How to Influence Every Audience, Every Time

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How many conversations have you had this week in which you’ve tried to convince someone to adopt a certain opinion or act a certain way? As a leader, you’re constantly working to influence others, whether you’re convincing investors to continue backing the company, consumers to purchase your products or services, or employees to support your vision.

So what can you do to ensure you’re successful in moving every audience you set out to move? Many leaders assume that their title, in and of itself, is enough to make them influential. But in reality, every leader has to earn influence, and here at Quantified, we firmly believe that comes down to communication. While there are countless specific skills to consider for successful communication, there are three particular traits to focus on when you’re trying to move an audience.

Three Keys to Moving Audiences

1.   Consider the Audience

As you’ll see throughout this article, influence is heavily reliant on a leader’s commitment to understanding her audience and tailoring her message to meet its particular needs. You can read our recent blog post for more details on the importance of audience-centric communication, but here’s your key takeaway: audiences can spot canned stump speeches for miles away, and if they sense that you’re speaking at them rather than to them, they’ll tune out. So before you even begin formulating your speech, do your homework. Learn what makes your audience tick, and craft your message so it resonates with them—after all your audience, not you, are the most important people in the room.

2.   Build Trust

According to 7 Habits of Highly Effective People author Stephen Covey, “Trust is the glue of life. It’s the most essential ingredient in effective communication.” And we agree. In order for any relationship to function, it must be built on trust.

So what is trust, exactly, other than the foundation of influence?

The way we define it, trust is a measure of the perceived degree of truth in a leader’s message. If employees, investors, and customers don’t believe a leader is communicating honestly and with her audience’s best interests in mind—that is, if they can’t trust her—they will not follow her.

Leaders can build trust with their audiences in two ways: through the language they use and through their overall presence.

To build trust through language, use personal pronouns to take responsibility for your messaging, and build credibility by speaking from experience. Be specific, supporting claims with quantitative and qualitative evidence, and avoid broad, sweeping generalizations and platitudes. Finally, dig below the surface, using motion language to signify transformation and progress, along with exclusive language to explain not only what is happening but what isn’t. Research shows that trustworthy messages offer more details than deceptive ones, so by sharing insights and evaluations to support your claims, you can show your audience that you’re speaking truthfully and honestly.

Walmart CEO Doug McMillon is particularly skilled at building trust through language, frequently communicating accountability through first-person pronouns and offering the level of depth and insight related to honest communication.

So what goes through my mind is, first of all, I took my first job at Walmart making $6.50 an hour. My alternative in fast-food was $3.35. So I didn’t start out making a lot of money. And I’ve worked really hard to try and get where I’m at at the moment, and I feel like I have a great obligation to create that opportunity for everybody else. As I step back as an American and look at the ladder of opportunity that needs to be created, the place at which we set that first rung comes to mind. If that place is too high, we won’t be able to employ as many people as we need to. And being a great place to go for a first job is fine.

To build trust through presence, it’s important to be sure your posture, gestures, facial expressions, and tone cue the audience that you are confident in your message and addressing them as your authentic self. So focus on standing up straight, making eye contact with everyone in the room, and using organic gestures, facial expressions, and vocal inflections, coming across as your most confident self, and not overly choreographed and contrived. Of course, practice makes this much easier.

3.   Hone Persuasive Skills

Persuasion relates to a leader’s ability to move an audience to a belief, position, or action, and it underlies nearly every interaction we have on a daily basis—from persuading 5,000 clients at a conference to sign up for your SaaS product’s newest features to persuading your partner to pick up dinner on the way home from work.

The linguistic keys to persuasion date back all the way to Aristotle, and it’s likely you learned about them in your high school English class.

  • Ethos refers to appeals to an audience’s gut or intuition. These establish a speaker’s credibility through language that convinces audiences to see her as an expert, and they include achievements, testimonials, and case studies.
  • Pathos, appeals to the heart or emotions, are the stories, imagery, and metaphors that help audiences become personally invested in a message.
  • Logos refers to appeals to the head or to logic. These establish reason, proof, and insight, citing research and statistics to support arguments.

So if ethos, pathos, and logos are the building blocks of persuasion, the key is to combine them in just the right way for each audience you’re addressing.

This goes back to our first point: in order to find the right balance, you must know your audience. If you’re looking to influence a general audience—one that’s not overly familiar with you or your brand—our research actually shows your best bet is to lay off the logic, focusing instead on fast-tracking trust through appeals to their intuition and winning them over emotionally by tugging at their heartstrings. But for expert audiences who know you as well as you do and skeptical audiences who you anticipate will resist your ideas, logos is your friend. Anticipate their arguments and address them head on, using concrete language, data, and trusted sources to support your point.

Successful leadership communication requires work in a lot of areas, but by focusing on getting to know your audience, building trust, and honing your persuasive skills, you’ll build a strong foundation for influencing every audience, every time.