Success in persuasion depends on moving people psychologically from where they are, to where you want them to be. While demographics refer to observable audience traits such as age and gender, psychographics refer to the mental constructs people employ to organize their lives and guide their behaviors. The beliefs, attitudes and values audience members bring to a presentation often serve as roadblocks to persuasion. Someone may have his facts wrong (belief), have a negative opinion about a product or service you offer (attitude) or show apathy towards your position (value). Savvy presenters remove these mental roadblocks by first establishing a baseline, and then choosing an appropriate strategy for change through the use of psychographics.
Think of beliefs as what people take to be facts about the world around them. Beliefs may be true or false and are usually subject to empirical verification. Often, the key to creating a persuasive message means correcting false beliefs. A colleague of mine who sold color laser printers thought he had a very compelling case. He focused on the clean, crisp text they produced, the reliability and the speed of printing. He complained that his target market was more interested in color inkjet printing because they believed it was more economical. He explained that while inkjet printers can be purchased for much less than laser printers, the price of consumables differs significantly. In some cases, laser printing may cost less than one-fifth the price of inkjet printing. He made a persuasive case for his product only after he changed the belief. He chose the strategy of revising a belief. Imagine an audience where everyone believed Social Security income would provide sufficient funds for retirement. A financial planner offering additional retirement income products would meet strong resistance with such an audience until he revised the belief.
Attitudes express themselves as positive or negative feelings towards a person, issue or situation. You might also think of them as opinions. Because they’re tied to emotions and aren’t subject to validation, they can be more difficult to change. It doesn’t make sense to tell someone her attitude is “wrong.” When presenting, your goal isn’t to “correct” attitudes, but rather, to reinforce or change them. For example, someone with a negative attitude towards attorneys or legal proceedings might hesitate to seek out needed services. One strategy for changing attitudes involves replacing a negative attitude with a positive one. Explaining how engaging an attorney can help someone secure his rights under the law or providing a brief narrative about the negative consequences of not having legal advice prior to an important decision could provide the impetus for such a change.
For business and professional presentations, the most productive approach to values lies in thinking of them as descriptive statements about priorities, rather than evaluative judgments about right and wrong. For example, think about what someone values when purchasing an automobile. Someone who values economy might purchase a small vehicle with high fuel efficiency. The person who values safety might be more inclined towards a Volvo or an SUV. When a person values minimizing his ecological footprint, the choice might be a hybrid. In other words, our values affect the choices we make by establishing priorities. Prospects frequently value price in choosing a professional services provider. As a provider, your challenge is to get prospects to re-prioritize their decision factors so that they value an attribute in which your service excels, such as your niche expertise or a proven track record of excellent results.
The success of your presentation for a particular audience will depend on identifying the beliefs, attitudes and values that stand in your way and then implementing a strategy for change. When you ignore false beliefs, dismiss negative attitudes and neglect to help prospects establish a conducive value hierarchy, you create even more obstacles on the path to persuasion. You can only plan to move people to a specific destination by establishing their starting point. Try to see the world through the eyes of your audience and you’ll better understand the obstacles you face. With such an understanding, you can more easily remove objections and move closer to getting the business.
© 2010 Peak Communication Performance. Excerpted from Rainmaking Presentations: How To Grow Your Business by Leveraging Your Expertise, available at Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com. Download the first chapter at www.RainMakingPresentations.com. Affluent’s Presentation Expert, Joseph Sommerville, Ph.D., shows professionals how to design, develop and deliver effective presentations. When you book him to show your organization how to create more persuasive presentations, you’ll discover why better communication means more business. Contact him at Sommerville@RainMakingPresentations.com.