5 Ways to Get Your Point Across Persuasively

Need someone to "get it"? And if they "get it," do you expect them to follow through? Then that takes thoughtful communication.

1. Narrow the field. The research disputes conventional wisdom. Although people say they want choices, having too many choices paralyzes them. The decision dilemma causes them to delay.

Adding to the already growing body of studies, I chalked up another personal experience this morning. In the midst of a house renovation due to a water leak, a builder brought over five carpet samples (with multiple colors of each) two weeks ago. I narrowed my choices to two of these patterns and was almost ready to make the final selection when he offered, "If you don't like anything here, we can go over to the flooring showroom and I'm sure you can find something there."

That sounded even better. I met him there. Thousands of samples--each in a multitude of colors--surrounded me. Where to start? The showroom rep followed me around as I flitted from area to area like a butterfly.

After about ten minutes as I zeroed in on one grouping that I liked particularly, the rep wisely acted as if the other 90 percent of the showroom had disappeared. And I let it. Only then did I become decision-capable. To persuade, narrow, rather than expand, the options.

2. Acknowledge both sides of the story. When a situation or decision has both pros and cons, acknowledging both sides of an argument can be very effective in persuading. For example: "While it's true that almost 60 percent of our employees will have to commute 2-5 miles farther to work at the proposed new building site, the new location provides expanded parking space and is accessible from 5 main arteries around the city. Those two advantages should compensate for the extra commuting time and distance--not to mention expanding our customer base."

Telling both sides of the story--certainly while making your conclusion clear--persuades because it emphasizes your objective, comprehensive and thoughtful consideration of the alternatives.

3. Make the point easy to digest. Research says that the easier the point is to process, the more persuasive the message. Contrary to the cliché "If you can't convince them, confuse them," the most persuasive argument is one that recipients understand. Although a few people may walk away marveling at your ability to speak in complexities, the majority will focus only on what they can understand--and recall--of your argument.

4. Frame the negative in a positive context. If you include a negative in a persuasive argument, provide positive context this way: "I realize that narrowing our product offerings will have the immediate effect of decreasing the number of customers we serve. With fewer product customers, however, we can add much more value in our consulting engagements, and those increase overall profitability."

5. Cite your credible source. It's rarely enough just to rely on your authority, stats or experience. The tendency is to tell and assume: "This is how the widget works, because I have 20 years' experience and I said so." Even if people do believe and assume, to be persuaded, they have to recall and act on your message.

So ditch comments like these: "This is our most popular model by ratio of 3:1 because of the fiber-back lining and the cross-grain stitching." Or: "Most homeowners go with a policy like Group A."

Instead cite a source that carries weight with your listener: "This model outsells others 3:1. Aaron Rodgers, LeBron James, and Miguel Cabrera all have given us testimonials on how they use this in their general off-season workouts."

Or: "The financial advisors at our 3 partner firms (JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America) suggest a policy like Group A for the typical homeowner. Here's why..."

Whether selling carpet, consulting CEOs, or raising venture capital for your second career, consider how to structure and communicate your message so that rather than merely informing--or worse, paralyzing--it persuades.