Brevity and the Art of Persuasion

Scott McGohan, CEO, McGohan Brabender

I am reading an interesting book named "Split-Second Persuasion: The Ancient Art and New Science of Changing Minds" by Kevin Dutton. It is slightly edgy, but has some really interesting concepts, especially regarding brevity. Walking people down a decision path with a truckload of information can actually educate them beyond a level of making an accurate, timely decision. In many cases we give people too much information, and they become numb and unable to make a decision.

There is a difference between persuasion and split-second persuasion. I heard a funny story about boxer Muhammad Ali. In 1975 on a flight in first class, a flight attendant asked him to fasten his seat belt. He refused, saying, “Superman don’t need no seatbelt.” The flight attendant replied, “Superman don’t need no airplane.” End of discussion.

The concept of persuasion depends on four key factors: simplicity (brevity), self-interest, confidence and empathy. All of these have to be executed swiftly and, if done correctly, can be very effective.

The simplicity component makes sense. The self-interest element does not mean it is selfish or self-serving. It means it’s easier to persuade someone to do something if they perceive it to be in their self-interest.

Confidence is easier said than done. You must know your stuff. Be clear with your agenda during a meeting. Know your audience and have empathy for each person in the room, and really listen. There is a reason why we have two ears and one mouth.

I learned this lesson the hard way. Several years ago I was meeting with a client. The CFO was important to the equation, but unfortunately I focused the entire meeting on him. I was proud of my attention to the numbers and my financial discipline. I was accurate and on target. I was right. I was dead right, and I lost the client. I completely overwhelmed the others with my proliferation of information and isolated a complete team of people. I didn't mean to come off as arrogant, but they are not clients anymore and I learned a lethal lesson.

Split-second persuasion is simply a clear consolidation of technology, ideas, culture and passion for what you do. Once that is strong in your message, you must tightly manage this into the discussion. Just like the flight attendant. Her answer was simple. It was self-serving for him and her role. She was confident. She had to be confident, it was Muhammad Ali. And lastly, she had empathy. His safety was important to her, her company and to the other passengers. She didn't need a binder or a brochure to move things.

Simplicity, self-interest, confidence and empathy; all of those things add up to solid preparation. It doesn't matter if you’re in sales or not. We all want people to do things, whether it’s important to us or to them. It is clear, and I mean very clear, that it is not “stuff” that people buy; it is knowledge. It’s much easier for people to see your knowledge through the words you say, not the words printed in a brochure.

Chose to move through the headwinds with a new discipline. If we do this right, there is a tailwind on the other side!