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Chapter 15

Your Persuasion Checklist -- The Secrets of Influence


Before anything else, getting ready is the secret to success.


To be an effective persuader, you cannot use the same techniques for all people all the time. You have to customize your message to fit the demographics, interests, and values of your audience. This chapter presents what I call the Persuasion Checklist. It will help you to effectively adapt your persuasive techniques to your target audience. The foundation of the Persuasion Checklist is rooted in a solid understanding of human psychology, the ways to handle resistance, and the methods of effectively structuring a persuasive argument. This is the knowledge necessary to make the Persuasion Checklist work in any persuasive situation.

All battles are first won in the mind. You have to be mentally ready to persuade. Prepare yourself by knowing as much about your audience as possible. The persuasion process can be thought of as "persuasion engineering." You have to draw up the blueprint for your persuasive techniques instead of "flying by the seat of your pants." It's like reading the roadmap before you drive. You need to understand where you are going, what route you should take, what the driving conditions will be, etc. Persuasion operates the same way. Just remember the three D's: discover, design, and deliver:

Discover what your prospects want and need to hear.

Design and structure a winning persuasive argument.

Deliver the message with passion, compassion, and purpose.

We all have our own "personal code." You must unlock your prospects' codes. Most of this code is hidden from the untrained eye, so you'll have to know what to look for. Consider how code is used in designing Web pages. We have all surfed the Internet and seen hundreds, even thousands, of different Web pages. Underlying each page is HTML code. This code makes each page look and act differently. Many pages have hidden code that is difficult to find and understand. Similarly, we each have code that is apparent and some other code that is not apparent. Our code is the sum of our beliefs, experiences, motivations, thoughts, attitudes, values, personality, and soon, that makes us who we are. The key for you is to decode the situation or the prospect, so you can know how to most effectively persuade your audience.

Finding and interpreting code comes with knowledge and experience, and the more knowledge and more experience you have, the easier it becomes to find and crack the code.

The following items make up the Persuasion Checklist:

  1. Beliefs and Values

  2. Change

  3. Acceptance

  4. Listening

  5. Personality Directions

  6. Persuasion Structure and Engineering

Monitoring Mindset: The Mental Game of Persuasion


Understanding your audience's beliefs will help you know what approach to take. Beliefs are those things we accept as truth, consciously or subconsciously, proven or unproven. Beliefs come from our environment, our culture, our education, our experience, or even through osmosis from our friends and family. One of the most common sources of our beliefs comes from being a part of a group, such as a family or a type of tight-knit community. People often take on the beliefs and rules of the groups to which they belong and then behave in accordance with those beliefs and rules.


A value is more ingrained than a belief because it is more deeply and consciously committed to. A value is typically something that has been very thoroughly contemplated and accepted. It is for this reason that values are much harder to change than beliefs. Usually, a true value will not be changed, not even by wealth, acceptance, or pressure. Be sure when you are in a persuasive situation that your audience doesn't feel like you're trying to attack their values. This will only make them feel defensive toward you. As Walt Disney wisely stated, "When values are clear, decisions are easy."


People who are indifferent most likely have never even thought about the issue, or they have had no reason to care about it. Indifferent people come across as greatly apathetic because the topic you are presenting is something they've never had to cognitively process before. People who are indifferent don't want to be bothered. These people usually don't care about you or your message. Often they're only there because they have to be, or their indifference is just a general lack of interest or boredom in general. An indifferent audience needs attention, empathy, and a reason to care.

Monitoring the Ability to Change: Getting Inside the Closed Mind

Life is change; persuasion is change. You must be able to create and motivate change. Understanding human nature is knowing that most people will resist change and burrow into their comfort zones. We tend to follow the path of least resistance. However, change is the only thing that can lift us up from where we currently lie. Oliver Wendell Holmes said, "Man's mind, stretched to a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions." We all want to become a better person and to be "stretched" to accomplish more things, but we are stuck in our daily patterns.

As you go through the Persuasion Checklist, find out how resistant to change your audience is likely to be. Will persuading them be like breaking through a brick wall or a cardboard box? Are they ready to make changes because of their circumstances and surroundings? Are they already trying to change? Some of your prospects will oppose you and blatantly resist your persuasive message. This is great news — this means they are listening and it's a sign of involvement. If the audience gives no feedback, then they are not involved in your message.

There are three ways people make changes in their life. One is through drastic change. This could be a heart attack, a personal tragedy, or losing a job. These events force people to change their lives. They did not feel a need to change until threatening, life-changing events occurred. The second is through gradual change. This is a process that evolves from events or personal relationships. Gradual change happens over time, so much so that you usually don't notice that it is happening. The third way people change their lives is through internal change. This can come from inspiration or desperation, but either way, you have consciously decided you are going to make changes in your life.

To get change to stick, you must make sure three things occur, whether within yourself or your audience. First, there must be a long-term, enthusiastic commitment to change. You have to decide there is no other option. The second thing is that you must be willing to pay the price, persisting even when you feel weak. Third, you have to know where the change is taking them. How is this going to affect their lives? What are the end results?

The biggest obstacles to change are lack of motivation, lack of knowledge, and fear. People will not change if they don't know where that change is taking them. We naturally watch out for our own future and want to prevent harm from reaching us. As a persuader, you need to create a vision for your audience, one that shows them what they will be like in the future. If you can get people to see themselves in the future and witness where that change will take them, they will be more willing to embrace change. Understand that people will resist change unless sufficient reinforcement and tools are provided to assist them. Without having this knowledge, their attitudes won't change, and if their attitudes won't change, then their actions won't change.

Monitoring the Acceptance Level: Determine Where the Audience Stands

An important part of the Persuasion Checklist is determining what the audience's current acceptance level is for the subject you want to present. Ask yourself the following questions when making this determination:

  1. Knowledge: What does my audience know about the topic I want to talk about?

  2. Interest: How interested is the audience in my subject?

  3. Background: What are the common demographics of my audience?

  4. Support: How much support already exists for my views?

  5. Beliefs: What are my audience's common beliefs?

Understanding different types of audiences will also help you determine their acceptance level. Following are some different categories of audiences and how to deal with each of them.

The Hostile Audience

This group disagrees with you and may even actively work against you. For a hostile audience, use these techniques:

The Neutral or Indifferent Audience

This audience understands your position but doesn't care about the outcome. The key to dealing with this group is creating motivation and energy — be dynamic. To persuade the indifferent audience:

The Uninformed Audience

An uninformed audience lacks the information they need to be convinced. To persuade them, you should employ the following tactics:

The Supportive Audience

A supportive audience already agrees with you. You may think that persuading these people is easy, but remember that your goal is to get them to take action, not necessarily to just agree with you. These techniques should be used with a supportive audience:

Most audiences are a mix of all four of these types. Find out the dominant audience type that will be present and tailor your remarks accordingly. Of course, mix in some techniques from the other three areas since your prospects will always be a blend of all four.

The Persuasion Pitfall

Understand your audience and what Rules of Persuasion you are going to use on them. There are times and situations where certain persuasive laws or techniques are not appropriate. You cannot treat every person or every audience the same way. If you take persuasion too far, you will run into what I call the Persuasion Pitfall.

People are persuaded and influenced until they feel cheated, misled, or taken advantage of, and then they never tell you about their feelings or do business with you again.

In sales and marketing, we have a tendency push the envelope a little too hard when trying to persuade others. This could be in a personal one-on-one encounter with a friend or in a visit to the local furniture store. Persuaders who do not possess the ability to read others or who do not have the skills necessary to persuade typically fall victim to the Persuasion Pitfall. They will take persuasion a little too far, using extreme pressure or trying to sell you a product you don't need or want. Use persuasion, influence, or power the wrong way and people lose all trust in you, never to be persuaded by you again. When over-persuading, you do or say something that sets off silent alarms in you prospects' minds. It could be a feeling of uneasiness, or a bad feeling toward you, your store, or your product.

This pitfall also includes selling a faulty product. The challenge with this pitfall is that 99 percent of the people in the world will say nothing to you about the defective item or about your over-persuading. They simply will never go into your store again. They will never want to associate with your product. Or, if you are a friend or member of the family, they will never trust or listen to your point of view again. This pitfall is a silent killer because most persuaders don't even realize the mistake was ever made. The duped person will never come back to the store and will probably tell others not to go back too. You have probably had this happen to you many times, at a car dealership, in retail stores, and on the phone. You have to have a sixth sense in persuasion and know how hard you can push.

We hate to feel manipulated or pressured. We have all been burned or taken advantage of, and when we see signs of such behavior we start to run. Many uneducated persuaders can be offensive, condescending, obnoxious, and insulting. Some people will need to have space, some will have to talk to a spouse, and still others will have to come back later before making a decision. You have to sense and know via knowledge and experience and nonverbal cues how many tools of persuasion you can use without running up against this pitfall. You have to sense your limits before you cross the line.

Monitoring Your Listening Skills: Crack the Code

Fortune 500 companies commonly require listening training, even though many employees think it's a waste of time. The truth is, poor listening skills account for the majority of communication problems. Dale Carnegie asserted many years ago that listening is one of the most crucial human relations skills. Listening is how we find out people's code, preferences, desires, wants, and needs. It is how we learn to customize our message to our prospects. Of all the skills one could master, listening is probably the one that will pay you back the most.

Good listening is not just looking at someone and nodding your head in agreement. You have to acknowledge what is being said and let the other person know that you understand. The more you can acknowledge what is being said, the greater ability you have to persuade and influence. Why? Because the person speaking with you will feel important and understood (Rule of Esteem). Why is listening so difficult for most of us? Why is it that when two people get together and talk, they both walk away with two completely different views about the conversation?

Top Five Challenges to Listening Effectively

Listed below are the insider secrets for effective listening. Follow these guidelines, and you'll always be able to get below the surface of your audience:

  1. Give them your undivided attention. They are the most important people in the world to you at this time — make them feel that way. Don't get distracted by your surroundings. Stop talking and concentrate on them.

  2. Look them directly in the face while they are talking. Lean forward to indicate interest and concern. Listen calmly like you have all the time in the world.

  3. Show sincere interest in them. There is no need to talk. Just nod your head and agree with verbal sounds like "uh huh." Don't interrupt and listen for main points.

  4. Keep the conversation going by asking questions. Prompt more information from them by repeating their phrases.

  5. Use silence to encourage them to talk. You have heard that silence is golden. Being silent encourages your prospects to talk about themselves and reveal truths that will help you in the persuasion process. Pausing for silence shows you are interested in your audience and stimulates interest in the conversation.

  6. Pause before replying or continuing. Wait three to five seconds and reply thoughtfully. Don't leap in, even if you know the answer. When you pause, it shows the other person you consider what they are saying is valuable. If you apply your listening skills, you will be able to glean golden nuggets of information from your audience. Because you must adapt your message to the person you are talking to, there is nothing more crucial than listening.

Monitoring Personality Directions: Fine-Tune Your Persuasion Radar

The more we understand personality directions and personality types, the better we will be able to customize our persuasive presentations. A personality direction is the way we lean most of the time in terms of the way we act and react to most stimuli. We hate to be put in a box and categorized, but the reality is that (most of the time) we are predictable. Sure, people can never be 100 percent predictable, but you will be amazed at how predictable they actually are as you become a student of human nature.

Each personality direction will dictate how you customize your message. When you analyze personality directions, ask yourself the following questions:

A. Are your audience or prospects mostly logical or emotional?



B. Are your audience or prospects introverted or extroverted?



C. Are your audience or prospects motivated more by inspiration or desperation?



D. Are your audience or prospects assertive or amiable?



It is important to note that, when it comes to persuasion, personality directions most like our own personality type create a feeling of comfort and safety for us. Styles that differ from our own create tension and defensiveness. Adaptive persuaders can match all personality directions.

Structuring Winning Arguments

Why should we be concerned with the structure of an argument? Well, persuasive messages have several pieces that must be included. Just as Plato stated that every message should have a structure like an animal (head, body, and feet), so must our arguments follow an understandable pattern.

There are two basic elements to any persuasive message. These are the substance (arguments, facts, and content) and the form (pattern of arrangement). If you make up the form and pattern of your presentation as it comes into your head, it will be a detriment to long-term persuasion. A confused mind says "no." If the audience can't follow your facts or the substance of your message, their brains will not accept your message — there is no clear message to accept.

At one time or another, you have probably been in a classroom where the teacher has completely lost you. You had no idea where the topic was going or where it had been. When this happens, your mind stalls and the learning process stops. Confusion is a state of mind that creates tension. We hate to be confused. When we create this mental confusion as persuaders, we are shooting ourselves in the foot. Most uneducated "one-note persuaders" follow Harry Truman's advice: "If you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em."

Before we jump into the meat of this topic, remember as you prepare your persuasive message that you want to focus on one defined issue. You are not there to persuade on ten different points. Stay focused and steer clear of sensitive issues that aren't on your original agenda. In other words, don't inadvertently offend your audience on one issue when your focus in on another. The structure of your persuasive message should follow the pattern discussed below.

1. Create Interest

You have to generate an interest about your chosen topic. Your audience needs a reason to listen: Why should they care? What's in it for them? How can you help them? A message that starts with a really good reason to listen will grab the attention of the audience, enabling you to continue with the message. Without this attention, there is no hope of getting your message across.

2. State the Problem

You must clearly define the problem you are trying to solve. The best pattern for a persuasive speech is to find a problem and relate how it affects the audience. In this way, you show them a problem they have and why it is of concern to them. Why is this a problem to your audience? How does this problem affect them?

3. Offer Evidence

This is the support you give to your argument. Evidence validates your claims and offers proof that your argument is right. It allows your audience to rely on other sources besides you. Evidence can include examples, statistics, stories, testimonies, analogies, and any other supporting material used to enhance the integrity and congruency of your message.

4. Present a Solution

You have gained your audience's interest and provided evidence in support of your message; now you must solve their problem. You present the argument you want them to believe and satisfy the need you have identified or created. You have created dissonance and now you are providing the solution. How can your product meet their needs and wants and help them achieve their goals?

5. Call to Action

A persuasive message is not true persuasion if your audience does not know exactly what they need to do. Be specific and precise. In order to complete the solution to their problem, they must take action. This is the climax, the peak of your logic and emotion. The prescribed actions must be feasible. Make your call to action as easy as possible.

Using this type of structure facilitates people's acceptance of your message and clarifies what you want them to do. We all have a logical side to our mind, which results in our need for order and arrangement. If we don't sense some sort of structure, we tend to become confused and create our own organizational flow — thus creating our own solution. If you can't be clear, concise, and orderly, your prospect will find someone else who is.

In order to create a good structure for your argument and to reach your audience, it may be helpful to consider the following set of questions.

Ask yourself these questions in regard to yourself and your message:

What do I want to accomplish?

What will make my message clear to my audience?

What will increase my credibility and trust?

What Rules of Persuasion am I going to use?

What do I want my prospects to do?

Ask yourself these questions in regard to your audience:

Who is listening to my message? (Audience demographics)

What is their initial mindset? (What are they thinking and feeling now?)

When will the call to action work? (What do you want them to do and when do you want them to do it?)

Why should they care? (What is in it for them?)

In what areas of their lives does this affect them? (Health, money, relationships, etc.)

How will they benefit? (What will they gain?)

These questions should help you create effective arguments in each of the key areas: interest, problem, evidence, solution, and action. The remainder of this chapter will present a variety of techniques that will be helpful in structuring your arguments.

Giving a Call to Action

The call to action is the most important part of your presentation. This is where your audience understands exactly what you want them to do. It's where you define yourself as a persuader instead of a presenter. This conclusion should not come as a shock to your audience. Throughout your presentation, you should have gently led them to the same conclusion that you are now giving them. You should have already prompted them to want to do what you are about to tell them to do.

Some people hate this part of persuasion because they are asking their prospects to do something. This should really be the best part — the action is the only reason you are giving the presentation in the first place; your audience is going to understand that. If you become tense and uneasy, so will your prospect. The whole presentation should be structured to make the call to action smooth and seamless. In fact, the prospects should not even see or feel your call to action coming.

You should prepare your audience for this conclusion before you even start on the rest of the presentation. Your entire presentation should be built around the call to action. I mean, write out the call to action word for word beforehand. From the outset of your message, you must be eager to get to this point. Be positive and enthusiastic. In your preparation, make sure your conclusion is explicit and that the audience is not left on their own to make sense of and understand your message. You need to tell them what to believe; you draw the conclusion for them. Make the call to action easy for them to follow and simple for them to do.

There should be no doubt in your prospects' minds about exactly what you want them to do. There is a story of an old man who goes to a dentist because he has a tooth that is killing him. He has been putting it off for months and finally he has to get the tooth taken care of. Once there, the dentist agrees that the tooth needs to come out. The man asks the dentist how much it will cost. The dentist replies that it will be about $250. The old man yelps and yells, "$250 to pull out a tooth?!!" Then he asks how long the procedure will take. He is told it will take about five minutes. "$250 for five minutes of work? That is highway robbery!" the old man protests. "How can you live with yourself charging people that kind of money?" The dentist smiles and says, "If it's the time you are worried about, I can take as long as you want."

When planning and preparing your call to action, remember that the process does not have to be long and painful. Be short, brief, and to the point.

Structure Points

Once the call to action has taken place, your audience needs to remember, retain, and respond to your message. They have to keep doing what you want them to do. Have your points been memorable, easy to understand, and simple to follow? Remember, your message will boil down not to what you say and do, but to what the other person remembers. The following critical items must be included in your persuasive presentation.

1. Repetition

The use of repetition is very effective. We have heard that repetition is the mother of all learning; it is also the mother of effective persuasion. Repetition creates familiarity toward your ideas, and that leads to a positive association. When something gets repeated, it gets stuck in your memory. It improves your comprehension. You need to repeat your message several times so your audience understands precisely what you are talking about and comprehends exactly what you want them to do. You can repeat the message several times without saying the same thing over and over again. My motto is: When you repeat, repackage how you say it. Each time you express your point, use new evidence and new words, so you don't sound like a broken record. When you use repetition too much, it might result in diminishing returns. You know how you feel about someone telling you a joke or a story you've already heard or about that commercial you've seen one too many times. If you've heard it a million times before, you tune out and quit listening. Keep your repetitions about each point to approximately three references, and definitely no more than five.

2. Theme

We see general themes in commercials and advertisements. A theme is easily remembered and easily retained. Attorney Gerry Spence uses themes during his court cases. For example, when a small ice cream manufacturer sued McDonald's for breach of oral contract, Spence centered his whole argument and position around the theme, "Let's put honor back into the handshake." The jury was won over and Spence's client was awarded $52 million. In another case, Spence's client was suing an insurance company for quadriplegic fraud. This time, Spence's theme was: "Human need versus corporate greed." The insurance company ended up having to shell out $33.5 million plus the interest on $10 million. Having a theme will give your presentation flow, order, and presence in the minds of your audience members. Themes provide an easy way for people to remember the heart of your message. If you have strong and well-organized themes, you can be sure your audience will understand and remember your message more clearly and more strongly.

3. Brevity and Simplicity

Keep your message short and simple. Boring an audience to tears has never yet worked as an effective persuasive technique. If the message is short and simple, it will most likely be clearer and therefore easier to remember. Consider the profundity of Abraham Lincoln's historical Gettysburg Address. The whole speech, from start to finish, was only 269 words. He presented it in less than three minutes.

Gettysburg Address

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work, which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

How about Winston Churchill’s ‘‘blood, sweat, and tears’’ speech? He read it in less than two and a half minutes. Even Nelson Mandela's famous speech signaling the end of apartheid — a speech he gave after twenty-seven years of imprisonment — lasted only five minutes.

Make sure your speech is articulate and intelligent, but be careful not to use esoteric language. Use simple terms and jargon that are familiar to your audience. Complexity will not impress them; rather it will muddle your message. Make your points simple, clear, and direct. Avoid facts, figures, examples, questions, or anything else that — if used ineffectively — might complicate your message.

Conversely, if you are trying to dissuade, use all the complexity you want. If a person feels confused, perplexed, bewildered, etc., well, as they say, a confused mind says, "No!"

4. Primacy and Recency Effects

Timing is everything. The Primacy and Recency Effects refer to timing your message so it will have its greatest impact. The "Primacy Effect" refers to the impact of points made at the beginning of a presentation, and the "Recency Effect" refers to the impact of information presented at the end of a presentation. These effects can be powerful presentation tools since it is typically the very first and very last parts of your presentation that bear the strongest weight in your audience's overall impression. These impressions will linger longer than anything else about the presentation. Your first and final words determine how you will be remembered and thought of long after your speech has ended. Be sure you carefully craft your opening and closing statements, placing your strongest points at those times.

5. Offer Choices

There is a strange psychological phenomenon in regard to drawing conclusions. If someone tells us exactly what to do, our tendency is to reject that dictated choice when we feel it is our only option. The solution is to offer your prospects a few options so that they can make the choice for themselves. People feel the need to have freedom and make their own choices. If forced to choose something against their will, they experience psychological resistance and feel a need to restore their freedom.

We all need options. Recently, I saw a young moose get surrounded by people who wanted a picture of it. Feeling trapped, this moose charged at the people in an attempt to escape. This type of scenario can also present itself in your persuasive efforts. If you don't offer options to your audience, they could attempt to charge and escape.

The strategy is that you have control over your prospects' options. You only give them options that will satisfy your situation. We have all done this with children: Do you want to finish your dinner or go to bed early? In sales, they call this strategy the alternative close. For example, have you heard the line, "Do you want regular or deluxe?" Or what about, "Do you want it in blue or green?" or "Do you want to meet Monday afternoon or Tuesday evening?" The person has options, but both options meet the persuader's goals.

Even if it is just something simple, people need to have options. I heard a story of one lady who desperately needed to take her medication or she would die. Her doctor, nurse, son, and husband all tried to get her to take her medication but to no avail. The doctor insisted she take her medication first thing when she arose in the morning, but she just wouldn't do it. Distraught, the family took her to a new doctor. This doctor immediately saw the situation and talked to the patient. He explained the benefits of taking the drugs and how it could help her. Then, he gave her an option. He said, "You need to take this once a day. Would you like to take it with your breakfast or your dinner?" The patient smiled and said she would like to take it with her dinner. After she made that decision, she no longer gave people a hard time about taking her medication. The key is that both options the doctor gave her were fixed to achieve the same goal.

If you absolutely have to limit your audience's choice to one thing, you must explain to them why there are limitations on their options. If the audience understands why a limit has been put on their freedom, they are more likely to accept it without feeling undermined.

On the flip side, try not to give your prospects more than two or three choices. If you give too many alternatives, your audience will be less likely to choose any of them. Structured choices give the audience the impression of control. As a result, they increase cooperation and commitment.

Offering choices is also called "binds." Each option offered gives the persuader what he wants without making him appear as if he is restricting freedoms. When you use the word "or," the very opposite is implied, so try to structure your choices with the word "or." For example, "Would you like to make an appointment now, or should we meet next week? I know today you will become involved in our product or make the decision to take it home with you."

Inoculation: Defend Against the Attack

During the Korean War, Americans were shocked at the number of captured soldiers who willingly cooperated with the enemy. Initially they wondered whether the soldiers had been tortured and beaten into submission. Investigation revealed that the soldiers had not been tortured, but rather that they had been subjected to brainwashing sessions led by a skillful questioner. Soldiers were questioned about American ideologies such as freedom, democracy, and equality. Surprisingly, many of the soldiers had great difficulty defending their beliefs. The captors persisted in attacking beliefs the soldiers couldn't explain until the soldiers began to question and doubt the validity of those beliefs.

If the captors could get the soldiers that far, getting them to commit treason became much easier. New soldiers from that point on began receiving more extensive political training in addition to the typical military instruction. No soldier would ever again hold vaguely defined beliefs or be unable to defend America verbally or militarily.

How did the military train their soldiers to withstand the potential verbal attacks as had been perpetrated against them in the Korean War? What would keep them strong in the face of such adversity, preventing them from crumbling? It is a method called "inoculation." The term "inoculation" comes from the medical field: Injecting a weak dose of a virus into a patient inoculates or prevents the patient from actually getting the disease. The body's immune system fights off this weak form of the disease and then is prepared when the full disease attacks.

Likewise, when you are presenting and you know that there is an opposing viewpoint standing in the wing, you have to "inoculate" the audience with a weakened form of the other side's argument. If you know someone is going to attack your viewpoint, you prepare your audience in advance.

The idea is to address the issues that your opponent will bring up and then directly refute them. The point to understand is that the inoculation must be a weak form of the "virus." If you inoculated a human body with the strong strain of a disease, it could become sick or even die. The dose must be weak enough to prepare the body for the stronger virus but not so strong that it overpowers the body. In persuasion, you don't want to give strong doses. You don't want to give your prospects all the ammunition from the other side of the persuasive message. On the other hand, if you don't prepare your audience for what they are about to hear, the sting of your opponent's words, logic, or testimony might be too much for them to handle and they could switch sides.

We are surrounded by countless examples of inoculation, many of which can be seen used in the courtroom. The attorney stands up and says, "The prosecution will call my client mean, evil, a terrible husband, and a poor member of society, but this is not true, as I will show you over the next couple of weeks.. . ." So, when the prosecutor stands up and states anything close to what the defense attorney has claimed she will, the jury is prepared, thinking she is acting exactly the way the defense said she would. This gives the jurors a way to ignore or even discount the prosecutor's arguments.

Street gangs also use this inoculation tool. When they are attempting to convert someone to their beliefs and to join the gang, they will inoculate and prepare the future gang member by telling him his parents, teachers, and cops will encourage him not to join a gang. They will tell him all the reasons his opponents will give, fueling him with ammunition for the impending attack. This preparation enables him to handle the oncoming assault from parents, teachers, etc.

Society needs to understand the importance of inoculation in regards to smoking, drugs, teenage pregnancy, and others issues we know our children will come in contact with. Who should be the first contact with your children — you or the drug dealer? When you inoculate people, they can mentally prepare arguments supporting their stance. This reinforcement prevents them from switching teams. The more prepared they are, the more they'll hold fast to their attitudes and beliefs. The more deeply this reinforcement is ingrained, the more difficult it will become for them to be swayed.

When do you use inoculation? The correct answer depends on the composition and attitude of your audience. If they already agree with your position, you only need to present one side. If they disagree with you, you need to present both sides. If an opposing speaker is going to follow you, you definitely need to inoculate. Giving both sides of the argument works better with audience members who already know something about the opposition's strength. Inoculation works better with knowledgeable prospects because it communicates respect for your opponent's intelligence. If the audience is full of committed believers, you win points by acknowledging there is another position.

Inoculation increases your credibility and your ability to persuade. By presenting them with the other side of the argument, you show the audience that you know how they feel and think. You are not afraid of the truth and have done your research. You prepare your audience in advance about the negative things someone could say about you or your product. You will win a great deal of respect and power when you answer someone's questions before they even ask them.

When you know your audience, not only can you prepare for pending attacks, but you can also answer questions in advance with inoculation. This gives your listeners a solution in their minds. Imagine persuading prospects about the need to use your product. The competition will call your product the most expensive product on the market. You know this so you inoculate. You tell your prospects upfront that this is the highest quality, longest lasting, most expensive product on the market. You let them know why you are the best and the most expensive. Your product has won most of the industry's awards, lasts the longest, and gives the most value for the money. These arguments, strategically planted in the mind of your prospects, will enable them to access these facts when the competition belittles you or your product.

Preparation Is the Key to Influence

Persuasion is everything. Prepare your mind, know your audience, know their code, and structure a winning persuasive argument accordingly. Know who, what, when, where, and why about your message and your audience. Effective persuaders know that information and structure are the seeds for perfect persuasion.

Westside Toastmasters on Meetup

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