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/Well, Anyhow — How Can We Persuade Them?

Well, Anyhow — How Can We Persuade Them?

This is what we are asked in letters and during workshops.

An attempt at answering this question could seem na?ve, unless there existed a guru and first-hand source who spent his life studying persuasion technologies. This is Carl Hovland, a psychologist, founder of Yale School of persuasive communication. All practices of "90 second presentation", "presentation aikido" and "presentation Kamasutra" one way or another incorporate his ideas, specifying nuances, details (which undoubtedly matter), and methods of presenting information. However, now we shall talk about the essence.

So, Carl Hovland stated that each time persuasion undergoes three stages: "attention" - "understanding" - "acceptance". He stated that as far back as in the 40-s of last century. In a standard business setting this pattern still looks the same. Let us have a closer look.

  1. Attention.

    Now then, first of all you need to attract their attention. This stage is important for any type of communication - be it an ad, a film or a speech.

    Let us imagine that you need to convince your manager of something. What can the first stage look like? One can attract attention in different ways, it depends on the situation. To set forth the essence - succinctly and articulately - is by far not the worst method, for example: "We have found a way to save 30 million rubles a year". The manager cannot help but become interested.

    In a presentation film attention is attracted by means of a "starting point" - interesting facts or unusual comparisons. One only has to keep in mind one rule - the starting point has to be linked to the main story. A hollow "special effect" does not work.

    …Hurrah, we have managed to attract their attention. They are listening to us. Now it would be to our advantage if they understood us correctly.

  2. Understanding.

    In a setting of oral communication it is important to get your message across in 3-5 minutes. This is approximately the limit of attention span that we are given. Do not go into details - if you ran complicated calculations, you do not have to explain everything, just say: "We have calculated and the effect turns out to be like this".

    The best way of being understood is engaging in a dialogue. First, it guarantees that you do not lose attention of your audience; second, by listening to others attentively we can control the process of understanding. If there is an opportunity to start a dialogue - you should make use of it.

    In a situation which does not presuppose any dialogue (for example, in the case of a presentation film) what more often than not comes to your rescue is… nothing else but dialogue. However we shall have to try and foresee the questions that an audience might have. Should we succeed - the film will be persuasive, should we fail to do so - it will not.

    Trainings devoted to oral presentations teach not to "pontificate", but to talk with an audience. Talking means having a dialogue, even if the audience is silent physically, because a dialogue is more understandable.

    Have you made sure that everything is understood? Then let's move on to the stage of Acceptance.

  3. Acceptance.

    There is something which helps it happen.

    For example, acceptance is facilitated by your serious attitude to the issue at hand.

    Acceptance is facilitated by a serious background preparation of the issue, by available calculations, proof, laid out information.

    Acceptance is very much facilitated, although this is by no means always a plus, by the authority of the speaker.

    Acceptance is facilitated by involving the audience into the process.

This list could go on.

…This is how it happens, persuasion. In theory.

Hovland C.I. The order of presentation in persuasion. New Haven , 1957.

Andrey Skvortsov
CEO, Mercator group

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