During a recent presentation to the Regulatory Affairs Professional Society (RAPS), keynote speaker Daniel Pink—writer, journalist, TV host, and behavior expert—instructed audience members to identify their dominant hand. Then he asked them to snap the fingers of that hand quickly five times. Last, he asked them use the forefinger of that dominant hand to trace the shape of an “E” on their foreheads.
Which way did your “E” face? If you drew it so that it would appear correctly drawn to someone standing in front of you, you’ve shown that you possess the instinct of attunement; your “default” position is to be aware of and responsive to another’s perspective. But if you drew it in a self-oriented fashion, your default is to take your own perspective rather than others’.
According to Pink, about 41% of the average worker’s day involves persuasion, and every instance of successful persuasion is based on attunement, the ability to identify and take the perspective of those whom you are trying to persuade. This holds true for all persuasive matters, Pink suggests, from recommending a change to a report or blueprint to inviting colleagues to attend a meeting to advocating for the modification of a price point. It certainly holds true when you’re deciding on a communication strategy or tactics for a presentation or document.
As a communicator, you attune yourself to a listener’s or reader’s perspective through audience analysis. Using what you know or can reliably predict about audience members—their level of knowledge on a topic, their generational cohort, and their likely disposition toward you and your messages, for example—helps you form a working landscape of their perspective. It will clarify for you where obstacles may exist and how you can overcome them as well as where you can proceed without impediment. With such clarification, you can shape your messages to be most acceptable to the audience.
Another of the persuasive tactics Pink elaborated upon during his keynote address was clarity, on focusing strongly on the 1% of your message that is its substance: “Don’t get lost in the crabgrass of details.”
You can be more persuasive when you concentrate “on the one percent that gives life to the other ninety-nine. Understanding that one percent, and being able to explain it to others” demonstrates your ability to reason, to distill information, to separate and highlight what is most important to your persuasive purpose. You want, in other words, to aim for “just-rightness” in your content, to be a curator of information, not a purveyor; you want the signal to sound more loudly than the noise.
In addition to curating the content of a presentation or document, pay close attention to how your messages link to your purpose, keep the number of major messages low, and fashion each so that it makes a point. Messages that possess these three qualities create clarity for your audience.
Taking your audience's perspective allows you to construct messages that acknowledge other perspectives while advocating for your own. Putting a fine point on those messages will direct them straight to the minds of your listeners or readers, removing all doubt about your meaning and intent. That's aiming to persuade.