Do you want to be more persuasive? I want to show you how you can use persuasion in an authentic way to achieve more of your objectives.

Have you ever bought a silly product that you didn’t really need? (I am ashamed to say I have two Snuggies!) That was persuasion in action! In this guide I am going to dive deep into persuasion (authentically, of course) and answer these common persuasion questions:

  • What is persuasive communication?
  • What makes a persuasive argument?
  • Why is persuasion important in business?
  • What is the purpose of persuasive communication?

What is Persuasion?

Persuasion (n): The action or fact of persuading someone, or of being persuaded to do or believe something. 

Curious how to be persuasive in business? Check out the business definition:

Process aimed at changing a person’s (or a group’s) attitude or behavior toward some event, idea, object, or other person(s), by using written or spoken words to convey information, feelings, or reasoning, or a combination of them.

Whether you want to be more persuasive in business or personal life, there are some behavioral techniques that work over and over again. Below are my favorite persuasion techniques you can use today:

#1: Use a Value Proposition 

One of the main concerns people have when it comes to using persuasion is the feeling that they might be manipulating people. When I first started studying persuasion, I asked myself, how do effective leaders communicate persuasively? How can they persuade people without sacrificing their integrity? 

 The answer? The Value Proposition.

What is a value proposition? A value proposition, or positioning statement, is basically a 30-second elevator pitch of what you do and why your product or service is valuable. (Research here)

Donn LeVie Jr., certified fraud examiner, explains the importance of a value proposition: You have the undivided attention of a decision-maker in an elevator who’s just asked you, “What do you do?” and you have half a minute to explain your value and expertise.

You always should have your value proposition ready. Create a statement that answers the following questions:

  • What does your service/product/expertise mean for me?
  • Why should I buy this product/service or hire you over all others we’re considering?
  • How is your expertise/product/ service different from others we’re considering?
  • What problem can your service/product/expertise solve?

The goal here is to frame what you do as beneficial to someone else. Here’s an example:

  • Don’t Say: “I plan events for corporate meeting planners.”
  • Do Say: “Meeting planners and association executives hire me to make them look like superstars.”

If you can, start off with a lead-in statement showing social proof. For example:

  • Don’t Say: “I write books.”
  • Do Say: “I’m the national best-selling author of Captivate.”

#2: Trigger the Golden Question

When explaining what you do, delivering your elevator pitch, or (hopefully) crafting the perfect value proposition, always try to trigger the golden question.

The golden question is anytime someone asks “How?”

  • How does that work?
  • How do you do that?
  • How do I work with you?

Take the example from persuasion technique #1: “Meeting planners and association executives hire me to make them look like superstars.” The next logical question is: “How?”

That value proposition triggers the golden question. Once someone asks more details, you know they are intrigued.

How can you get someone to ask “How?” “How?” is the first step to action.

Let’s look at using a value proposition lead-in for the golden question. This example is from someone interviewing at a company.

  • Hiring manager/decision-makers: “So, tell me, Tom, why should we bring you on board?”
  • Tom’s lead-in: “Mr. Jones, decision-makers, hire me because of the benefits my proven problem-solving expertise will bring to this organization’s strategic objectives.”
  • Hiring manager/decision-makers: “How do you do that?”
  • Tom’s value proposition: “My accomplishments in loss prevention include recovering more than $200,000 in revenue. That knowledge and skill set will contribute to your enterprise’s ongoing business goals from day one. What would be your highest priority project that I would be working on in that regard?”

Tom lays out his value proposition, then ties it in with the suggestion in his question to the hiring manager that he’s the only logical candidate to receive a job offer. Tom doesn’t leave anything to chance or any dead-air possibilities. He continues probing the hiring manager with more questions, which further reveal his expertise as a value-add problem solver and not just another candidate looking for a job.

Let’s look at using a value proposition lead-in for someone representing an anti-fraud business seeking a new customer or client. See how Diane triggers the golden question:

  • Prospective client/decision-makers: “Tell me something about your company, Diane.”
  • Diane’s lead-in: “Mr. Jones, those big-box retailers hire us to help them sleep better at night.”
  • Decision-makers: “How exactly do you do that?”
  • Diane’s value proposition: “Our wireless HD micro-camera security system is not only the most preferred electronic surveillance device in the retail industry. It also gives you worry-free security assurance, with impenetrable 100 percent uptime, thanks to triple-redundant backup hard drives, and 24/7/365 support that includes fraud investigation support. Let me ask you: ‘What’s your most pressing fraud issue that’s keeping you up at night?’”
  • Diane takes the same approach that Tom did in the previous example, by presenting herself and her company as a problem solver — not a peddler of electronic surveillance equipment. She knows the pain point of the decision-makers: worrying (“keeping you up at night”) about fraud and preventing revenue loss. She jumps in by demonstrating through her questions that she wants to help solve problems.

Try this formula:

To (target audience) + our/my (product or service category) + is the (functional/symbolic/experiential benefit) + that provides (functional/symbolic/experiential benefit)+ because (reason to believe).

 See how this works in a real example:

“To loss prevention specialists in the retail clothing industry, our wireless HD micro-camera security system is the most preferred electronic surveillance device. It provides fail-safe, worry-free security assurance because of 100 percent uptime, triple-redundant backup servers and 24/7/365 support for any of your security issues.”

Need help crafting your value proposition or golden questions? Check out our flagship course, People School.

#3 How to Use Persuasion with a Difficult Person

Do you work with a narcissistic colleague or boss? This can be one of the most frustrating and stressful workplace environments. These individuals often require a special kind of persuasion tactic, since their selfishness typically takes center stage.

First, always put your goals, ideas, and plans into writing. It’s easy to be verbally side-swiped by a narcissistic co-worker. So, when you have something important to discuss, send your notes in an email. This way, there’s written proof and an opportunity for everyone to process before a meeting.

Second, one of the best ways to work with a narcissist is to use their strengths to your advantage! When you’re pitching a big client or persuading the sales team, capitalize on the narcissist’s natural charisma. Together, you will be more infectious than alone!

Action Step: Watch all four tips on dealing with narcissists:

#4 Be Bold 

It’s hard to ask for what we want. The biggest barrier to being persuasive is our own fear! To get our way, we have to know what our way is. To be persuasive, we have to know what we are asking for. To inspire confidence, we have to be confident!

 The single easiest way to be more persuasive is to be more clear about what you really want.

Asking for what we want requires us to be direct. And yes, this opens up the possibility of rejection. When we fear rejection we are more likely to shut down. Our own fears creep into our asks and make us less bold with our requests. Fear hurts our persuasiveness:

  • We apologize.
  • We stall and delay.
  • We add qualifiers.
  • We are fuzzy and unclear with requests and next steps.

The problem is that when we are unclear about what we want, others can’t get clear either.

Action Step: Next time you need to ask for something, use clear, concise language. Remove any disqualifiers such as maybe, possibly or probably. Simplify your statements so you are super clear with yourself and the other person on what needs to happen next. Before walking into a pitch, meeting, or negotiation get clear on: 

  • What you want.
  • How you can help.
  • What the next steps should be.

#5 How to Use Persuasion in Sales 

Are you in sales? Do you work with clients? Authentic persuasion is how you build rapport, capture new clients, and pitch your ideas more effectively. 

Start by giving your clients awesome labels. One study looked at the best methods of fundraising and getting people to donate. In the experiment, researchers told a group of donors they were among the highest donors in the organization. This comment led this group to donate more than anyone else—these individuals lived up to their label!

 When you tell someone they’re the best, they want to be the best. When you tell a customer they’re awesome, they want to be awesome. Use labels to spark joy and action with your people!

Action Step: See all the killer sales techniques, backed by science:

#6 Set Someone Up for Action

Persuasion is about helping someone take an action. The action could be buying a product, becoming a client, or even agreeing with your opinion. The best thing you can do is have this action in the front of mind during your entire interaction.

You can do this in a number of ways: 

Physical Action: If you have someone in your office and your goal is to get them to do something such as sign paperwork or try a product, have the item visible from the moment someone walks in. When someone sees the inevitable action they should take, it helps them get more mentally prepared for it.

Digital Action: Do you have a website or blog? Show people where you want them to look, with pictures and eye direction. 

Advertisers, marketers, bloggers, and authors do this all the time to signal to the reader what’s important on the page. Take a look at how marketing and advertising guru Seth Godin uses this principle on his website. He wants you to take action. So, he is looking at the sidebar panel, with all of the cool areas of his website.

We do this on our website too! This is the banner image on our Leadership page:

We can be persuasive in so many ways in the online space and in advertising. Read all 12 ways body language is used in advertising

Be sure you set someone up to take the right action.

#7 Avoid Persuasion Paralysis

Persuasion Paralysis is one of the biggest detractors from authentic persuasion. It is caused by choice paralysis. Multiple studies and books have proven that when we have too many choices, it’s almost impossible for us to make a decision. The same happens when we give too many choices. We wind up discouraging those around us from acting on one single item.

Barry Schwartz, author of The Paradox of Choice, Why More is Less, argues that when we overthink our choices, we make the wrong choice, and that fewer choices always are better.

 The big idea:

 We spend time thinking about the choices we didn’t pick, instead of being happy with the one we did choose. The more choices, the more we feel we ‘missed out on.’

Remember, choose wisely and help your clients and colleagues avoid choice paralysis by presenting them with fewer options. When there’s fewer choices, we all are more successful.

Action Step: Limit your and your client or customer’s choices and watch your persuasion increase.

Bonus Action Step: Learn all 5 habits of socially successful people.

#8: The When-Feel-Need Technique 

What if you need to be persuasive with someone you know really, really well? Such as your kids or your spouse? I want to teach you a persuasion technique called the “When-Feel-Need” formula. This is a wonderful way to get what you need in an authentic way. 

This is a strategy you can use in any situation, from business, to social, to romantic communications.

First, you address the context by starting with “when.” For example, I might say, “When you don’t clean the microwave in the break room…”

Then you want to go into your needs and feelings, so they understand where you are coming from, by saying “I feel.” Continuing with our example, this would be “I feel frustrated that I am the only one who cares about office cleanliness and am being treated like a hired maid.”

Finally, you end by addressing the benefit to them and the next step — hopefully the intention you thought of in the first step. For example, “Let’s make the kitchen clean for all of us and make a cleaning schedule so we don’t have to be bothered with this again.”

Feelings are important. In addition to being clear and direct about your intentions, you must get someone else to “buy in.” A central part of authentic persuasion is tapping into feelings.

  • If you need more help on a project, share your feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • If you are giving a pitch on a new business idea, share your passion.

When you share your feelings behind an ask, it helps you be both transparent and open. I share some additional examples in the video above.

 Action Step: Try using this when/I feel/we need formula in your next conversation to see how powerfully it works in getting everyone on the same page.

Being persuasive is about knowing what you want and being able to share it. You might have a great idea, a great product, or a great service — now all you have to do is share it.

About Vanessa Van Edwards

About Vanessa Van Edwards

Lead Investigator, Science of People

I'm the author of the national bestselling book Captivate, creator of People School, and behavioral investigator.

I’ve always wanted to know how people work, and that’s what Science of People is about. What drives our behavior? Why do people act the way they do? And most importantly, can you predict and change behavior to be more successful? I think the answer is yes. More about Vanessa.

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