Apply The 3 Essential Elements of Persuasive Advocacy
Let’s face it, we live in an abbreviated world, where, emojis, acronyms, and 140-character expressions are increasingly the communication vehicle of choice. Recent studies show that our attention spans have dropped by one third – from 12 to 8 seconds – in the past 5 years alone, which now puts us behind that of. . . gold fish.
Whether texting, tweeting, WeChatting, Snapchatting or firing off pithy, syntax-free emails, our thirst for immediacy and brevity pervades our personal and professional interactions. A hyper-kinetic echo chamber, of sorts, that provides little opportunity to do much more than invite nods of approval from those who agree with us, while repelling those who don’t. Not exactly a sound foundation for influencing or winning-over others.
So, what do we do? First, we have to acknowledge the important distinction between opinion and advocacy-based communications, and when to apply them. Opinion-based rhetoric works when seeking validation, mostly among the like-minded. And there, curt digital judgments will do just fine. But any time consensus-building is required (a promotion discussion with your boss; a speech; a business proposal to customers; or a deal negotiation with another company), you must persuade your audience to care about – and ultimately agree with – that which you are selling them. And that’s where a line of text or animated emotion just won’t do.
What will? A return to what I refer to as the
3 Ps of persuasion: Preparation; Pitch; and Perseverance.
Preparation: Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote “[g]ive me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe” aptly applies here. The outcome of a speech, presentation or negotiation is largely determined before a single business card is exchanged or intro slide is shared. In a negotiation, the preparation required to gain consensus for your proposal takes thought, it takes work, and it takes rigor. Before stepping foot in a conference room, your due diligence must include a close examination of:
your company’s goals and priorities in a deal;
your high-water, mid-line, and walk-away positions on key terms, including economic terms;
your opponent’s wants and motivations in a deal;
your opponent’s needs and weaknesses;
additional interests, opportunities and connection points between the two companies; and
proposed framework and structure for the deal, including a process and schedule for the negotiation.
Pitch: Whether you are making a speech before hundreds or thousands, a presentation to one or two, or pressing your terms in a deal, you have to answer your audience’s question: “why should I care?” It’s the rare occasion that you will have such dominant bargaining power or position of authority that your audience will simply accept what you’re selling. In all other cases, where influence is achieved through persuasion, you must take responsibility for painting a picture of success, for the other side.
In an episode of the television series Mad Men, about a Madison Avenue ad agency in the 1950s and ‘60s, the lead character Don Draper was pitching an ad campaign to his client, Kodak. His goal was to convince them to rebrand their circular slide projector, which Kodak called the “Wheel.” Projecting pictures of his family from their product, Draper delivered his new campaign. Speaking about the human craving for nostalgia, he made his case for the rebrand as follows:
“It’s not called the Wheel. It’s called the Carousel. And it lets us travel the way a child travels - around and around and back home again. To a place where you know you are loved.”
He had them at Carousel. You can do the same.
Perseverance: Consensus building is hard. You will experience setbacks, discord and impasse. But in business, and in other of life’s work, it is our job to overcome them. And we deserve little credit until we get there or empty the tank trying. Here’s a simple test I use when I get stuck. If I were called in to my exec or CEO’s office to explain a lack of progress on a deal worth doing, am I confident they would conclude that I have both:
(a) maintained a principled and reasonable position; and
(b) emptied my tank – meaning tried everything within reason - to close the gap?
If I lack such confidence, I go back to work.
There are no shortcuts to persuading others to accept and act on your ideas. The good news is you are in complete control over your preparation, pitch and perseverance in winning over others. As Winston Churchill once said, “[s]uccess is going from failure to failure without a loss of enthusiasm.” So, stay positive, be constructive, and remain focused on reaching your goals.
I’d love to hear from you with comments. And if you liked it, please share with others.