On Being Persuasive

According to Carmine Gallo, Instructor at the Harvard University Graduate School of Design’s Executive Education Department and author Five Stars: Communication Secrets to Get from Good to Great (2018), the ability to persuade, to change hearts and minds, is perhaps the one skill that can be depended on to confer a competitive edge in the knowledge economy. Successful people in nearly every profession are typically those capable of convincing others to take action on plans and ideas. If you want to achieve anything of substance in life, learn to be persuasive.

Aspiring entrepreneurs persuade venture capitalists to provide financial backing for their new ventures.  Salespeople persuade customers to buy products. Freelance consultants persuade clients to hire them to provide professional services. In short, persuasion is no longer considered merely a “soft skill,” but rather a leadership skill, that enables those who’ve mastered it to attract investors, sell products, build brands, inspire teams and activate social or political movements.

More than 2,000 years ago, the Greek philosopher Aristotle outlined a formula on how to master the art of persuasion in his work Rhetoric.  Throughout history, statesmen and salesmen have used Aristotle’s guidelines when preparing speeches or talking points that brought history-shaping ideas and ground-breaking products to the world.

Your words and ideas have the potential to make you a star in your field, if you can persuade others to join you and act on them. To become a master of persuasion and successfully sell your ideas, use these five rhetorical devices (as interpreted by Mr. Gallo) that Aristotle identified in your next client meeting or sales presentation:

ETHOS (Character)

Gallo feels that ethos represents that part of a speech or presentation where listeners take the measure of the speaker’s credibility. Aristotle believed that if a speaker’s actions don’t reflect his/her words, that speaker would lose credibility and ultimately weaken the argument.  As humans, we are hardwired to search for reasons to trust another person. A simple statement that you are committed to the welfare of others before you introduce your argument or selling points will enhance your credibility.  Show your prospect that you understand and appreciate his/her situation.

LOGOS (Reason)

Once ethos is established, it’s time to make a logical appeal to reason. Why should your listener care about your product or idea? If it will save the listener money, for example, s/he will want to know how much it will save them and how the savings will be accomplished. The same reasoning applies to making money. How will your idea help the listener earn a profit? What steps must s/he take next?  These are all logical appeals that will help you gain support. Use data, evidence and facts to form a rational argument.

PATHOS (Emotion)

According to Aristotle, persuasion cannot occur in the absence of emotion. People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel. Aristotle believed the best way to transfer emotion from one person to another is through the rhetorical device of storytelling. More than 2,000 years later, neuroscientists have found his thesis to be accurate. Research has demonstrated that narratives trigger a rush of neurochemicals in the brain, notably oxytocin, called the “the moral molecule” that connects people on a deeper, emotional level.

In his analysis of the top 500 TED Talks of all time, Gallo found that stories made up 65% of the average speaker’s talk, whereas 25% went to logos and 10% went to ethos. In other words, the winning formula for a popular TED Talk is to wrap the big idea in a story.

What kind of story? TED Talks curator Chris Anderson explained, “The stories that can generate the best connection are stories about you personally or about people close to you. Tales of failure, awkwardness, misfortune, danger or disaster, told authentically, hasten deep engagement.” The most personal content is the most relatable, in other words.

METAPHOR (Comparison)

Gallo reminds us that Aristotle believed that metaphor gives language its beauty. “To be a master of metaphor is the greatest thing by far,” Aristotle wrote. Gallo follows-up, “When you use a metaphor or analogy to compare a new idea to something that is familiar to your audience, it clarifies your idea by turning the abstract into something concrete.” Those who master the metaphor have the ability to turn words into images that help others gain a clearer understanding of  their ideas and more importantly, remember and share them. It is a powerful tool to have.


Brevity is a crucial element in making a persuasive speech. An argument, Aristotle said, should be expressed “as compactly and in as few words as possible.” He also observed that the opening of a person’s speech is the most important since “attention slackens everywhere else rather than at the beginning.” The lesson here is: start with your strongest point.

The good news for communicators is that Aristotle believed that persuasion can be learned.  According to Edith Hall, author of Aristotle’s Way, the political class in ancient Greece wanted Aristotle to keep his tactics for persuasion a closely held secret.  But Aristotle disagreed and wanted everyone to have access to it. Hall’s research showed that he instead championed the idea that a person’s ability to speak and write well, and to use rhetorical devices to change another’s perspective, could unleash human potential and maximize happiness.

Thanks for reading,


Photograph: Emmy Award-winning actor Danny DeVito (Taxi, 1978-1883 ABC-TV)  in Matilda (1996)

Because I Said So

Oh good,  you’re back.  I guess that means you’re still in business.  After last week’s posting about the shrinking numbers and dismal prospects for Freelancers,  I thought you might have decided to cash in your chips and interview for a job at Kinko’s…

Well,  since we’re still in the game,  let’s make the best of it.  Making the best of it definitely entails getting people to do what we want them to do,  maybe even when we want them to do it.  Wouldn’t that be fantastic?  I daydream about this kind of stuff all the time–especially when I am patiently waiting for a client to pay me what is owed.  Even more so when I am patiently waiting for two clients to pay me what is owed (like now).

Getting others to do what we want is all about the art of persuasion.  If we could get even one quarter of our clients and prospects to do what we want,  we’d all be driving Jaguars!

While browsing in a bookstore recently,  I happened upon an interesting book by Chris St. Hilaire,  who is a jury selection consultant and author of  “27 Powers of Persuasion:  Simple Strategies to Seduce Audiences & Win Allies” (2010).

In his book,  St. Hilaire points out that true persuasion is not about arm-twisting or even outmaneuvering your opponent.  Rather,  true persuasion is about creating consensus and unity of purpose.  The author recommends four key strategies that will improve your powers of persuasion,  applicable to both your business and personal life:

Emphasize the goal to bring all parties to agreement

When we go into a client meeting,  we tend to assume that all parties are on the same page.  Not so,  says St. Hilaire.  It is common for people to talk past one another,  wrapped in their inaccurate assumptions,  failing to hear what the other side has said,  failing to grasp important meanings and significance.

Negotiation failure that leads to a deal-breaker can result from incomplete or sloppy communication.  It could even appear that the other party has an entirely different goal for the project at hand.  This is a Level One misunderstanding that nevertheless has the power to derail you.  Avoid disappointment by briefly summarizing your goals upfront.  Ensure that the other party knows why you are there and you will move closer to getting what you want.

Use numbers to make talking points more powerful

Americans love to quantify things.  Numbers help people to define and measure both success and failure.  Judiciously inject a statistic or two (don’t overload) into your presentation and help your client or prospect to put your goal into perspective,  help him/her to visualize and compare your features and benefits to other available options and lay the groundwork for the acceptance of your proposal,  i.e.,  your goal.

Third party validation can bring others to your way of thinking

Presenting the expert opinion of a trusted and respected source who is presumed to be neutral and objective can make your proposal  look like the gold standard.  People are often reluctant to contradict the practices and opinions of those who are known to be smart and influential.  Do what you can to make it appear that your goals are on the side of the angels.

Silence can be your most effective technique

Learn to get comfortable with silence in a negotiating/selling situation.  According to St. Hilaire,  silence allows you to control a room without seeming aggressive.  The other party will almost always become uncomfortable and nervous and blurt out what they really think,  fear,  want,  or plan to do. 

Even if you don’t receive the ideal answer,  hidden objections will come to light,  giving you an opportunity to acknowledge and resolve them.  That greatly improves the odds for your success.

Thanks for reading,