Nov 292012

Five Tips To Be A Better Communicator

If you want to be a better communicator, take a moment to consider these five tips, then give them a try.

1.)   Be Concise:  Don’t use 100 words to say something you can say in 50 words.  It’s easy to become enamored of your own voice, which may cause you to drone on and lessen your effectiveness as a communicator.  I’ll leave it at that.

2.)   Have A Point:  Don’t speak for the sake of speaking.  Have a point, especially when you’re trying to be persuasive or explain something.  It’s one thing if you’re having a coffee or a beer with a friend; the importance of having a point in such a scenario is diminished.  In a business or teaching situation on the other hand, it’s very important to have a point in mind before you start talking.

3.)   Don’t Have Too Many Points:  It’s tough for most people to remember long lists.  It’s even tougher if the list is comprised of complex points.  Many memory experts say stick to a list of seven or fewer points, if you want your audience to remember them.  Based on my experience, I’d suggest having a maximum of three key points you’d like your audience to remember.  Better yet, have just one and hit it from a bunch of different angles.  Obviously, this is not one size fits all, but in most instances, you’ll want to stick to a small number key points, or you will confuse your audience.

4.)   Use Words And Metaphors That Will Resonate With Your Audience:  If you’re speaking to a Board of Directors, a CEO group, or a bunch of Marketing Vice Presidents, the words you’ll use will be completely different than those you’ll use when speaking to a group of politicians or museum curators.  This is true if you are speaking to individual people from groups such as these as well. Each audience has its own buzzwords and hot buttons.  It’s key to use examples, phrasing and metaphors that resonate with your audience.  If not, you will not pass the Ethos, Pathos, Logos test and you will be far less likely to effectively get your point across.

5.)   Listen More Than You Talk:  Listening to and understanding your audience are critical aspects of being an effective communicator.  Unfortunately, often times it’s tempting to be formulating your next great thought while your audience is trying to communicate with you.  Given the difficulties with effectively multitasking, the likelihood of your being able to formulate your thoughts and process those of your counterpart at the same time are very small.  If you don’t empathize with your audience, they will sense that.  It’s a sixth sense that most people have.  Not only will they sense it, but it will make it far less likely that they listen to and understand your message.  The law of reciprocity is alive and well in effective two-way communication.

Give these tips a try and see if they help you to communicate more effectively.

I look forward to your thoughts!  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

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Nov 112011

Do You Have Influence?  How Do You Get It?

Do You Have Influence?  How Do You Get It?

The topic of influence has come up quite a bit in my business and educational activities over the last couple of years.  It was always there, lurking under the surface, as it is impossible to avoid, however now it is more prominent and studied. When one is talking about influence, it’s impossible to cover the subject thoroughly without discussing the well-known book by Dr. Robert Cialdini called, of course, Influence.

For those of you who have not had the pleasure of reading it, I will summarize the key points here, so that you may put them to work immediately in all relevant aspects of your business and personal life.  For those who have the time and inclination, I highly recommend reading the whole book.  Its many informative “influence research” conclusions and Dr. Cialdini’s insights and anecdotes, born of several decades focused on the subject, make reading it well worth the time and effort.

Here I will spell out the six major factors impacting influence, per Dr. Cialdini’s work, and as usual, I will look at them mainly in the context of entrepreneurship and small business.  Also, the descriptions and angles below may not be completely consistent with Dr. Cialdini’s; they are my take on the issues and implications.  The six major factors of influence are:

1.)   Reciprocation

You’ve probably seen how reciprocation works in your life.  It’s the old, “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours”.  It’s age-old and it’s not going anywhere.  As I’ve written elsewhere, we live in a “quid pro quo world,” which means that you need to give to get.  If all the value is going in one direction, then it would be parasitic, not symbiotic, and is not likely to last very long.

If you’re smart, you can use reciprocation in your favor, and when I say this, I want to make it clear that I’m not in favor of manipulation for the sake of manipulation.  If you are going to do something for someone or for some group, you need to do it from the kindness of your heart and you need to be OK with it if there is no reciprocation.

That said, you should be aware that the “Law of Reciprocity” or “Law of Reciprocation” is one of the hardest ones to resist.  If you do something for someone, it will very often come back to you.  There is a mental counter we have in our heads, and most people like to keep a clean slate.  You do something for me and at some point, I’m likely to reciprocate, even if it’s not right away.  Observe this in your personal life and business life.  Once you pay attention to it, you’ll be amazed how hard it is to break this “law”.

2.)   Commitment and Consistency

In my experience, this driver of influence is a bit overlooked compared to the others.  The idea is that once you commit to move in a certain direction, even if that commitment is relatively small in the scheme of things, you want to behave consistently with that commitment.

So, for example, if I’m an auto salesperson and I get you to put even a small amount of “earnest money” down when you make an offer on a car, you are more likely to follow through and behave consistently with that “commitment” – again, however small the commitment may be.

Similarly, if someone can goad me into making a public statement (commitment) that I will run in a certain race or do a certain challenge, I am much more likely to follow through and behave consistently with that commitment.  This is a trick a lot of achievers I know will use to influence themselves; they’ll publicly commit to do something that they know is outside their comfort zone, as they understand that such commitment increases the odds that they will behave consistently with what they’ve said they’ll do.

3.)   Social Proof

I have found this one to be intuitive for most people.  The idea is that as decision-makers, we look around and see what others are doing before we pull the trigger on important, and even unimportant, decisions.

Thus, it’s not too surprising that testimonials are one of the most powerful and persuasive tools in convincing prospective buyers of the value of what you are offering.  It’s critical that the testimonials are legitimate.  This is important not just from an ethical perspective, but also a legal perspective, as the FTC has cracked down on false testimonials and claims.  The influencing power of social proof is well known and established, so the FTC is going to do what it can to make sure it is not manipulated, which is tantamount to false advertising and sometimes even fraud.

Use the power of social proof to your advantage as you work to influence and persuade all your key constituencies.  While testimonials are perhaps the most powerful form of social proof, they are not the only one.  Look for any opportunity, as long as it’s credible and in “good taste” to let your customers and prospects know that others think highly of you, your company, and its offerings.

4.)   Liking

Who says nice guys finish last?  In the domain of influence and persuasion, being liked usually inures very much to your advantage.

Throughout my career I have noticed, not surprisingly, that people tend to do business with people and companies they like.  There’s no huge shock there.   Dr. Cialdini’s research backs up this observation; if you’re trying to influence someone, it will usually help if they like you first.

So, if you’re unlikeable for some reason, work on it.  Get yourself a copy of Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends And Influence People, which I would imagine is the all time bestseller when it comes to strategies on building rapport and being likable.

Again, from my perspective at least, you should be sincere in your likeability.  If it’s just a ploy to influence and manipulate people, it likely won’t work and you’ll walk through life feeling like a phony.  Hopefully you’ve selected a profession and group of friends, colleagues, associates, customers, prospects, etc. with whom you can identify and be sincere in your efforts to be likeable.  If not, maybe you’re in the wrong business.

5.)   Authority

Don’t get confused on this one.  It’s not about having authority, as in having control and influence over people due to your position, for example a police officer.  That’s the type of authority that people often rebel against.  Rather, it’s about being perceived as being an authority.

In order to use this influence weapon to your advantage, you’ll want to establish yourself as “the authority,” or “one of the leading authorities” in whatever it is that you do.  If you are able to pull this off, it’s a shortcut to credibility with any prospective customer or other new constituent.  If you are known as an authority, peoples’ defenses go down a bit and they are more willing to be influenced by what you have to say.

It is worth thinking strategically about how you can emulate others who have positioned themselves as authorities in your market and in related markets.  The time and effort that you will spend in positioning yourself as an authority will pay dividends over a long period of time, assuming you don’t do anything that causes you to lose the authority status.

6.)   Scarcity

I think this one has been abused as much as, or more than, any of the others on this list.

It is well known that people tend to attribute more value to those things that are scarce.  As you’ve no doubt seen and probably experienced more than a few times in your life, if something is rare or scarce, it tends to sell for a lot more money than something similar that is not scarce.

The abuse comes in when people and companies try to create a false sense of scarcity.  You’ve probably also experienced this.  I know I have, to a highly annoying level.  I often receive emails and other offers where, supposedly, the service or product on offer is highly rare and almost sold out.  “Act now, or you’ll never get another chance to get your hands on this!”  Frustrating, annoying, ignored.

So, scarcity is powerful, but I think you must use this one very carefully.  Talk about the unique aspects of what you offer.  Talk about how there is a finite supply, at least in a certain time window.  But don’t insult peoples’ intelligence by trying to create a fire alarm for a fire that doesn’t exist.  If you do, you will end up like the boy who cried wolf and no one will be listening to you once you are labeled in their minds as being “full of it”.

The study of influence and persuasion is fascinating!  There are many ways to ethically and sensibly influence and persuade your prospective customers and other important constituencies.  Dr. Cialdini’s contribution to this field has been very important and I find myself employing his principles, usually at least on a daily basis.  I highly encourage you to do the same.  Keep track of how different approaches work in various situations, then course adjust as necessary.

I look forward to your thoughts and questions.  Please leave a comment (“response”) below or in the upper right corner of this post.

Paul Morin

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Apr 122011

American psychologist Abraham Maslow pioneered an approach to understanding human behavior that he called “Humanistic Psychology”. He believed that every person has a strong desire to reach his or her full potential, which he referred to as “self-actualization”.

Maslow’s insights into human nature quickly allowed him to realize that self-actualization was not the most pressing need for human beings. This led him to create his most famous contribution to psychology, now commonly referred to as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, illustrated below.

As can be seen from the graphic, Maslow represented the basic levels of human needs in a pyramid, or hierarchy. The needs flow from the most basic survival requirements, such as food, water, and shelter, to the pinnacle, which Maslow referred to as self-actualization.

So what does this have to do with marketing? In reality, you should always bear this hierarchy in mind when you are marketing or selling anything. It is fundamental to try to understand where your audience falls on this hierarchy, whether you are selling to an individual in-person, or marketing to a large group of people dispersed across a wide geographic area. Either way, presumably you are marketing to human beings, all of whom are impacted by the Hierarchy of Needs and whose behavior will be greatly affected by where they fall on the pyramid at a particular point in time. Let’s look at some examples to further understand this.

The first example we’ll look at is an extreme one. Let’s say that you decide to make a foray into Africa with your marketing, as you’ve been told that the self-improvement program that you sell could likely help the people of, let’s say several countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, find their way out of poverty. So, you put together a seminar and begin to advertise it throughout the region. You quickly realize that the only responses you are getting are from a few government officials and members of wealthier families in the area. You have wasted money on marketing and realize that your foray into Africa, at least the way you approached it, was a failure. So what happened? The answer is quite obvious: you were trying to market a self-actualization product to a target population, a large portion of which has not even satisfied their most basic physiological and security needs.

Now let’s take a less obvious example, which also illustrates the importance of “niche” markets and market segmentation. Let’s say that you sell electronic security systems and monitoring services. You decide that based on the demographics of a certain part of your city, you will focus your marketing efforts in that area. One of your prime indicators is that the area has a lot of families and you know that on average, families with children are very concerned about safety. There are several small, affluent neighborhoods in the area you’re looking at. Given that the demographics are similar, you don’t think it matters much which one you use for your test, so you choose neighborhood A. As it so happens, a competitor is thinking along the same lines and chooses neighborhood B, which is very similar, but a couple miles down the road. You run your test and achieve a 10% success rate on a key sales metric. You later find out that, using exactly the same marketing approach, your competitor achieved a 30% success rate in neighborhood B, a couple miles down the road!

So what happened? Your product and service offerings are very similar. Past experience has proved that your sales forces are roughly equal in closing skill. Your marketing materials are virtually undiffferentiable. You ran your tests at almost exactly the same time. What was the difference that caused your competitor to have a result 3 times better than yours? You may have already figured it out – neighborhood B had had a rash of home robberies in recent months, so the residents there were very concerned about the Safety Need referred to on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. The residents in Neighborhood A had not had a robbery in their immediate area in over 5 years. Maybe your competitor got lucky, or maybe they did their homework, but either way, they achieved much greater results because the market they targeted had an immediate need for what they were offering, due to a pressing concern to satisfy their Safety Need.

This second example also illustrates that it is not just important to bear the Hierarchy of Needs in mind in your product creation, marketing and sales efforts, but also remember that the consumer is focused on satisfying immediate needs, particularly at the lower end of the pyramid. In fact, regardless of where someone may fall on the pyramid, the reality is that the majority of the time, they are focused on satisfying relatively short term needs. Sure, there are some “planners” out there, particular those who at the present time fall higher up on the pyramid, but the vast majority of customers and clients you are likely to target, spend most of their time trying to satisfy immediate or relatively short-term needs. This is true whether they’re focused on physiological needs, safety needs, affiliation needs, esteem needs, or even purpose needs. If it’s not immediate or urgent in their minds, most likely it gets demoted in favor of something that is more pressing. Bear this in mind in your marketing and other persuasion efforts; you must not only hit the target with the right message for where they are in the Hierarchy, you must also try to hit them at the right time. If you don’t, as the saying goes, your message is likely to go “in one ear and out the other”. Since it’s tough to predict the exact correct moment, this is an argument for having ongoing and frequent interaction with prospects, obviously without overdoing it to the point that they just “shut you off,” in order to increase the probability that your message will be in front of them at that moment when the need your offering can satisfy becomes immediate or urgent for them.

Keep Maslow in mind as you go about your business. If you have comments or questions, we’d love to hear them. Leave a comment below or in the top right corner of this post.

Paul Morin
Twitter: @companyfounder

Apr 082011

Who would have thought that the Greek philospher Aristotle could help you be a better business person? Well, if you want to be more persuasive, and by extension better at sales, marketing and negotiating, it’s worth thinking a bit about three categories that Aristotle used to describe means of persuasion. Those categories are Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Ethos refers to the character or credibility of the speaker – or writer – the person trying to get their message or argument across. The listener or reader is going to have an impression of the level of credibility of the person trying to persuade them. This impression will be based on past interactions, reputation, and the manner of communication, among other factors.

Pathos relates to emotion. It is an attempt to persuade by appealing to the emotions of the person(s) you are trying to persuade. This appeal can be based on analogies, metaphors or stories that evoke the emotions of your reader or listener. It is well known that humans are accustomed to learning and passing on knowledge and wisdom through stories, so being able to weave a good story that touches someone emotionally is an excellent way to win them over.

Logos refers to logic. In this case, you are trying to persuade someone by using a well-reasoned, logical argument. You are persuading based on the belief that your audience will respond to an appeal that is structured in a logical, left-brain manner. Using this form of persuasion is seductive, as it gives you the (usuallly false) sense of comfort that if you can just make your argument tight enough, then your audience will have to be persuaded. Unfortunately, it’s not usually that simple.

As you’ve undoubtedly realized by now, these three categories usually do not work independently. In other words, it’s unlikely that by just using one of these forms of persuasion you are likely to persuade your audience, or at least not as consistently or to the extent you would like to. Why is that? Let’s consider an example to understand why these three almost always work together.

Let’s consider the example of someone that comes to you on the street, trying to persuade you to give them a few dollars because their car has run out of gas. For all of us who have lived in a big city at some point in our lives, this has likely happened at least once or twice. So what happens in this scenario? Well first, presumably you do not now this person at all, so they start out with very little credibility (Ethos). Strike one. Next, they have a very short time to get your attention and to use much logic (Logos). Strike two. Finally, they may stir up a bit of emotion in you, as you may have run out of gas at some point and had to look for help. Or you may just feel bad for them for being in an unfortunate circumstance.

So would you give this person money? What are some of the factors that may affect the degree to which they can persuade you? To begin with, if they’re dressed like you or dressed very well, you’re likely to give them a bit more credit (Ethos). Next, if they tell you a story that is more likely to relate to an experience you’ve had, or to your current situation, they may have more credibility and may at the same time touch you a bit more emotionally (Ethos, Pathos). Finally, if they tell you up front “this may sound a bit crazy,” you’re not likely to expect much logic or reasoning (Logos), so you’ll likely hold them to a lower standard on this category and the short time they have to give you a logical story won’t necessarily count against them as much.

What are some of the things that could work against them? How about if they’re dressed very shabbily, perhaps to the extent that you may even doubt that they have a car at all? How about if you’ve heard this story many, many times before, at least one or two of which were found to be complete fabrications? And what if in the short time they have to give you any semblance of logic for their plea, they give you a story that makes no sense to you at all, either based on the vocabulary the’re using or the numerous faults in their reasoning? All of these could cause you to say “no” (at least in your head) before they even start talking.

In this example, we’re talking about someone who walks up to you on the street looking for money. What does that have to do with business? With sales and marketing? With negotiation? Well how different is this scenario in reality than the many times people try to persuade you each day, whether it be in-person, by telephone, television, radio, or internet? In all of those cases, just as with the person who approached you on the street, each of the persons or organizations trying to persuade you is going to have varying levels of Ethos, Pathos, and Logos in your mind. An unknown person or organization that comes to you, regardless of how they come to you, is likely to have very little credibility (Ethos) in your mind at the beginning. True, they may be able to make an emotional appeal (Pathos) and you may be moved, even though you don’t know them well. They may also be able to put together a solid, logical argument that you see as having merit (Logos). But even so, are you likely to buy from them, or be persuaded by them?

What can you do to increase the likelihood that when you are making appeals to individuals, they are going to be persuaded by you? The answer is in the combination of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Any one of these approaches used in isolation is not nearly as powerful as when it is used in combination with the others. What you need to do is use Ethos, Pathos and Logos either all at once, or better yet, in a sequence that makes sense.

What is the right sequence in which to use Ethos, Pathos and Logos when you are trying to persuade others? There are many approaches that can work. One that is tried and true is to first use Ethos, then Pathos, then Logos. The idea goes like this: first you must be a credible source before the audience will even open their ears and begin to listen to your emotional and logical appeals. You can build your presentations, marketing and sales pitches in such a way that they follow this sequence. You may also get away with, and in some situations even be better off with, first appealing to their emotions, then letting them know that the appeal is coming from a credible source, and then finally giving them your logic for why they should take a particular action. One thing that is clear though, is that if you try to give them logic before you’ve even touched on emotion or credibility, you’re not likely to get too far in persuading them.

There are myriad ways that you can work toward establishing Ethos, evoking Pathos, and delivering sound Logos, but regardless of how you decide to approach it, hopefully this article has given you a solid grounding in the concept Aristotle put forth over 2,000 years ago. Hopefully too, you will not try to use just one of these categories of persuasion, but rather use them together to maximize your persuasive potential.

We’d love to hear your thoughts and questions on the concept of Ethos, Pathos and Logos. Please leave a comment below or by clicking on the top right corner of this post.

Paul Morin
Twitter: @PaulAlanMorin