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Chapter 11

The Rule of Involvement -- Create and Awaken Curiosity


Without involvement, there is no commitment. Mark it down, asterisk it, circle it, underline it. No involvement, no commitment.


The rule of involvement suggests that the more you engage someone's five senses, involve them mentally and physically, and create the right atmosphere for persuasion, the more effective and persuasive you'll be. Listening can be a very passive act; you can listen to an entire speech and not feel or do a thing. As a persuader, you need to help your audience be one step closer to taking action. As a superior persuader, your goal is to decrease the distance someone has to go to reach your objective.

When you get a prospect to start something, it is most likely they will follow through and complete your desired outcome. The more involved they become, the less psychological distance between the start and the finish. The desired outcome becomes more and more realistic instead of just an idea you are proposing. If you put on your shoes to go to the store, you are more likely to continue in that direction. If you sit down and turn on the TV, your goal of going to the store is less likely to be reached.

There are many ways to use involvement. We are going to focus on the following:

  1. Increasing Participation

  2. Creating Atmosphere

  3. Maintaining Attention

  4. Using the Art of Questioning

  5. Telling Mesmerizing Stories

  6. Repeating and Repackaging

  7. Building Suspense and Distraction

  8. Generating Competition

  9. Engaging the Five Senses

Increasing Participation

You can create involvement through increased participation. The more we take an active role and get involved, the more open to persuasion we become. When we take an active part in something, we feel more connected to and have stronger feelings for the issue at hand. We have a personal stake in what we are doing.

One of the keys to successful participation is making your problem their problem. This technique creates ownership and a willingness to help on the part of your prospects. Obviously, asking for help is much milder than telling someone what to do or think. You will have more success involving your prospects in the solution if you give them the option of participating. Feeling that it was their choice and their solution, your prospects will take ownership — they have persuaded themselves. It becomes their own problem and their own solution. By nature, people will support what they help create.

Store and mall owners understand the concept of participation. They attempt to get you participating by making eye contact with you, by arranging their stores to force you to spend more time in them, and by saying hello as you pass. When you shop for goods in Mexico, for example, the storeowner knows that if he can get you in the store and get you involved, there is a greater chance of persuasion and a purchase. As such he will make eye contact and do everything in his power to get you in the store. If you don't go in the store, he might follow you for blocks, showing you his products and trying to get you to buy.

The amount of time one spends in a store is directly related to how much one will buy. The more time spent, the more money spent. For example, in an electronics store, non-buyers averaged about five minutes and six seconds shopping time while buyers averaged nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds in the store. In a toy store, the longest any non-buyer stayed was ten minutes, while shortest time spent for a buyer was just over seventeen minutes. In some cases, buyers stayed up to four times longer than non-buyers.[1]

Many other arrangements are made by stores to persuade people to get interested and get involved. For example, hallways and walking paths at malls are made of hard marble or tiles. But the floors of individual stores are soft and carpeted — encouraging you to stay longer. Have you ever noticed that it is easy to get disoriented in a mall you are unfamiliar with? Malls purposely design their structures with hexagonal floor plans, which are the most difficult to navigate: complicated hallways, confusing angles, and consistent temperature and lighting. The Mall of America in Minnesota, the largest mall in America, wants you to get lost — you can walk forever and still not know exactly where you are.

This is also the reason why malls place department stores at opposite ends of each other. Department stores are draws, so for people to get from one to another, they will have to walk past every other store in the mall before they reach the opposite one. Grocery stores place their milk at the back of the store so customers have to walk through the rest of the store to grab a carton. All of these techniques increase the time that customers spend in the store. And as we know, increased time in a store means increased sales.


One way to get your audience more involved is to use role-playing. This technique has proven to be effective in getting people to actually convince themselves of something. Role-playing is the single most powerful way to induce attitude change through vicarious experience. In essence, you are getting people to make up arguments against their own beliefs. Do you want to know just how powerful role-playing is? One experiment used role-playing to convince people to stop smoking. The subjects role-played cigarette smokers having x-rays, receiving news of lung cancer, and coughing with emphysema. When compared with a control group of smokers, those who role-played this situation were more likely to have quit than those who passively learned about lung cancer.[2]

In another study, students were tested to see what types of persuasion techniques were most effective in delivering an anti-smoking message. One group was assigned to write, stage, and put on the presentation, while the other group was simply required to watch the presentation. As you might imagine, the group that was more involved in the presentation held more negative feelings about smoking than did the group that had just passively listened.

During World War II, the U.S. government had to ration traditional meats such as beef, chicken, and pork. However, Americans tend to be very picky about the meats they eat and often do not accept meat substitutes. The Committee on Food Habits was charged with overcoming the shortages of popular foods. How could they overcome the aversion to eating other meats?

Psychologist Kurt Lewin devised a program to persuade Americans to eat intestinal meats. Yes, your favorite — intestinal meats. He set up an experiment with two groups of housewives. In one group, the housewives were lectured on the benefits of eating intestinal meats. Members of the committee emphasized to them how making the switch would help the war effort. The housewives also heard fervent testimonials and received recipes. The second group of housewives was led in a group discussion about how they could persuade other housewives to eat intestinal meat. This group covered the same main topics as the other group. Of the group that was more involved in "role-playing" and discussing the question of "how they would persuade and convince others to eat intestinal meats," 32 percent of the housewives went on to serve their families intestinal meats. This was compared to 3 percent of the first group.[3]

Asking for Advice

Another way to get people to participate with you is to ask their opinions or advice. Simple phrases such as, "I need your help" "What is your opinion?" "What do you think about . . . ?" "How could I do this?" "How would you do this?" "Do you think I am doing it right?" and "Do you have any ideas?" can immediately spark the interest of your listener.

Watch how another person brightens up when you ask for his or her advice. For example, if you ask your neighbor, "Frank, how about helping me fix my fence?" he will probably tell you he is busy and has plans for the next twelve weekends. But suppose you said, "Frank, I have a challenge with this fence that I can't solve. I don't know what I am doing wrong and can't seem to get anywhere. I am not sure if I am doing it right or what to do next. Do you have ideas about how I could mend this fence? Could you come take a look?" You will see a marked difference in response between the first request and the second.

People have an innate desire to feel wanted and needed. When you fulfill this need, you open the door to persuasion and action, a fact that has been proved beyond a doubt by records kept on industrial workers. Workers who have no voice whatsoever in management, who cannot make suggestions, or who are not allowed to express their ideas simply do not do as much work as workers who are encouraged to contribute. The same is true in families. Family-relations expert Ruth Barbee said, "It is surprising how willingly a child will accept the final authority of the father, even if the decision goes against him, provided he has had a chance to voice his opinions, and make his suggestions, before the final decision is reached."[4]

Our opinions play an enormous role in changing our minds about issues. For action to occur, the change must be internalized. Consider this example: Suppose you surveyed people's opinions on some topic, let's say capital punishment, then divided them into two groups. Both groups are to write an essay on capital punishment that is against their true views. One group is "required" to write the essay, while the other group is asked to "volunteer" to write the essay. Both groups are then surveyed again for their opinions on capital punishment. What do you think the results would be? When this experiment was actually tried, the individuals who were required to write the essay showed almost no change at all in their opinions. Those volunteering to do so showed changes in opinion when tested later, even though their essays were written from a standpoint in conflict with their true views. From this, we learn two things: First, there was greater compliance from those who were given the choice and not forced to participate; second, as discussed in an earlier chapter, when people feel conflict or dissonance internally, they will often adapt or even change their position.


Another participation technique is to use visualization. No one can follow through on an act or message without first thinking or seeing in his or her mind that it is possible to accomplish it. You can mentally achieve participation by helping your audience visualize and see in their mind how your product or service will help them. Real estate agents attempt to help their clients visualize living with their family in a certain home. When showing the home, the agents want the people to envision it as their own.

A group of researchers went door-to-door selling cable TV subscriptions. When they included the phrase "imagine how cable TV will provide you with broader entertainment," they immediately achieved more success. Forty-seven percent of those who were told to imagine cable TV bought a subscription while only 20 percent of the control group did. The mind is activated when you help your prospect visualize your product or service.[5]

In many persuasive situations, your audience may not be interested in your message, service, or product at all. How do you pull in passers-by? Many times when we see a persuasive situation, we like to remain anonymous. We don't want to feel any pressure so we watch from a distance. If someone at the clothing store asks if we want help we say "no." We avoid the involvement because deep down we know that becoming involved will decrease our resistance.

I remember spending some time on Key West in the Florida Keys. Every night before dusk, everyone would gather at Sunset Pier to watch the sunset and enjoy the view. It is a great time of the day to unwind and enjoy nature's beauty. It is also the perfect opportunity for vendors and street performers to hawk their wares. We saw jugglers, sword swallowers, magic tricks, the works. One night, as I watched people walk by, many of them wanted to watch but felt timid unless a crowd had already gathered around the performers. The performers knew if they did not get a crowd, they would not make any money. When someone remains anonymous, they feel little pressure to donate. I saw someone who was doing a magic act call over to someone who was trying to remain anonymous. Soon, the performer got the man involved in his act. This attracted more people to watch and also got a donation from the gentleman, who no longer was anonymous.

If you see someone around you or in your audience who is avoiding or rejecting your message, try to get him or her involved. You can get a volunteer from your audience and by getting him to willingly participate, you will completely change his perspective. Pet storeowners are famous for this. They see children come in just to look around. The parents don't want to have a dog in the house, but their son or daughter still wants to look. The owner waits patiently to see the child's eyes light up and instantly fall in love with a new puppy. The child holds and hugs the puppy and the dad knows he is in for a struggle. The owner is wise and does not want to fight the father. He just says, "It looks like she has fallen in love with this puppy. I understand your apprehension about having a new puppy — who will be in charge of it? Tell you what — just take the puppy home for the weekend and if it doesn't work out, bring him back." Of course, you know that the rest is history. Who can't fall in love with a puppy after a weekend? The owner has successfully pulled a reluctant customer to get involved.

One of the most influential salesmen for the U.S. Army was Major General Walter S. Sweeney. In one city where he and his troops were staying, there was a strong feeling of hostility toward the troops. The general wisely invited one of the civic clubs to lunch. There, club members were served by army members — while they listened to the army band play — and heard different speeches. The meeting was successful, and others followed. It was not long before the hostility was forgotten. General Sweeney knew that the only way he would gain support was if he could involve and get to know the civilians.[6]

Physical Movement

Making your audience physically move can also affect the way your message is received. Involvement can be something as simple as getting people to say "yes," to raise their hands, or even just to nod their heads "yes." The more movement and involvement you can create, the greater your ability to persuade. Great persuaders look for times when they can get affirmation from their audience. They engineer their persuasive message to get as many verbal, mental, or physical "yeses" as they can throughout their presentation. And there is good evidence to support this practice. One study brought in a large group of students to do "market research on high-tech headphones." The students were told that the researchers wanted to test how well the headphones worked while they were in motion (while wearers were dancing up and down and moving their heads to the beat of Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles). Following the songs, the researchers played an argument about how the university's tuition should be raised from $587 per semester to $750 per semester. One group of students had been told to move their heads up and down throughout the music and the speaking. Another group was told to move their heads from side to side. A last group was told to make no movements at all.

After "testing the headsets," the students were asked to fill out a questionnaire about not only the headsets, but also the university's tuition. Those nodding their heads up and down (yes motion) overall rated a jump in tuition as favorable. Those shaking their heads side to side (no motion) overall wanted the tuition to be lowered. Those who had not moved their heads didn't really seem to be persuaded one way or the other.[7] In a similar study at the University of Missouri, the researchers found that TV advertisements were more persuasive when the visual display had repetitive vertical movements, for example, a bouncing ball.[8]


Engaging customers with human contact also works well for retail stores. Human beings are naturally drawn to other human activity.[9] The sight of other humans in motion attracts people — and increases sales. Studies show that the more contact employees make with customers, the greater the average sale.[10] In fact, any contact initiated by a store employee increases the likelihood that a shopper will buy something.[11] A shopper who talks to a salesperson and tries something on is twice as likely to buy as a shopper who does neither. Talking with an employee has a way of drawing a customer in closer and actively involving them.

The Power of "Yes"

Use questions that will create "yeses." As you create your marketing and persuasive presentations, you must engineer the number of times you get your audience to raise their hands, say yes, or nod their heads. How many verbal yeses are you getting? One easy and effective way to get more affirmative responses is to engineer questions that will receive a positive answer. For example, when a word ends in "n't" it will bring a "yes" response. Consider the following phrases:

Wouldn't it?

Isn't it?

Couldn't it?

Doesn't it?

Shouldn't it?

Won't you?

Can't you?

Wasn't it?

[1]David Sears, J. Freedman, and L. Peplau, Social Psychology (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall), p.154.

[2]A. C. Elms, "Influence of Fantasy Ability on Attitude Change Through Role Playing," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 4: 36–43.

[3]A. Pratkanis and E. Aronson, Age of Propaganda (New York: W. H. Freeman), pp. 123–124.

[4]Les Giblin, How to Have Confidence and Power in Dealing with People (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice Hall), p.120.

[5]W. L. Gregory, R. B. Cialdini, and K. M. Carpenter, "Mediators of Likelihood Estimates and Compliance: Does Imagining Make It So?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (1992): 89–99

[6]N. Christensen, The Art of Persuasion and Selling (New York: Parker Publishing), p. 20.

[7]G. Wells and R. Petty, "The Effects of Overt Head Movements on Persuasion," Basic and Applied Social Psychology 1, 3: 219–230.


[9]P. Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (New York: Simon & Schuster), p. 37.



Creating Atmosphere

Another way to boost participation is with atmosphere. Atmosphere is really just a state of mind that you can create. Think about the following locations and the atmosphere they purposefully create:

Each establishment is vastly different, but when you walk in, you know immediately the atmosphere or feeling that it evokes. In this way, the atmosphere moves you. Antique stores purposefully create an atmosphere of chaos. They appear to be unorganized with everything strewn around or disheveled. This is done so that customers believe they have stumbled upon a great find, a piece of buried treasure. Nike Town is a set of stores, each with an athletic theme. If the customer is successfully seduced by the excitement and energy of the athletic atmosphere, he will want to make himself just a little worthier of it. This means buying a new pair of Nikes.


Music is an important part of atmosphere. In department stores, shoppers who are exposed to music shop 18 percent longer and make 17 percent more purchases than shoppers in stores not playing music. There are even rhythms, pitches, and styles of music that are best for different shoppers. Grocery shoppers respond best to slow tempos. Fast food restaurants need a higher number of beats per minute. For the use of music to be effective, customers can't really be aware of it — the music should not be overpowering, rather it should be merely an atmospheric presence.


Aromas are commonly used as a participation device. We know that our sense of smell can evoke memories quicker (see the Rule of Association) and more intensely than any other method. We see many examples of the use of aromas to create the proper atmosphere. Victoria's Secret uses potpourri scents to augment their customers' feelings of femininity. Pizza stores use the smell of freshly baked pizza. Car dealers use the new car smell, even on used cars.

In the Kajima Cooperation in Japan, management uses aromas to increase productivity throughout the day. Their formula is citrus in the morning, for its rousing effects; floral scents in the afternoon, to encourage concentration; and woodland scents before lunch and at the end of the day, to help relax employees.[12] One study showed that people were more than twice as likely to provide a stranger with change for a dollar when they were within smelling range of a Cinnabon store.[13] The right smells can make a persuasive atmosphere.

Rushed vs. Relaxed

Atmosphere can also include the tension in the air. Is there a rush, or are customers relaxed? What type of climate are you trying to create? Do you want a quick, fast decision, or do you want your customers to feel comfortable enough to stay for a while? An interesting study on what happens when you create an atmosphere of being rushed can be seen in the following example:

Princeton University psychologists John Darley and Daniel Batson wanted to see how students would respond if they were in a situation replicating the biblical account of the Good Samaritan.[14] As the story goes, a band of thieves beat, robbed, and left a man traveling alone by the roadside to die. A devout priest and a reputable Levite passed by. Neither of the men stopped to help the dying man. Finally, a Samaritan, loathed and despised by society, stopped to help him. The Samaritan bound up his wounds, took him to an inn, and even paid the innkeeper to care for him until he returned.

Darley and Batson asked seminarians on a one-on-one basis to prepare and present a short speech on an assigned biblical topic. The test was set up so that on their way to the location where they would deliver their speech, each student would cross a man slumped over, coughing and groaning. Which students would actually stop and help? Before preparing their speeches, the students filled out a questionnaire asking why they had chosen to study theology. Then a variety of speech topics were assigned, including the story of the Good Samaritan. As the students were leaving to deliver their speeches, some were told, "You'd better hurry. They were expecting you about three minutes ago." Others were told, "They won't be ready for a few minutes, but you may as well head over now."

Now, most people would assume that seminarians stating on their questionnaires that they had chosen to study theology so they could help people and who were then assigned to speak on the Good Samaritan would be the ones most likely to stop and help the ailing man on their way. Interestingly, neither of those two factors seemed to make much of a difference. In fact, Darley and Batson stated, "Indeed, on several occasions, a seminary student going to give his talk on the parable of the Good Samaritan literally stepped over the victim as he hurried on his way." The element that seemed to be most influential was whether or not the student was rushed. Of the students who were told they were already a little late, only 10 percent stopped to help. Of the students who were told they had a little bit more time, 63 percent stopped to help.[15]

We can learn from this example that we can create atmospheres where people are so involved and feel so much pressure to be sufficiently involved that they ignore other factors they normally would not ignore.

Hands-on Experience

Another good way to get people involved is to get your product into their hands. If they can begin to use it, chances are they will continue. That is why car dealers encourage test drives. You will even see car dealerships give their loyal customers a car to drive for a few days. How can you go back to your old car after driving around in a new car? By that point, neighbors and coworkers have already seen you in the car and have commented about your new vehicle. You're thoroughly involved and the new car is yours. You want people to experience your product for free. Free trials are really what made the Internet company AOL (America Online) successful. Who doesn't have free CDs from AOL?

Many TV advertisers offer a free one-month trial before you have to pay for their product. After the month is up, most consumers will keep the product, even if they didn't use it. The trial period has created a sense of ownership in the product, and consumers don't like to relinquish ownership. This is also why so many companies use introductory offers. Credit card issuers are known for tempting customers with introductory deals that give very low interest rates.

To get your product in your prospects' hands, get them to open the box and play with the object, give them the feeling of ownership, make them feel as if they already bought it, and suggest how the product can be used in their home. There are many other examples of the Rule of Involvement. Think about the listening stations in the music stores, the comfortable chairs where you can kick back and read in the bookstores, booths set up at the malls where you can try and test products and equipment, CD clubs where you get so many free CDs, frequent user programs, coupons, contests, and the variety of services offering free estimates.

The 3M Company certainly discovered the value of putting product into customers' hands. At their outset, Post-it Notes were not very successful. 3M was going to discontinue the whole line until the brand manager sent a case of Post-it Notes to 499 of the Fortune 500 Companies. Because of their trial run, the Fortune 500 companies loved the efficiency of Post-it Notes, and the rest is history.[16]

Another common way for businesses to cash in on the Rule of Involvement is to use the "magic" of written declarations. This occurs through the use of an innocent-looking promotional device. You're probably familiar with company-sponsored essay contests, you know, the ones that ask you to write a 100-word essay beginning with the statement, "I love this product because . . ."? Well, is there any better way to get a commitment from someone than to have them put it in writing? What about those Crayola drawing contests, where kids had to submit their artwork created with Crayola's crayons? It's the same principle.

Usually we are more inclined to favor our own ideas over the ideas of others, right? Knowing that people do not typically resist their own ideas can be key when trying to influence others. Always seek to get your prospects to think your ideas are their own. An example of this strategy in action is when companies have the customers fill out a sales agreement. Cancellations are amazingly low when customers have filled out their agreements on their own. It's a double whammy: Not only are your prospects agreeing to what you want, but they are also putting it in writing!

[12]Des Dearlove, "A Breath of Lemon-Scented Air," The London Times, April 3, 2007.

[13]Matt Crenson, "Scent of Cookies Brings Out Best in Shoppers," Las Vegas Review Journal, October 14, 1996.

[14]Luke 10:30–37.

[15]J. Darley and D. Batson, "From Jerusalem to Jericho: A Study of Situational and Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior," Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27: 100–119.

[16]S. Godin and M. Gladwell, Unleashing the Idea Virus (New York: Hyperion).

Maintaining Attention

It is common sense to realize you have to keep your audience's attention in order to persuade them. If you lose them, you lose your chance for them to understand and accept your proposal. We know from our own personal experience that we tend to let our minds naturally drift when we are listening to other people. We cannot focus on one item for too long unless we are forced to do so. The experienced persuader can make a person want to pay attention and stay focused. You may lose your audience's attention from time to time but it is your job to bring them back to full attention status. You can help your prospect lose track of time.

Some estimate that the average adult attention span is about eighteen minutes. What's more, studies indicate that attention spans have been decreasing steadily over the past decade. The blame seems to be put on the media, on lack of circumstances that require concentration, and of course on the MTV generation always wanting to be entertained or tuning out. After our attention span has lapsed, we become bored and no longer listen. You have to be creative to maintain the mental involvement that is required to persuade a mind. One way to keep the mind harnessed is to give your audience enough time to process what you are telling them. You can tell by the look in their eyes if you have lost them. I'm sure you have taken seminars or college classes where you have been completely lost. When the professor asks questions, you don't raise your hand because you have no idea what is going on. Give your listeners enough time to absorb what you're saying, but obviously not so long that they become totally bored and detached.

Some more ideas on ways to help people choose to pay attention:

You can see that these techniques are used to grab back the attention of your listeners when their minds have started wandering. Employed properly they will bring your audience's attention back to you.

Thousands of sales are lost each day simply because the salesperson talks too much. Salespeople tend to oversell by making a laundry list of reasons why people should buy their product. This is not what people want to hear. As a result, they will always find one reason or another not to buy. The more benefits you list, the greater the chances that your prospect will find a reason not to buy. Overselling will also kill the emotions of the prospect.

Movement is another common technique for grabbing attention. It causes us to be alert. Stores utilizing movement-oriented end-caps (displays at the end of the aisle) always have more shoppers around than those using end-caps without movement. This strategy can be used to your advantage when doing a presentation. When your movements are purposeful and well timed, your audience will be more tuned in to your message.

Using the Art of Questioning

Of all the tools in your persuasion toolbox, questioning is probably the one most often used by elite persuaders. Questions gain immediate involvement. Questions are used in the persuasion process to create mental involvement, to guide the conversation, to set the pace of conversation, to clarify statements and objections, to determine beliefs, attitudes, and values, to force you to slow down, to find out what your prospect needs, and to show your sincerity. Questioning is a very diverse and useful tool. Negotiation experts Neil Rackham and John Carlisle observed hundreds of negotiators in action in an attempt to discover what it takes to be a top negotiator. Their key finding was that skilled negotiators ask more than twice as many questions as average negotiators.[17]

Much like movement, questions elicit an automatic response from our brains. We are taught to answer a question when it is posed to us. We automatically think of a response when asked a question. Even if we don't verbalize the answer, we think about it in our head. Most people want to be cooperative. We don't want to be considered rude because we don't answer the questions. In this way, a question stimulates our thinking response.

Let's look a little bit at how to form good questions. First, design your questions ahead of time. The structure of your questions dictates how your listener will answer them. When asked to estimate a person's height, people will answer differently depending on whether the question asked is "How tall is he?" versus "How short is he?" In one study, when asking how tall versus how short a basketball player was, researchers received dramatically different results. The "how tall" question received the guess of 79 inches whereas the "how short" question received the guess of 69 inches.[18] Words have a definite effect on how people respond. "How fast was the car going?" suggests a high speed, but "At what speed was the car traveling?" suggests a moderate speed. "How far was the intersection?" suggests the intersection was far away.

If you are probing for lots of information, it is best to keep your questions unstructured. The more unstructured the question, the more information you are likely to get. In a conversation in which you are asking many unstructured questions, the other person is likely to be doing most of the talking. Along this vein, it is a good idea to ask open-ended questions. It is too easy to respond to a question that can be answered with a simple "yes" or "no." For example, instead of saying, "Do you wish you had decided differently?" ask, "How did you feel after you made that decision?" Then the person's answer can be used as a device to lead into your more detailed questions — "Why did you make that decision?" or "What do you wish you could change about your decision?" — without your seeming intrusive.

A good rule of thumb is to start with the easiest questions first. You want to draw your audience into the conversation and help them feel relaxed and comfortable. People are encouraged by answers they know are right. Begin the conversation by starting with a general topic instead of a specific subject. You need to get the wheels in your listeners' minds rolling before you ask them to answer the more specific questions.

One facet of questioning is the use of leading questions. Leading questions are questions that give a semi-interpretation to your audience. The best trial lawyers are experts at using leading questions to cross-examine and influence witnesses. Stanford professor Elizabeth Loftus researched how leading questions influenced eyewitness testimonies. In one project, her subjects watched a one-minute multiple-car accident. One group was asked, "About how fast were the cars going when they smashed into each other?" The second group was asked, "How fast were the cars going when they hit?" The third group was asked, "How fast were they going when they contacted?" The first group estimated that the cars were going about 40.8 miles an hour, the second group estimated 34 miles an hour, and the third group estimated 31.8 miles an hour.[19] The same question led to three different answers just by using alternative phrasing.

Leading questions not only alter the way we interpret facts, but they also influence what we remember. In another study conducted by Loftus, study subjects who were asked, "Did you see the broken headlight?" were two or three times more likely to answer yes than subjects who were asked, "Did you see a broken headlight?"[20]

A Two-Way Street

Questioning can also measure the level of receptivity in your prospects. How receptive your audience is correlates with how many questions or statements arise. So what if there are no questions? What do you do? If there are no questions, it could be because the audience needs time to think about what you have just said, they could be afraid to ask because of what others might think, or they just might not be able to think of a good question to ask. Maybe you went on too long or stepped on a sensitive issue. Perhaps the audience has already made up their minds, or maybe they don't speak English.

The best questions draw a person into a conversation and out of being unreceptive. So, it is to your advantage to direct questions at your prospects that will reel them in:

What do you think about . . . ?

Have you ever thought about . . . ?

How do you feel about. . . ?

When did you start. . . ?

Where did you find. . . ?

Be prepared to field questions that the audience will ask and want to know. Brainstorm ahead of time for possible questions, scenarios, and answers. There will always be someone who asks the tough questions. If you are the expert, you are expected to know the answers. Obviously, if you don't know the answer, you should not make one up. If the question is way out of line, you can say you don't know the answer. But what do you do when your audience expects you to know the answer and you don't? How do you save yourself from losing credibility?

One way is to throw the question back to the audience and ask for the audience's help or opinions. Another strategy is asking to have the question repeated. This gives you more time to think of a response. Restate the question and ask if that is correct. This also helps you make sure you understand the question. You can request that the person asking the question consult with you later: "Get with me at the break so we can talk about that." It is better to tell one person you don't know than admitting it to the whole audience. Alternatively, you can ask the person posing the question whether they have any of their own insights into the subject.

Handling Objections

When you get people involved in the process, you will get some objections. The way you handle objections will correlate with how mentally involved people become with your message. The better you become at handling objections, the more persuasive you will become.

When you become refined as a persuader, you will learn to love objections. You will come to understand that when people voice their objections, it actually indicates interest and shows that they are paying attention to what you are saying. The key to persuasion is anticipating all objections before you hear them. Fielding questions and handling objections can make or break you as a persuader. Such skills will help you in every aspect of your life.

Here are some tips on how to handle objections:

  1. The first thing is to find out if the objection is something you can solve. Suppose you are negotiating a large office furniture order and the objection comes up about not being able to afford your furniture. You then find out your prospect just declared bankruptcy. Obviously there is nothing you can do or say that will resolve such an objection.

  2. Let your prospect state his objection: Hear him out completely, without interruption. Wait until he is finished before you say anything. Hold your response until the other person is receptive to what you are about to say. This is the first time your prospect has voiced his objection; he will not listen until he has said what is on his mind.

  3. Always ask your prospect to restate or repeat his key points. Every time he replays his objection it becomes clearer in both your minds. Letting him speak, particularly if he is upset, drains emotion from his objection. Allowing him to voice his concerns also gives you time to think about a response and helps you determine his intent in bringing up the objection in the first place.

  4. Always compliment your prospect on her objection. As a persuader, you can appreciate a good objection; it dictates the direction in which you should take your presentation. You don't have to prove you are right 100 percent of the time. Skillful persuaders will always find some point of agreement. It's important to recognize the apprehension or objections people have instead of ignoring them.

  5. Stay calm. Scientific tests have proven that calmly stated facts are more effective in getting people to change their minds than are threats and force.

  6. Don't be arrogant or condescending. Show empathy with your prospect's objection. Let him know others have felt this way. Talk in the third person; use a disinterested party to prove your point. This is why we often use testimonials — to let someone else do the persuading for us.

  7. Give the person room to save face. People will often change their minds and agree with you later. Unless your prospect has made a strong stand, leave the door open for her to later agree with you and save face at the same time. It could be that she did not have all the facts, that she misunderstood, or that you didn't explain everything correctly.

Quick Note: If you are dealing with a stubborn person who absolutely will not change his mind about anything, don't panic. There are reasons why this person is closed-minded and always saying "no" to everything. He might not have a clear idea about what you are proposing, he may have been hurt in the past, he may be afraid of being judged, or he may feel his ideas are not appreciated. Don't take it personally; it will happen from time to time.

[17]N. Rackham, Account Strategies for Major Sales (New York: McGraw-Hill), p. 143.

[18]E. Loftus, "Reconstructing Memory: The Incredible Eyewitness," Psychology Today 8: 116.

[19]L. Wrightsman, M. Nietzel, and W. Fortune, Psychology and the Legal System (Pacific Grove, Calif.: Brooks/Cole Publishing), p. 147.


Telling Mesmerizing Stories

Stories are powerful tools for persuaders. Compelling storytelling automatically creates attention and involvement with your audience. We can all think of a time when we were in an audience and not paying attention to the speaker. We were off in our own world when all of a sudden we perked up and started to listen because the speaker had begun to tell a story. We sat up, listened attentively, took note of what was being said, and wanted to know what would happen next. Whenever you sense your audience is starting to wander, you should have a relevant story ready.

Notice I said "relevant." You can capture attention by telling a story but you will lose long-term persuasiveness if your story does not relate to you or your topic. When your stories work well to underscore your main points, your presentation will hold greater impact. Remember, facts presented alone will not persuade as powerfully as they will when coupled with stories that strike a chord within your listeners. By tapping into inspiration, faith, and a person's innermost feelings, you will cause your prospects to be moved by your story.

Stories can be effectively used to do any or all of the following:

Stories answer questions in the audience's mind about who you are and what you represent. If you don't answer these questions for your listeners, they will make up the answers themselves. Your audience members can tell from a story whether you are funny, honest, or even whether you want to be with them. Remember, building rapport is a key ingredient for persuasion. Since you usually don't have time to build trust based on personal experience, the best you can do is tell your prospects a story that simulates an experience of your trustworthiness. Hearing your story is as close as they can get to the firsthand experience of watching you in action.

Your goal is for the listeners to arrive at your conclusions of their own free will. Your story needs to take them on a step-by-step tour of your message. A persuasive story simplifies your concepts so your audience can understand what you are talking about and what you want them to do. We love stories to give us answers to our problems. We accept the answers a story gives us more than if someone were to just provide us with those answers.

Courtroom lawyers often create reenactments of events. They make the stories so rich in sensory detail that the jury literally sees, hears, and feels the event as it unfolded. The trial lawyer's goal is to make the description so vivid that the jurors feel the client's distress as their own and as such are moved by it. The more concrete and specific your descriptive details, the more persuasive your story telling will be. Using specific details pulls the listener into the story, making it real, making it believable.

Pack your stories with authenticity, passion, and humor. Make sure they are straightforward and that the timeline or character development is not confusing. A story that confuses will not convince. Use your body, voice, props, music, or costumes if necessary. These methods intensify your message because they reach all the senses. Engaging the senses of your listeners will make your story more effective. If you can get your listeners to see, hear, smell, feel, and taste the elements of your story, their imaginations will drive them to the point of experiencing without actually being there.

As you learn to incorporate the senses, you will find that their effects can persuade faster than your words. For example, smells and tastes can be very powerful. Both can evoke strong emotional memories and even physiological reactions in your listeners. Invite them to imagine the smell of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and you will see noses flare and faces relax with the feeling associated with that special aroma. Such sensation will fill their minds with feeling. Or describe in full detail the sensation of biting into a fresh orange. You want the experience to come alive in their mind as if it is happening to them. Paint the picture in such a way that it becomes so real that your audience feels a part of it. People will participate in your stories when you let them.

Repeating and Repackaging

The more you expose someone to a particular concept or idea, the more that concept or idea will become favorable to them. Things do grow on us. Have you ever heard a song on the radio that you didn't like until it started to grow on you? This is also true with people. You may not like some people at first, but after awhile you grow to like them, and sometimes you even become their friend. Ever wonder why politicians want signs and posters with their names and faces all over everyone's yards, street corners, bumpers, and windows? The use of repetition can be very effective. It is often said that repetition is the mother of all learning, but it is also the mother of effective persuasion. Repetition increases awareness, understanding, and retention.

You have to be careful to use repetition wisely, however. My motto is, "Repackage; Don't Repeat." This means you can use the power of repetition, but you don't always have to say the words exactly the same way. You can make the same point with a story, a fact, a statistic, an analogy, or a testimony and never have to repeat yourself. You know how you feel when you hear the exact same joke for the second or even third time — it doesn't carry the same punch as it did the first time, so you usually tune out.

Even when repackaging, keep it to no more than three times. If you present your message less than three times, it will not have a very strong effect. If you present your message more than three times, it becomes "worn out" and loses its potency. For example, in a study where children were shown the same ice cream commercial over and over while watching a cartoon, the children who saw the commercial three times actually wanted the ice cream more than those who had seen the commercial five times.[21] In another study, students were told they were to judge the sound quality of audiocassettes. What the researchers were really searching for, however, was the varying responses after having heard the recorded message one, three, or five times. The message discussed support of an increase in university spending via visitor luxury tax or increased student tuition. Students actually favored the argument for the luxury tax with up to three repetitions, but at five repetitions, their favor for this argument declined.[22]

Another aspect of repetition is persistence. If you have ever been in sales, you know that the most successful salespeople are the most persistent; they keep nudging until the sale is made. Most sales reps try to close the sale only once or twice, but we know the average person has to be asked five to six times before a sale takes place. Many people are afraid to ask again and again. We tend to think that if we ask someone to do something and they say they'll think about, that they will. Well, I hate to break the news to you, but they don't. We forget. Our lives are busy. That is why repetition and persistence increase your involvement and your ability to persuade.

Polished persuaders can feel the fine line between persistence and annoyance. My general rule is that if you detect even the slightest of interest, keep up your persistence. I was in Mexico recently with a friend. We were enjoying a nice walk through the town, looking at all the shops and buildings. Out of nowhere, a vendor selling bracelets and necklaces approached and disrupted our nice stroll. "No, thank you" did little to deter the pesky vendor. He followed us through the town and through the streets. When we went into a shop hoping he'd leave, he even waited outside the store for us. Again, we told him "no, thank you" and that we had no need for his gold and silver bracelets. "But I have a special deal," he kept telling us! Well, he was persistent (or we could say a pain in the butt) but it finally paid off. We bought a bracelet and he went home happy.

Persistence is a state of mind, which means it can be cultivated. Most people do not lack desire; they lack persistence. As Calvin Coolidge said:

Successful people always have high levels of persistence, and don't give up until they have reached their objective. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not. Nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not. Unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not. The world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence, determination and hard work make the difference.

Remember, you can have the best product and it might even be a perfect fit for the person you are trying to persuade. They might even feel it is a perfect fit and want it, but they will say no just because it's human nature. Good persuaders don't take "no" for an answer. If they know their product is what the prospect needs and is looking for, they keep pursuing. Persuasion is getting the other person to want what you want and to like it. This can only happen with honorable persistence.

[21]G. Gorn and M. Goldberg, "Children's Responses to Repetitive TV Commercials," Journal of Consumer Research (2000): 421–425.

[22]R. E. Petty and J. T. Cacioppo, "Effects of Forewarning of Persuasive Intent and Involvement on Cognitive Responses and Persuasion," Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin (1979):173–176.

Building Suspense and Distraction

The element of mystery can be effectively employed to involve your audience. We are all naturally curious about the unknown. When we feel we've been left hanging, it drives us crazy! We want to know the end of the story. We want our tasks to be completed so we can check them off our list. This is also known as the "Zeigarnik Effect," named after Bluma Zeigarnik, a Russian psychologist. This effect is the tendency we have to remember uncompleted thoughts, ideas, or tasks more than completed ones.

We see the Zeigarnik Effect on the television news and other programs. Right before a commercial break, the newscasters announce some interesting tidbit that will come later in the hour. This piques your interest and, rather than flipping the channel, you stay tuned. Movies and dramas on television also leave you hanging in suspense. By leaving something uncompleted right before the commercial break, the programs draw our attention, keep us involved, and motivate us to continue watching. We don't feel satisfaction until we receive finality, closure, or resolution to the message, our goals, or any aspect of our life.

You also see the Zeigarnik Effect in the courtroom. We already know that people feel more confident and impressed with information they discover for themselves over time. This dictates that persuaders slowly dispel information, rather than dumping large volumes of information all at once. A good lawyer does not disclose everything he knows about the case or the plaintiff during his opening statement. As the trial progresses, the jury can fill in the blanks for themselves with the additional information they gradually receive. This works much better than dumping all the information on them in the beginning. It holds the jurors' attention longer and gives the message more validity. The jury discovers the answers for themselves, and is more likely to arrive at the desired conclusion.

Distraction has been proven to increase your ability to persuade. On the flip side, if the distraction is disagreeable, your persuasive ability will diminish. This means, depending on the situation, you can persuade better with a distraction than with total concentration. Social psychologists Leon Festinger and Nathan Maccoby proved this theory with their landmark study on what are the best distracters. They discovered that food and sex appeal worked the best.[23]

In another experiment, the two men attempted to persuade college students that fraternities are bad.[24] Their presentation was not well received by the students, so they did the experiment a second time. This time they used a funny silent movie during the presentation. The results were clear. More of the students who were distracted with the silent movie changed their opinions about fraternities. In this study, distracting the conscious mind increased the persuasiveness of the message.

[23]L. A. Festinger and N. Maccoby, "On Resistance to Persuasive Communication," Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology 68: 359–366.


Generating Competition

Most humans are very competitive. When you package something as a competition, most people will want to be involved. Certainly some personality types shy away from competition, but most people are naturally competitive. Persuaders must be able to see how the use of competition works within the group they are dealing with. As you introduce competition into your presentation, you can create rivalry between different entities. Maybe you are using a competition where each individual is competing against himself or perhaps you create competition among the individual members of the group. Maybe you are pitting the group against another group or perhaps you are trying to get them to compete against the status quo.

All of these approaches will create involvement, but the most effective way may be to get the whole group working together against a common enemy. When you can create a unity of competition against an enemy, you will see more energy, teamwork, and motivation toward the goal. The fastest way to set up this type of competition within a group is to either create an external threat or to simply set your group against another group.

A group of researchers wanted to test the effectiveness of competition as a motivator at a summer camp for boys. As you might imagine, it was pretty easy to create an atmosphere of competition. In fact, simply separating the boys into two cabins created sentiments of "we versus they." The competitive feelings between the two groups grew as increasingly competitive activities were introduced. For example, as the boys became involved in cabin-against-cabin treasure hunts, tugs-of-war, and other athletic team competitions, name-calling and scuffles grew more common.

The researchers then sought to see whether they could use the competitiveness to create cooperation toward something mutually productive and beneficial. The researchers set conditions so that if the boys didn't work together, they were all at a disadvantage and, conversely, if the boys did work together, all had the advantage. For example, the truck going into town for food was stuck. It required all the boys helping and pushing to get it on the road again. When the boys were told there was a great movie available to rent but no money to rent it, the boys pooled their resources and enjoyed the movie together.[25]

[25]M. Sherif, O. Harvey, B. White, W. Hood, and C. Sherif, Intergroup Conflict and Cooperation: The Robbers' Cave Experience. (Norman, Okla.: University of Oklahoma Institute of Intergroup Relations, 1961).

Engaging the Five Senses

We were all born with five senses, each helping us to make generalizations about the world. You should engage all five sensations when trying to persuade an audience. When we learn, 75 percent comes to us visually, 13 percent comes through hearing, and 12 percent comes through smell, taste and touch.[26]

However, keep in mind that there are three dominant senses we gravitate toward. They are sight, hearing, and feeling, or, visual, auditory, and kinesthetic sensations. Most people tend to favor one of these perceptions over the others. As a persuader, you need to identify and use your prospect's dominant perspective on the world. Granted, we generally make use of all three senses, but the point is to find the dominant perception. As you determine the dominant mode, consider the size of your audience. If you are speaking to one person, for example, you would want to pinpoint the one perception that is dominant in that person. If you have an audience of one hundred, on the other hand, you need to use all three styles.

For example, if you were to ask an auditory person to be an eyewitness to a robbery, he would describe the situation something like, "I was walking down First Avenue listening to the singing birds when I heard a scream for help. The yelling got louder, there was another scream, and the thief ran off." A visual person might describe the same situation this way: "I was walking down First Avenue watching the birds playing in the air. I observed this large man coming around the corner. He looked mean and attacked the smaller man. I saw him take his wallet and run from the scene." The kinesthetic person would use this description: "I was walking down First Avenue and I felt a lump in my throat, feeling that something bad was going to happen. There was a scream, there was tension, and I knew that a man was getting robbed. I felt helpless to do anything."

The most commonly prevalent of the senses is sight, or visual perception. One study showed that those who used visual presentation tools (slides, overheads, etc.) were 43 percent more persuasive than subjects who didn't. Also, those using a computer to present their visual aids were considered more professional, interesting, and effective.[27] Visually oriented people understand the world according to how it looks to them. They notice the details, like an object's shape, color, size, and texture. They say things like, "I see what you mean," "From your point of view . . . ," "How does that look to you?" "I can't picture it," and "Do you see what I mean?" They tend to use words like "see," "show," "view," "look," "watch," and "observe."

Auditory people perceive everything according to sound and rhythm. Phrases you would commonly hear would be, "I hear you," "That sounds good to me," "Can you hear what I'm saying?" "It doesn't ring a bell," and "Let's talk about it." They use words such as "hear," "listen," "sounds," "debate," "silence," "harmony," "rings," "say," "speak," "discuss," and "verbalize."

Kinesthetic people go with what they feel, not only in a tactile way, but also internally. They are very into feelings and emotions. A kinesthetic person would say things like, "That feels right to me," "I will be in touch with you," "Do you feel that?" "I understand how you feel," and "I can sense it."

They use words such as "feel," "touch," "hold," "connect," "reach," "unite," "grasp," "tension," "sense," "lift," and "understand."

One last word on visual, auditory, and kinesthetic sensations: A general way to tell which type describes a particular person is to watch the movement of their eyes when they have to think about a question. Ask them a question, watch their eyes, and make sure the question is difficult enough that they have to ponder for a moment. Generally, but not 100 percent of the time, if they look up when they think, they are visual. When they look to either side, they are usually auditory. When they look down, they are kinesthetic. I am simplifying a complicated science, but if you try it, you will be amazed at the accuracy of this technique.

[26]D. Peoples, Presentations Plus (New York: John Wiley and Sons), p. 66.

[27]The 3M Meeting Management Team, How to Run Better Business Meetings (New York: McGraw-Hill), pp. 114–115.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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