearts on fire.

Reason and logic do not shape the way people imagine the world or what is possible and desirable.

Reason and logic do not move audiences to action.

Doubt me?

Consider Donald Trump.

His speeches do not employ logic or reason, verifiable facts, or consistency of thought. And yet they have mobilized an army of true believers.

Trump’s opponents try valiantly to counter his rhetoric. They “fact check” his statements and show them to be demonstrably false. They quote him against himself, showing earlier video clips or tweets that contradict his later claims. They poke gaping holes in his reasoning, such as it is.

But all the well-reasoned and logical efforts of Trump’s opponents fail to dampen the appeal of his message, the fervor of his followers.


Because we are not primarily rational creatures.

Reason and logic aren’t built into us. We come into this world with hardwired urges, appetites, instincts, and emotional predispositions.

No one needs to teach us to fear or envy or covet or resent, or to love or enjoy or trust or hope. (To be sure, others may teach us who or what to fear, envy, etc. And they may distort or enrich our urges and desires.)

But we have to learn how to use reason and logic.

And it’s a tough slog.

For most of us, most of the time, reason and logic fail to sway us from what our guts tell us, from what feels right.

To counter Trump’s rhetoric, a more reasonable and logical counterargument isn’t sufficient.

I’m not sure what will work.

I’m playing around with the idea that an approach more persuasive than reason and logic is based on three principles:

  1. The importance of belonging and adhering to the rules and customs of a tribe.
  2. The power of stories to shape our understanding of the world and how it works.
  3. The appeal of magical thinking.

In future posts, I’ll try to tease out what I mean by tribe, stories, and magical thinking.

What do you think?




persuasionWe can’t reason people out of beliefs, opinions, judgments, prejudices, and behaviors that they didn’t reason themselves into.

We can’t change people’s ways of thinking and acting simply by giving them new information and leading them step by step through a logical process of analysis and understanding.

We can’t, in short, persuade people to change by logic and reasoning.

There are two main reasons for this.

First, we form our basic beliefs and behavior patterns as children, when our ability to reason is underdeveloped, if not entirely lacking. For the most part we adopt, without thinking, the beliefs and behaviors of those around us.

When we question our beliefs and behaviors later in life—if we question them at all—we’re still inclined to give them credence. Reinforced by habit, they “feel” right, natural, proper.

And second, we aren’t rational beings. At least, rationality isn’t our primary way of understanding and relating to the world.

The process of reasoning—gathering and assessing information, questioning assumptions, forming opinions, analyzing them and revising them when necessary—doesn’t come naturally to us. It’s a skill we have to learn.

Reasoning takes time and effort. And in a world that comes at us like a Mack truck, at a thousand miles an hour, with horns blaring, demanding an immediate response, we tend not to reflect but to react.

We don’t say, “Whoa, hold your horses. Give me some time to think this through.” We don’t, in short, reason our way through each new situation. We fall back on our tried and true ways of understanding the world and of coping with its incessant and clamorous demands.

I’m not arguing in favor of abandoning reason and logic.

I am proposing that if persuasion is our goal—if we want to change how people think and feel and act—we have to develop strategies and techniques that build on something more than reason and logic.

The question, of course, is how? Any suggestions?

The purpose of a business presentation — any type of business presentation — is to win buy-in for an idea. You don’t simply present information for its own sake. You want people to do something: to give you their feedback; to implement your proposal or to allow you to implement it; to give you the money, time, or personnel to continue your project; to hire you or to buy your product or service; to contribute their own efforts or expertise.

So, in effect, every business presentation is also a sales presentation. There may not be an exchange of money for goods or services, but there is still an exchange: you give something and they give something in return.

5 Tips for Winning Buy-In for an Idea

  1. Be a credible advocate.
    Your idea will not and cannot speak for itself. It needs you to present and represent it. If you’re not willing to back your idea up with your time and effort and, more importantly, with your reputation, it stands no chance of being adopted or implemented. It is only as credible as you are, and conversely you are only as credible as your idea is. Be fair and honest and aboveboard, but don’t pretend or try to be impartial or objective.
  2. Build alliances.
    The best ideas don’t always win on their merit. (You know that already, don’t you?) Sometimes, good ideas get shot down and inferior ideas get the thumbs up because of office politics, turf warfare, or interpersonal grudges. So be savvy. Before you even schedule a presentation figure out whose support you need and how best to secure it. And develop a strategy for winning over or, at least, disarming those who might oppose your proposal.
  3. See it from their perspective.
    Of course, you have a personal stake in your presentation. (If you don’t want something from the people you’re presenting to, why are wasting your time and theirs?) But the only way you will get what you want from them is by showing them how they will get what they want. So show them how your idea will help them solve a problem or achieve a goal that matters to them. This presumes, of course, that you know them well enough to understand their agendas.
  4. Follow up.
    Selling an idea doesn’t begin and end with a presentation. You do much of your work beforehand: doing your research, building alliances, creating and rehearsing your presentation. And you do a lot of work afterward: strengthening commitments, answering objections, and (sometimes) gaining final approval.
  5. Learn.
    Whether you win or lose, you owe it to yourself (and your team if you worked with one) to learn from your effort by performing an after-action review. Were there any surprises? What worked well? Why? What didn’t work? Why not? What would you do differently next time?

Selling an idea isn’t the same thing as selling a product of service, although it’s similar. It’s really about helping people understand what you’re proposing and how it will benefit them or their organization. In some ways it’s easy. It doesn’t involve twisting arms or selling your soul. But in some ways it’s hard. It does require you to figure out what you want people to do and why they would want to do it.

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