The Secret Trick of Highly Persuasive Leaders

MH900435893Lately I’ve been thinking about persuasion every day. With the Bay Area in the midst of an economic boom, it seems everyone is energized and eager to get others on board with their business ideas.

In the past two weeks alone, I’ve been asked to give feedback to:

  • start-ups, on the persuasiveness of their VC pitches
  • managers at a midsize company, on the persuasiveness of their roadmaps
  • executives at a large multinational company, on their persuasiveness in situations where opinions differ and emotions run high
  • one fabulous young relative, who is applying for a four-year undergraduate scholarship for high-potential leaders

I began to reflect on what was unique to these very different situations and people, and what, if anything, was universal. Time and again, there was one piece of feedback I gave to every pitch, conversation, presentation, or written communication that was not yet persuasive enough. It’s the secret trick every highly persuasive leader knows.

The secret to being highly persuasive is to:

  1. start with a human being
  2. understand what gives him or her a bad feeling
  3. make darn sure that your product, service, or idea will turn that bad feeling into a good one
  4. communicate it

If you skip any of these steps, you will not be a highly persuasive leader.

As I wrote in September, human beings are hard-wired for stories, and in particular, for stories that resonate with our emotions. If you are crystal clear in your communication about the human being who has a bad feeling and who will have a good feeling if your product/service/idea is utilized, you will be exponentially more persuasive.

Let’s look at an example, a start-up pitch:

“Our product acts as a server that collects data and serves prediction results through REST APIs/SDKs.”

This pitch is o.k. if the investor or other listener already understands how this product can ease pain and create joy in the buyer of the product.

Now let’s try thinking of it from the point of view of a business leader who would buy this product, and see what happens:

“Business leaders who need big data to stay competitive must recruit, hire, and retain data scientists who know how to build the smart applications that provide this data. However, there are very few of these highly specialized data engineers, and most of them are employed by very large companies. They are extremely rare and extremely expensive.

There are exponentially more programmers than data scientists. Our product eliminates the need to have a PhD data scientist design every smart application in your business because programmers can use our smart machine learning server themselves, by writing simple-to-learn code.”

This is much more persuasive because we can see that the business leaders feel pain. They feel pain (a negative feeling indeed) because there is something important to their business that they can’t do with the resources they have available to them. The product can turn this pain into relief and joy (very positive feelings), because it takes away the impossible challenge of recruiting enough data scientists and allows the businesses to do this important work with the resources they have and can more easily find.

Think about a situation in which you need to be more persuasive, and try starting with the human being who is feeling a negative emotion, understanding what gives him or her a bad feeling, making darn sure that your product, service, or idea will turn that bad feeling into a good one, and communicating it. Let me know how it goes in the comments below.


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