The art & science of persuasive speaking

Being an entrepreneur – especially when you’re pitching a big idea – is all about persuasion. Technical communication doesn’t just educate and inform, it must inspire hearts, minds and actions.

Every business leader must be able to “sell” – to his investors, his clients and especially his team who will deliver the results. We’re not talking about manipulation. Underhanded techniques and lying won’t get you anywhere (actually it can get you very rich, but let’s not go there).

If you present your ideas in ways that make people more receptive, not only are they likely to follow your advice, but you will find that meetings are quicker and you are more likely to success on your project.

Every leader pays lip service to the “idea” of listening.  But you have to hear what your team member is REALLY saying. It might just lead to a breakthrough that determines the project’s success.

  1. Stand in their shoes for a bit – what do they REALLY want?
  2. Give their perspective respect, and help them appreciate YOUR perspective
  3. Engage positively, and open to incorporating new ideas into the status quo.
  4. Be calm and confident in your leadership and decisions

1. Look at things from their perspective

You have to demonstrate how your ideas help the actual people you are speaking to. “What’s in it for me” is what they want to hear.

  • Your idea will save the planet?. That’s great but will it save the planet profitably!
  • Your new Shopify site willl replace staff? For the manager who will lose half his department, this is a good reason to undermine the project.

Once you have thought about how your idea will benefit them, you need to confirm you’ve worked out what they really want, and not just your opinion of their needs.

So what IS their perspective?

Too much research and overthinking a problem can be a bad thing. You have thought through a dozen solutions and options, so your mind is already made up about the direction the project should go.

Instead, go in with the goal of listening first. Try to to get your listeners to articulate at least 2 needs and opinions before presenting them with your solutions. Use what they have told you is important, to adapt your initial suggestion. Your audience will listen to you if they feel they have been heard. And there’s a good chance you will make a better decision that incorporates new elements.

Active Listening

Anyone who knows me, is aware of how difficult I find listening – it doesn’t FEEL efficient! My “superpower” is being able to process huge amounts of written information, and mentally organize and categorize. But face-to-face meetings are something I avoid because I’m just not good at them.

A team member has a brand new, killer idea… which you know has been tried (and failed) numerous times before. Three minutes into the conversation, and you have a sense of de ja vu. You know what the next sentence is going to be; in fact you know what the next 3 months on this project is going to be.

But it’s always worth listening – they might have some new angle, some understanding of the industry or market that will be the difference between success and failure.

2. Earn their Respect

If you have a strong relationship with your audience based on mutual respect, they are more likely to consider your suggestions. What can you do to achieve this!

Get Them Nodding

When I explain an idea, I try to get people to nod. Find some point of agreement – whether it’s the greed of banks, fact that IT people can’t spell or how suppliers have to be monitored constantly. Being able to find something in common demonstrates that you’re on the same wave length.

Hint: When dealing with creatives, compliment the last project they did for you. They will drop everything for your urgent update! We are very susceptible to praise because most clients only point out what they need changed.

Be Enthusiastic

Clients want to know they aren’t just one more project to do. Bosses want to know you are keen to work. Your team wants to know you care about the new IT system they will have to use. So many people lack enthusiasm when communicating their ideas. They come across either as defeated before they even begin. Or worse they are overly aggressive and defensive.

Overwhelming enthusiasm with a smile is infectious. People get caught up in it. Saying “No” to somebody who is positively excited, is not easy.

Mirror Them

You have probably heard how mirroring a person’s body language helps establish a positive connection. Whatever you do, do not do it – it comes across as creepy!

But if your client talks about “return on investment” or “critical success factors,” mention them yourself. And if you suspect the other party is not familiar with certain terminology, avoid it. Our way of speaking associates us with a certain “tribe.” If we share the same language, we are more likely to build a rapport.

Make Them Smile

Another trick for building relationships is to inject deprecating humour into the problem. If you can make the other person smile, you’ve gone a long way to breaking down any barriers. Of course, this has to be done with care – if they feel they aren’t being taken seriously, or you are being flippant, you’ve weakened your position.

3. Be Open

Although all of these approaches are great for building relationship, one trumps them all: openness.

You may be reading this thinking, “This lady is mad. What if her clients read this stuff?” My answer is I expect my clients to read this, because there is nothing manipulative or secret in the way I work.


I regularly acknowledge in sales situations that I am there to sell. The client obviously knows this already but verbalizing it shows a kind of honesty that people rarely encounter in technology OR marketing companies.

I am always absolutely honest with clients. They will already have had a dozen presentations from web designers who can deliver anything, to any deadline. Who promise massive e-commerce sales overnight, and the top google ranking in a week.

Without drowning the project in cynicism, I try to tell them what to expect. I never agree to a deadline I can’t meet, and if I plan to outsource some portion of the project I make that clear. If theirs isn’t “my kind of project” I am quick to say so. And then suggest someone who specializes in meeting this need.

Be open to alternative points of view

We can sometimes be so desperate to make a point that we are unwilling to admit even the slightest weakness in our argument. If you stop long enough to listen,  you might find that there is validity in the client’s point of view because he knows his market much better than you ever could. The project will always be far better when you take an expert’s specific understanding of the product into account.

4. Be Confident

As humans we are drawn to confident leaders. We follow those who have a clear vision and a strong belief in what they are saying, even if they are utterly wrong.

Communicating your message with confidence is important. Study your subject continually, establish yourself as an expert, and then speak with authority.

I said confident, not arrogant

Be prepared to admit “I don’t know”. It demonstrates integrity and can defuses anger.

Being confident also means having the strength to admit when you are wrong. Of course, that takes a lot of confidence.

You do not ALWAYS have to win

Pick your battles. Concede some points to achieve the greater aim is okay. Don’t allow your ego to get in the way. Don’t be the person who argues every small point to death, until people give up – not because you are right, but because they are exhausted.

Someone who has won an argument, is more likely be accommodate you when you suggest an alternative.

Be calm, be kind, be careful

Whether dealing with a demanding client, difficult investor or finicky team member, you have to impress them with your attitude and service. Always be helpful and leave a positive impression.

In customer service, that sometimes involves going the extra mile. With your client, it might mean supporting and researching their latest mad scheme. Whatever the situation, develop a reputation for being helpful and positive and you will be the resource they contact first with their big idea.

If you feel threatened or emotional, angry or frustrated you are already in a weak – potentially losing – position. Play for time. Gather your thoughts. Gather unbiased opinions. Question assumptions and instincts. Have facts at your fingertips.

NEVER send an email or initiate an action without a strategic plan.

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