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Persuasion Principles II


The first 30 seconds of any speech are the most important: In those crucial seconds, the audience forms an opinion about the speaker. Therefore, speakers should not waste that precious first half minute stating what they plan to say or how long they plan to speak, thanking a long list of people, or babbling about how excited they are to be at a particular event or addressing a particular audience.

Good communicators approach the beginning of their speeches the way a journalist approaches the beginning of an article. They begin with their most compelling information and deliver it in a way that has the audience wanting more. An effective opening will be concise to convey information quickly, will feature a story or a provocative statement, and will possibly surprise the audience. It should contain the kind of information that the speaker would share with a friend when he or she says “You will never believe this” or “Did you know …” Speakers may wish to try out their headlines on friends or family to be sure the information grabs their attention before using the headlines in a public setting.


The best speakers are storytellers who are able to paint pictures with words. Like renowned director Martin Scorsese, they create interesting visuals. They give the audience lots of detail, but they keep the story tight and concise. For most speakers, telling a story means relating an anecdote that illustrates the main point. In a speech, good stories follow a formula. During the build, the speaker sets the scene, introduces the characters, and hints at the conflict to create a sense of anticipation in the audience. The speaker then delivers the payoff for the audience, and pauses briefly to let the audience digest it.

Adding verbal imagery to a presentation might take a little imagination, especially when speakers are working with dry, number-laden material. One method is to use an analogy, such as following a statistic of how many people die from a particular disease annually by comparing that to how many people fit in a particular stadium or live in a city the listeners know. Not only can an analogy keep the audience interested, it also adds context and helps people better understand the message.

While having good stories is important, so is a speaker’s delivery. To improve a story, a speaker should:

*Practice the story with family and friends, gauging their reaction.

*Vary the pitch, pace, and projection while telling it.

*Eliminate needless information and know how to shorten or lengthen the build in response to the audience.

*Believe the story is interesting in order to tell it with conviction.


To have the most impact, messages should be boiled down to their essence, not watered down with extraneous words to fill time. The speaker should have a definite start and ending in mind and be able to expand or contract what comes between those as needed. Practice and editing are the keys to keeping messages rich but succinct.

McGowan offers advice on using the pasta-sauce principle in several situations:

*When giving a speech, the speaker should keep the presentation to a maximum of 18 minutes and create mini-segments within the speech to keep the audience’s attention.

*When answering questions in a panel discussion or media interview, a speaker should be prepared with a punchy statement and a story or data to back it up for each topic he or she expects will arise.

*When pitching a new client, people should spend three times as much time talking about the client’s needs as they do talking about themselves.


Verbal tailgating is the practice of speaking so quickly that the brain cannot stay ahead of the mouth when a person is deciding what to say next. As the analogy suggests, the results can be a crash with embarrassing or even painful results. Speakers must slow down and think through what they intend to say before saying it.

Speaking slowly has several advantages:

*Silences and pauses help hold an audience’s attention.

*Slower speech makes a person sound more confident, while rushed speaking sounds apologetic.

*A slower pace indicates that speakers are engaged with the conversation, and are listening to what others say and pausing to consider it before commenting.

*Speaking slowly prevents speakers from having to verbally backspace and clear up what they intended to say.

People have a tendency to talk too fast, particularly when nervous. To counteract that tendency, speakers should be careful to slow down when they are working with new ideas or presenting important information. When individuals are unsure of what to say, they should pause while they search for the right word. People should also learn to listen more and talk less, as this makes others feel valued and gives a speaker time to think before continuing on.


Good speakers convey conviction for their messages, no matter how uncomfortable they are speaking in public. Individuals can show enthusiasm for a message through their voices, tones, and body language. Their words cannot indicate any sort of equivocation, so speakers should avoid phrases such as “I think,” “kind of,” or “I will only take a few minutes of your time.” Speakers should also avoid clichés and using too much industry jargon. While being straightforward and clear is a good way to convey messages, speakers must not oversimplify them as if they are speaking to children.

In an interview or panel discussion, speakers might be challenged in a way that can shake their confidence. In such a situation, speakers should validate another person’s opinion but not let themselves be bullied into agreeing with it. Finding some sort of common ground, however, even if it is just a small point, can help ease the tension.

Because body language is such an important component in showing conviction, speakers must learn the correct way to sit or stand with conviction. The standing power position, for instance, requires individuals to stand straight with their shoulders back, their arms bent at the elbow, and their hands resting near their belt. In this position, speakers keep their hands under control, limit their gestures, and keep their feet still.


Someone involved in a conversation should be interested in what the other people present have to say. Being a curious, active listener is crucial to being a good conversationalist. Individuals who display curiosity are better able to find common ground with others, and people are drawn to those who are generous in listening to them.

When meeting with someone for the first time, such as a potential client, it is a good idea to learn as much about that person as possible beforehand. That way, a speaker can be prepared with topics to discuss as ice breakers and have some idea of what questions might generate additional conversation. During the conversation, there should be lots of give and take, with the speaker listening and asking questions of others at least half the time.

Body language is important for conveying active listening. Because people often appear bored even if they are paying attention to a conversation, McGowan recommends developing a listening expression. A person should have a quarter smile on his or her face while listening; that expression makes a person look confident, honest, likable, and curious. A smile that is too big looks like it is being faked.


Don Draper, a character on the TV series Mad Men, frequently says “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” The trick for speakers is to subtly change the topic so it plays to their strengths. Some speakers (including many politicians), are far too obvious and appear to read from a script, give a non-sequitur answer to avoid a question, or swerve widely from one topic to another. The best way to detour a conversation is to widen the topic, guiding it away from the danger zone to safer territory that is still related to the subject.

With proper preparation, speakers should be able steer the conversation fluidly. Whether individuals are preparing for a job interview or a meeting with the media, they should try to determine what questions or topics are likely to arise. During the interview, a speaker should pay close attention as the interviewer begins talking, because the introduction to the question gives contextual clues about what is coming. While the interviewer is finishing the question, a speaker should be mentally framing his or her answer by determining:

*The point he or she wants to make.

*The story or data that will illustrate that point.

*The first five words he or she wants to say. Having the first few words in mind increases a speaker’s confidence.

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While McGowan developed his seven principles of persuasion based on what makes a good television sound bite, many of the principles work in a wide variety of uncomfortable situations, including those encountered on the job. In all situations, speakers who combine fairness, honesty, and empathy are more likely to see good outcomes result from their comments.

When parting ways with a business associate, for instance, an individual should express that the decision should not be taken personally. The speaker should complement the other person on one of his or her strengths to lessen the blow, and allude to a future where both people do well going their separate ways. When reprimanding an employee whose work is not up to standard, an effective method is to ask sympathetic questions to find out why, and to act like a mentor giving advice rather than a boss giving an ultimatum.

Several of the principles come into play when individuals are attending a meeting. They should pay attention (the conviction principle), maintain a warm, engaged expression (the curiosity principle), and keep their comments brief and relevant (the pasta-sauce principle).

Job seekers facing the dreaded “tell me about yourself” question in an interview should focus on the headline and Scorsese principles. In answering the question, they should put forth the most important information first, and use stories filled with visual details to illustrate their strengths. When interviewers hear three to five memorable stories or examples from one job candidate, they are likely to remember the person.

People are often asked to give speeches or presentations at work, and being nervous about such public speaking is very common. To prepare, McGowan suggests writing an outline on note cards, then giving a practice speech without writing it out. Before transcribing a speech, it is helpful to record it (and then listen to it) so it will not sound too stilted.

To overcome jitters, a speaker should:

*Practice the beginning over and over in order to start strong and build confidence.

*Exercise on the morning of the speech to burn off nervous enerelationalskillsrgy.

*Arrive at the venue early to check it out and meet people.

*Take deep breaths at the lectern before starting the speech.

*Speak slowly.

*Use pauses, pitch changes, and different pacing to hold the audience’s attention.

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By identifying the right moments to offer feedback, managers can be more effective in facilitating positive organizational change. Examples of some of the best times managers can give others feedback include:

*When someone’s good work, success, or resourceful behavior deserves recognition.

*When there is a high likelihood of improving the recipient’s skills.

*When the recipient is expecting feedback.

*When a problem cannot be ignored any longer because of its negative impact on team members or the organization.

It is equally important to recognize the times when giving feedback could be detrimental to the recipient or overall situation. Managers should avoid giving feedback:

*When they do not have all the information about a situation.

*When the feedback involves factors that recipients cannot change easily.

*When recipients are in a highly emotional state or have just gone through difficult experiences.

*When managers are not feeling calm or patient.

*When the feedback is based on a personal preference rather than an actual need for more effective behavior.

*When managers do not have solutions to accompany the feedback and consequently cannot help recipients move forward.

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Businesspeople need feedback to guide their careers and direct business results. Feedback is given for only two reasons–to maintain or change behaviors. Positive feedback is a milestone that lets employees know they are on the right track. Negative feedback helps them understand how to get back on the right track. To ensure tasks that are done effectively and in a timely manner are repeated, positive feedback must be given to those performing the tasks and appreciation must be expressed.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.55.15 amWhen people receive negative feedback, they usually become defensive. They will typically go through five stages before accepting the information: shock, anger, resistance, acceptance, and then hopefulness. To reduce a recipient’s defensiveness, the person giving negative feedback can be specific, focusing on actions, consequences of the actions, and alternative methods and behaviors for future performance.

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cropped-cropped-pheader1.jpgWhen a businessperson has established a trusting relationship with someone and secured permission to give him or her feedback, it should be done in less than two minutes. Short, direct messages are easier for recipients to hear and act on. The recipients might not like what is being said, but they will appreciate the candor with which it is being said. The Feedback Formula for saying anything to anyone uses the following eight steps:

  1. Explaining the topic of the conversation.
  2. Empathizing with the recipient.
  3. Describing the observed behavior.
  4. Defining the impact of the behavior.
  5. Asking the recipient for his or her observations of the situation.
  6. Suggesting a different behavior for the next time.
  7. Agreeing on next steps and improved processes.
  8. Expressing appreciation by saying “thank you.”

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An elevator pitch is a classic technique whereby an individual sells something in a very short period of time. This is accomplished in three easy steps:

  1. Create a scene that demonstrates what problem the product solves.
  2. Pre-answer anticipated questions and concerns.
  3. Close the deal with an action step while asking for a commitment.

Individuals should avoid the common mistake of continuing to sell after someone has already bought. They must adopt the posture that they are doing the customer a favor, not the other way around.

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People learn in different ways, and any audience will include members that have different learning styles. A presenter should accommodate all of these styles. Experts typically recognize seven learning styles:

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Verbal
  4. Kinesthetic
  5. Mathematical
  6. Social
  7. Solitary

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 12.01.48 pmVisual aids serve the visual learner best. Including time for group discussions and providing a recording of the presentation will help auditory learners. Verbal learners understand things not only by reading them but also by writing their own notes. Similarly, talking things through in a breakout session will help them retain information.

Kinesthetic learners do best with physical activity. They do well with props and appreciate the chance to role play. Anything that gets them on their feet and participating will help them learn from a presentation. Games and problem solving work well with mathematical learners. They also do well with lists, clear organization, and diagrams.

Along with these five learning types comes a preference for either social or solitary learning. Speakers need to give social learners time to work together with other members of the audience. Again, role playing and discussion sessions work well here. To accommodate the solitary learner in such situations, the host can ask people to prepare individually before moving into groups. The solitary learner will want to make a list of arguments or solutions to a problem on his or her own before sharing with others.

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An audience will consider the messenger before considering the message. They want evidence that the speaker is sincere, honest, interested, confident, and in control. A good speaker will dress at least as well as the best-dressed member of the audience and will always face the audience while speaking.

On stage, good speakers are the focus of attention; they are their own most important visual aid. They use gestures to clarify and dramatize ideas. In fact, gesturing will help dissipate nervous energy. Types of gestures include:

*Gestures above the shoulders suggest inspiration, uplift, and emotion.

*Below-the-shoulders gestures display sadness, apathy, or condemnation.

*Gestures done at shoulder level suggest serenity and calm.

*Emphatic gestures underline the words being spoken.

*Descriptive gestures help the audience visualize an object or concept.

*Prompting gestures are useful in evoking a response. For example, after asking a question, the speaker will raise a hand to prompt the audience to do the same.

Gesturing should be practiced all the time so that it becomes a habit. Gestures should come naturally, although on stage presenters need to reach beyond their normal comfort zones. Just as they raise their voices to be heard at a distance, so too must they extend and exaggerate their gestures.

Screen Shot 2015-09-30 at 10.55.15 amHow and when to move about is another puzzle for would-be presenters. Movement always attracts audience attention, so it should not be haphazard. The presenter should never move without a reason. Stepping forward indicates arriving at a key point while stepping backwards allows the audience to relax after a point has been concluded. Lateral movements, such as walking across the stage, indicate transitions.

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Handling Q&A in Presentation Session


With the speech completed, it is time to take questions. This should be a five-step process:

  1. Listen to the entire question.
  2. Repeat the entire question.
  3. Pause. Many presenters tend to answer easy questions too quickly, revealing their struggle with difficult questions when they are forced to search for an answer.
  4. Answer the question. If the speaker does not know the answer, he or she should say so openly.
  5. Bridge to the next question. The speaker bridges by asking the questioner if he or she is satisfied.

If there are no questions, the speaker can get things rolling by saying, “Many people have asked me… .” If a question is clearly hostile, the presenter can rephrase it in more neutral language. Stalling, useful in any case to give time to craft an answer, is especially useful when trying to disarm a verbal attack.


Managing Teams


By Jeanne Brett, Kristin Behfar, and Mary C. Kern

Companies that conduct international business must learn how to lead teams with members of different cultural backgrounds. This requires an understanding of the following common multicultural team challenges:

*Direct versus indirect communication. Western-style communication is often direct and explicit, whereas other cultures communicate by embedding meaning in the way the message is presented. Differences in communication styles can reduce information sharing.

*Trouble with accents and fluency. Misunderstandings and deep frustration can arise because of nonnative speakers’ accents, lack of fluency, or translation problems.

*Differing attitudes toward hierarchy and authority. Hierarchical cultures and egalitarian cultures have different expectations about how members should be treated. When these cultural expectations are not honored, it can cause humiliation or loss of credibility.

*Conflicting norms for decision making. Different cultures vary in how quickly they make decisions and how much analysis they require beforehand.

The four most successful strategies for handling multicultural team conflicts include:

1. Adaptation. This requires teams to acknowledge cultural gaps openly and work around them. This is the most ideal strategy because the team works effectively to solve its own problems with little input from management.

2. Structural intervention. This is the deliberate reorganization or reassignment of a team to reduce interpersonal friction or remove a source of conflict. It is the best solution for when team members become defensive or threatened.

3. Managerial intervention. This involves the manager stepping in to help team members resolve problems. This is especially effective at the beginning of a team’s development as it allows effective processes and rules to be established.

4. Exit. Leaving a team is a final option for unhappy team members. It is best to exit long-term projects that cannot be completed or when too much “face” has been lost to salvage the situation.