How to Communicate With a Distracted Audience, Part One: Leverage “Pre-suasion” to Gain Attention

Do you think people care about what you have to say? The truth is that the average person doesn’t know you. It’s not that you’re not likable or smart; it’s just a matter of survival for people in today’s world. There is simply too much out there and not enough time to take it all in.

These words by communications expert Kem Meyer succinctly point out the dilemma for communicators today: for many people, the last thing they are looking for is unsolicited information, or someone to tell them to change their ways.

And yet many, if not most, of the sermons preached by pastors attempt to do just that.

However, many people will take the time to read or listen to something that reinforces an opinion they already have or speaks to a real need in their lives. If they are not looking for it, they won’t hear it. But, if you take the time to learn what they’re looking for, you can get in on a conversation already in progress in their minds.

How then, can a leader understand their audience in such a way to make their message more receptive? How can you connect, communicate, and influence your audience toward life-long transformation?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

The acclaimed New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller from Robert Cialdini – “the foremost expert on effective persuasion” (Harvard Business Review) – explains how it’s not necessarily the message itself that changes minds, but the key moment before you deliver that message.

What separates effective communicators from truly successful persuaders? With the same rigorous scientific research and accessibility that made his Influence an iconic bestseller, Robert Cialdini explains how to prepare people to be receptive to a message before they experience it. Optimal persuasion is achieved only through optimal pre-suasion. In other words, to change “minds” a pre-suader must also change “states of mind.”

Named a “Best Business Books of 2016” by the Financial Times, and “compelling” by The Wall Street Journal, Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion draws on his extensive experience as the most cited social psychologist of our time and explains the techniques a person should implement to become a master persuader. Altering a listener’s attitudes, beliefs, or experiences isn’t necessary, says Cialdini—all that’s required is for a communicator to redirect the audience’s focus of attention before a relevant action.

From studies on advertising imagery to treating opiate addiction, from the annual letters of Berkshire Hathaway to the annals of history, Cialdini outlines the specific techniques you can use on online marketing campaigns and even effective wartime propaganda. He illustrates how the artful diversion of attention leads to successful pre-suasion and gets your targeted audience primed and ready to say, “Yes.” His book is “an essential tool for anyone serious about science based business strategies…and is destined to be an instant classic.

A SIMPLE SOLUTION

Even the most well-planned communication opportunity often achieves lackluster results without the audience listening (and hopefully acting on your suggestions).

But what if the audience can be warmed up to your message before they even see it?

The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion – the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it.

Pre-suasion, a word coined by Robert Cialdini, is the process of gaining agreement with a message before it’s been sent. Although that may seem like some form of magic, it’s not. It’s established science.

That key moment is the one that allows a communicator to create a state of mind in recipients that is consistent with the forthcoming message. It’s the moment in which we can arrange for others to be attuned to our message before they encounter it. That step is crucial for maximizing desired change.

The answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenant of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.

The truly influential things we say and do first act to pre-suade our audiences, which then alters audience members’ associations with what we say or do next.

All told, there are any of a number of first steps besides establishing trust persuaders can take that will make audiences more redemptive to the case they intend to present.

The steps can take multiple forms, and, accordingly, they’ve been given multiple labels by behavioral scientists. They can be called frames or anchors or primes or mindsets or first impressions. I’m going to refer to them as openers – because they open up things for influence in two ways.

First, they simply initiate the process: they provide the starting points, the beginnings of persuasive appeals. But it is in their second function that they clear the way to persuasion, by removing existing barriers.

It’s because of the only-temporary receptiveness that pre-suasive actions often produce in others that I’ve introduced the concept of privileged moments.

The meaning of the word privileged is straightforward referring to special, elevated status. The word moment, though, is more complex, as it evokes a pair of meanings. One connotes a time-limited period: in this case, the window of opportunity following a pre-suasive opener, when a proposal’s power is greatest. The other connotation comes from physics and refers to a unique leveraging force that can bring about unprecedented movement. These yoke dimensions, temporal on the one hand and physical on the other, have the capacity to instigate extraordinary change in a yet third, psychological, dimension.

Robert Cialdini, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade

A NEXT STEP

Author Robert Cialdini believes that altering a listener’s attitudes, beliefs, or experiences isn’t necessary. All that’s required is to alter the audience’s focus of attention just before requesting a relevant action.

The factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is often not the one that offers the most accurate or useful counsel; instead, it is the one that has been elevated in attention (and thereby in privilege) at the moment of decision.

“Privileged moments” are identifiable points in time when an individual is particularly receptive to a communicator’s message.

The artful channeling of attention leads to potent pre-suasion and positive outcomes.

In his earlier work, Influence, Cialdini argued that there are six concepts that empower the major principles of human social influence. Understanding and practicing these concepts will help you “pre-suade” your audience.

Reciprocation – People say yes to those they owe. Those “freebies” given away in stores? Studies show they can increase the likelihood of purchase by over 40%. Requesters who hope to commission the pre-suasive force of the rule for reciprocation have to do something that appears daring: they have to take a chance and give first. The “gift” should be meaningful, unexpected, and customized.

Liking – It may seem so common sense, but it is true: people say yes to those who they like. Two specific ways to create positive attention get the most attention: highlight similarities and provide compliments.

Social Proof – People think it is appropriate for them to believe, feel, or do something to the extent that others, especially comparable others, are believing, feeling, or doing it. Two components of that perceived appropriateness – validity and feasibility – can drive change.

Authority – When a legitimate expert on a topic speaks, people are usually persuaded. Sometimes, information becomes persuasive only because an authority is its source. This is especially true when the recipient is uncertain of what to do.

Scarcity – We want more of what we can have less of. Our aversion to losing something of value is a key factor. Scarcity also raises the judged value of that item.

Consistency – Communicators who can get listeners to take a pre-suasive step, even a small one, in the direction of a particular idea or entity will increase our willingness to take a much larger, congruent step when asked.

Review each of the above concepts, along with their brief description, and commit to applying one or more of these concepts over the next two months. Examples could include: social media posts, sermons, vision casting moments, or staff meetings. At the end of two months, review the use of each to determine how effective it was in helping your audiences take a next step in their walk with Christ.

Excerpt taken from SUMS Remix 104-1, released October 2018.


 

This is part of a weekly series posting excerpts from one of the most innovative content sources in the church world: SUMS Remix book excerpts for church leaders.

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As a church leader you get to scan relevant books based on practical tools and solutions to real ministry problems, not just by the cover of the book. Each post will have the edition number which shows the year and what number it is in the overall sequence. (SUMS Remix provides 26 issues per year, delivered every other week to your inbox). 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

VRcurator

VRcurator

Bob Adams is Auxano's Vision Room Curator. His background includes over 23 years as an associate/executive pastor as well as 8 years as the Lead Consultant for a church design build company. He joined Auxano in 2012.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
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comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

10 Steps in Preparing a Powerful Presentation

The talks I give usually take me a comfortable 45 minutes but in a recent TED talk I needed to get the insights out in 18 minutes. The culling process forces you to convey only the most important information for spreading your idea. The amount of rehearsal time is inversely proportionate to the length of the talk. The shorter the talk, the longer the rehearsal time. In this case, for an 18-minute talk, we took approximately 18 hours to rehearse. An hour a minute? That’s probably fair for someone who’s a professional presenter like me. A less seasoned speaker may need more!

These 18-minute talks are hard to do. It’s easier to blather on for an hour than talk for a tight 18 minutes knowing that if you go over, you (literally) will get the hook.

I delivered one talk at TEDxEast and was thrilled to look up at the clock just as it was ticking down with :06 seconds left on the clock. Victory! Then, I delivered a similar talk at the INK conference in India but was restricted to 15 minutes. Even though I practiced like mad and timed it to a perfect 14 and a half minutes, I was medicated for a severe chest cold and my time somehow spread and I got the dreaded “hook” because I ran one minute over, but would have run two minutes over if I hadn’t had tip #10 in place.

Here are the ten steps I went through in rehearsing for my talks.

1. Print your current slide deck as 9-up handouts. The 9-up format is conveniently the same size as the smallest sticky note. I arranged and re-arranged my message and added sticky notes until I was happy with the flow. I also made sure I cut at least half the slides I use for my 40 minute talk.

 

I trimmed and trimmed and trimmed until I felt like it was close to 18 minutes. During this process it became clear to me that my big idea could be communicated much more effectively than it had been.

2. Solicit feedback. Assemble a handful of people you trust to give honest feedback on your mini little sticky note slide deck. Verbally run the ideas by these folks (doesn’t have to be a formal presentation.) The purpose for having them look at all the slides at once is you want feedback on the “whole”, not the parts. Have them give you feedback on the content you’ve chosen and whether they think it will resonate with the TED audience. I did this four times–twice each with my ExComm Manager and twice with my company President. After they added their insights, I was ready to have the slides digitally produced.

3. Rehearse with a great (honest) communicator. In my case, I rehearsed with my ExComm Manager. She is very good at rehearsing me and became a trusted coach. She would say “When you say it that way, it can be interpreted differently than you intended”, “When you use that term, you come across derogatory”, “I thought that when you said it last time it was better, you said…”. She worked hard tracking phrases and rounds of what was said. Honesty is the best policy. Make sure your coach is not afraid to speak up. 18 minutes goes by fast–you love your material and you want to include all of it–-but for a TED-format talk you need someone you trust to help you murder your darlings.

4. Close the loop. A lot of times, as the presenter, you know your material so well that you think you’re making each key point clear. You might not be. Your coach should make sure you are telling people why. It’s the “why” around our ideas that make them spread, not the “how”. Articulate the why so your audience understands what’s magnificent about your big idea.

5. Practice with clock counting up. The first few times, rehearse with the clock counting up. That’s because if you go over, you need to know how much you’re over. Do NOT be looking at the clock at this time. Have your coach look at it because you don’t want to remember any of the timestamps in your mind. Finish your entire talk and then have your coach tell you how much you need to trim. One minute, three minutes. Keep practicing until you’re consistently within 18 minutes. Your coach should be able to tell you to trim 30 seconds here or add 15 seconds there so that your content is weighted toward the most important information.

6. Practice with clock counting down. Once you’re within the timeframe, begin practicing with the clock counting down. You need to set a few places in your talk where you benchmark a time stamp. Calculate where you need to be in the content in six-minute increments. You should know roughly where you should be at 6, 12 and 18 minutes. You should know the slide you should be on and what you’re saying so that you will know immediately from the stage if you’re on time or running over.

7. Noteworthy. Your coach is there to jot down what you say well and what you don’t. They should work from a printout of the slides and write phrases you say well so they can be added to your script. They should help capture phrases so you can type them into your notes.

8. Don’t be camera shy. Videotape some of your final practices. It doesn’t have to be the best setup ever–we used our Flip camera on a tripod in the hotel–you just need to feel like something’s at stake. It helps you get used to looking at the camera, and you can review the video to look at your stage presence, eye contact, gestures plus identify any expressions that need modification. Also, if you do an especially good practice run, you can go back and listen to the audio and add the best snippets to your slide notes.

9. Do one more FULL timed rehearsal right before you walk on stage. This is where I blew it in India. I practiced fully several times that morning but didn’t feel it necessary to pull out a timer. I confess, I didn’t time it for a week, but rehearsed like mad. It would have been even better if I’d rehearsed via Skype with my coach. I would have averted a disaster.

10. Have two natural ending points. I wanted to accuse the India show operators of not really giving me a full 15 minutes on the clock. But I was the one who blew it. It might have been the meds I was on for my chest cold, but my timer was *blinking* before I was done. Fortunately, I’d embedded two natural places to end my talk. I had an ending that made the talk complete and I stopped there. What I didn’t have time to get to was the inspirational ending that would have had them on their feet and screaming (well, they did end up on their feet, they just weren’t screaming.)

Follow these steps and you will be able to transform your presentation into an engaging journey.

Read more from Nancy here.

Learn powerful presentation skills from her resources here.

Download a concise summary of Nancy’s book “Resonate” here.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte

Nancy Duarte is a communication expert who has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, Fast Company, Wired, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Economist, LA Times and on CNN. Her firm, Duarte, Inc., is the global leader behind some of the most influential visual messages in business and culture and has created more than a quarter of a million presentations. As a persuasion specialist, she cracked the code for effectively incorporating story patterns into business communications. Resonate, her second book, spent nearly a year on Amazon’s top 100 business book bestsellers list. Nancy has 20 years of experience working with global companies and thought leaders, and she has influenced how the world perceives some of the most important brands and entities, including Apple, Cisco, Facebook, GE, Google, HP, TED, Twitter, and the World Bank. She is the author of two award-winning books. Resonate: Present Visual Stories that Transform Audiences identifies the hidden story structures inherent in great communication, and it spent more than 300 days on Amazon’s top 100 business book bestsellers list. Slide:ology: The Art and Science of Creating Great Presentations teaches readers to think visually and has been translated into eight languages. Her third book, released in the fall of 2012, is titled HBR Guide to Persuasive Presentations, which gives readers the tools and confidence they need to master public speaking.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Craig Hadden (@RemotePoss) — 07/13/14 8:18 am

I really like the tip about having 2 natural end points. I research extensively for my own presentation blog, and I've never heard that exact tip before.

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.