How to convince someone using these 20 principles of persuasion, all based on established psychological research.
Perfection is hard to achieve in any walk of life and convincing someone to do anything is no different.
Convincing or persuading someone relies on many things going just right at the crucial moment; the perfect synchronisation of source, message and audience.
But even if perfection is unlikely, we all need to know what to aim for.
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Here are the most important points for crafting the perfect persuasive message designed to convince someone of anything, all of which have scientific evidence to back them up.
1. Multiple, strong arguments
The more arguments, the more persuasive, but overall persuasive messages should be balanced, as two-sided arguments fare better than their one-sided equivalents (as long as counter-arguments are shot down).
2. Use relevance to convince
Persuasive messages should be personally relevant to the audience.
If not, they will switch off and fail to process it.
3. Universal goals
In creating your message, understand the three universal goals for which everyone is aiming: affiliation, accuracy and positive self-concept.
Ingratiating yourself with the audience is no bad thing—most successful performers, actors, lawyers and politicians do it.
Likeability can be boosted by praising the audience and by perceived similarity. Even the most fleeting similarities can be persuasive.
5. Authority convinces
People tend to defer to experts because it saves us trying to work out the pros and cons ourselves (read the classic experiment on obedience to authority).
The physical attractiveness of the source is only important if it is relevant (e.g. when selling beauty products).
7. Match message and medium
One useful rule of thumb is: if the message is difficult to understand, write it; if it’s easy, put it in a video.
8. Avoid forewarning
Don’t open up saying “I will try and persuade you that…”
If you do, people start generating counter-arguments and are less likely to be persuaded.
9. Go slow to convince someone
If the audience is already sympathetic, then present the arguments slowly and carefully (as long as they are relevant and strong).
If the audience is against you then fast talkers can be more persuasive.
10. Repetition is persuasive
Whether or not a statement is true, repeating it a few times gives the all-important illusion of truth.
The illusion of truth leads to the reality of persuasion.
11. Social proof
You’ve heard it before and you’ll hear it again—despite all their protestations of individuality, people love conformity.
So tell them which way the flock is going because people want to be in the majority.
If the audience isn’t paying attention, they can’t think about your arguments, so attitudes can’t change.
That’s why anything that sharpens attention, like caffeine, makes people easier to persuade.
And speaking of attention…
13. Minimise distraction
If you’ve got a strong message then audiences are more swayed if they pay attention.
If the arguments are weak then it’s better if they’re distracted.
14. Positively framed
Messages with a positive frame can be more persuasive.
15. Disguise the persuasions
Messages are more persuasive if they don’t appear to be intended to persuade or influence as they can sidestep psychological reactance (hence the power of overheard arguments to change minds).
16. Psychologically tailored
Messages should match the psychological preferences of the audience.
E.g. some people prefer thinking-framed arguments and others prefer feel-framed arguments (see: battle between thought and emotion in persuasion).
Also, some people prefer to think harder than others.
17. Go with the flow
Persuasion is strongest when the message and audience are heading in the same direction.
Thoughts which come into the audience’s mind more readily are likely to be more persuasive.
18. Confidence convinces people
Not only your confidence, but theirs.
The audience should feel confident about attitude change.
Audience confidence in their own thoughts is boosted by a credible source and when they feel happy (clue: happy audiences are laughing).
19. Be powerful
A powerful orator influences the audience, but making the audience themselves feel powerful increases their confidence in attitude change.
An audience has to feel powerful enough to change.
20. Avoid targeting strong beliefs
Strong attitudes and beliefs are very difficult to change.
Do not directly approach long-standing ideas to which people are committed, they will resist and reject.
Strong beliefs must be approached indirectly.
You should be aware that many of these factors interact with each other.
For example when the message is strong but the source is dodgy, the sleeper effect can arise.
Argument strength is also critical.
The basic principle is that when arguments are strong, you need to do everything to make people concentrate on them.
When they’re weak, it’s all about distracting the audience from the content and using peripheral routes to persuade, such as how confidently or quickly you talk.
Weaving all these together is no mean feat, but look at most professionally produced persuasive messages and you’ll see many of these principles on show.
Incorporate as many as you can for the perfect persuasive message that will really convince someone of anything.
Hello, and welcome to PsyBlog. Thanks for dropping by.
This site is all about scientific research into how the mind works.
It’s mostly written by psychologist and author, Dr Jeremy Dean.
I try to dig up fascinating studies that tell us something about what it means to be human.