On Persuasian

Convincing people that you aren’t entirely crazy is a skill, there’s no doubt about that. And, I’ve met some folks here in Silicon Valley who are, without question, exceptional in their ability to persuade.

Ideas are a dime-a-dozen, as we all know. Execution > everything:

And those that execute almost-never need to be told to do it — they just do it, because it’s in their nature. Sometimes, though, they need direction.

But if execution is the machine that drives production, it is persuasion that is the match, the kindling, the necessary jump-start that inspires others to join your specific fight, that convinces others that this particular mountain is a much more interesting one to climb.

This ability, the art and science of changing someone’s heart and mind, may just be one of the most important skills of today’s modern world. It is a true competitive advantage in our knowledge economy where ideas, violently executed, matter more than ever before.

In fact, some economists believe that persuasion, alone, is responsible for generating one-quarter or more of the United State’s national income, in sum total! That’s kind of neat.

Persuasion is necessary in nearly every facet of our lives:

  • Entrepreneurs need this to convince investors to back them financially while also to hire folks into a risky proposition.
  • People looking for jobs need to persuade hiring managers and recruiters to choose them over someone else.
  • Politics… is all about persuasion. All the time.
  • And… more… an infinite number of examples.

It’s not just another “soft skill” — it’s a fundamental one. Dale Carnegie once told business students they could increase their own “professional value” by 50% (or more!) if they simply improved their communication skills and their ability to persuade and that this “investment in yourself” will last you a lifetime.

How do you increase one’s ability to persuade? Aristotle created a bit of an outline in his work using five rhetorical devices:

  1. Ethos or “Character” — Establishing credibility is crucial and building a bridge for folks to trust you is paramount. They need evidence that what you say is what you do, consistently. This is a barometer on how much integrity you have and if you have none, then, persuasion isn’t something that’ll be possible.
  2. Logos or “Reason” — Is your argument logical and/or reasonable? After they have reason to trust you it’s now time to back your argument with data that builds a rational argument.
  3. Pathos or “Emotion” — Without emotion, it’s just another “fact” in a sea of noise. Never forget Maya Angelou. Your audience is going to be moved to action by how the speaker makes them feel. Storytelling, according to Aristotle, is a rhetorical device that allows this “transference” of emotion from one person to the next. The best stories are the ones that are intensely personal, especially when they detail failure, danger, disaster, or misfortune.
  4. Metaphor — Using metaphors or analogies help strengthen your position by making it relatable, giving the idea color and depth. “To be a master of metaphor is the greatest thing by far,” he once wrote. Moving folks from the abstract to the concrete is done cleverly with metaphors and analogies.
  5. Brevity — “When it comes to persuasion, less is always more.” An argument or a position or an idea should be expressed “as compactly and in as few words as possible.” This is especially true and important in the beginning of the delivery: Start with your strongest point.

Thankfully, all of this can be taught, practiced, and mastered over time. So, if you want to become a master then you must start practicing.

Remember? It’s all about execution: