How to Leverage “Pre-suasion” to Gain Attention

Do you think people care about what you have to say? The truth is that the average person doesn’t know you. It’s not that you’re not likable or smart; it’s just a matter of survival for people in today’s world. There is simply too much out there and not enough time to take it all in.

These words by communications expert Kem Meyer succinctly point out the dilemma for communicators today: for many people, the last thing they are looking for is unsolicited information, or someone to tell them to change their ways.

And yet many, if not most, of the sermons preached by pastors attempt to do just that.

However, many people will take the time to read or listen to something that reinforces an opinion they already have or speaks to a real need in their lives. If they are not looking for it, they won’t hear it. But, if you take the time to learn what they’re looking for, you can get in on a conversation already in progress in their minds.

How then, can a leader understand their audience in such a way to make their message more receptive? How can you connect, communicate, and influence your audience toward life-long transformation?

THE QUICK SUMMARY – Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade by Robert Cialdini

The acclaimed New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestseller from Robert Cialdini – “the foremost expert on effective persuasion” (Harvard Business Review) – explains how it’s not necessarily the message itself that changes minds, but the key moment before you deliver that message.

What separates effective communicators from truly successful persuaders? With the same rigorous scientific research and accessibility that made his Influence an iconic bestseller, Robert Cialdini explains how to prepare people to be receptive to a message before they experience it. Optimal persuasion is achieved only through optimal pre-suasion. In other words, to change “minds” a pre-suader must also change “states of mind.”

Named a “Best Business Books of 2016” by the Financial Times, and “compelling” by The Wall Street Journal, Cialdini’s Pre-Suasion draws on his extensive experience as the most cited social psychologist of our time and explains the techniques a person should implement to become a master persuader. Altering a listener’s attitudes, beliefs, or experiences isn’t necessary, says Cialdini—all that’s required is for a communicator to redirect the audience’s focus of attention before a relevant action.

From studies on advertising imagery to treating opiate addiction, from the annual letters of Berkshire Hathaway to the annals of history, Cialdini outlines the specific techniques you can use on online marketing campaigns and even effective wartime propaganda. He illustrates how the artful diversion of attention leads to successful pre-suasion and gets your targeted audience primed and ready to say, “Yes.” His book is “an essential tool for anyone serious about science based business strategies…and is destined to be an instant classic.


Even the most well-planned communication opportunity often achieves lackluster results without the audience listening (and hopefully acting on your suggestions).

But what if the audience can be warmed up to your message before they even see it?

The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion – the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it.

Pre-suasion, a word coined by Robert Cialdini, is the process of gaining agreement with a message before it’s been sent. Although that may seem like some form of magic, it’s not. It’s established science.

That key moment is the one that allows a communicator to create a state of mind in recipients that is consistent with the forthcoming message. It’s the moment in which we can arrange for others to be attuned to our message before they encounter it. That step is crucial for maximizing desired change.

The answer involves an essential but poorly appreciated tenant of all communication: what we present first changes the way people experience what we present to them next.

The truly influential things we say and do first act to pre-suade our audiences, which then alters audience members’ associations with what we say or do next.

All told, there are any of a number of first steps besides establishing trust persuaders can take that will make audiences more redemptive to the case they intend to present.

The steps can take multiple forms, and, accordingly, they’ve been given multiple labels by behavioral scientists. They can be called frames or anchors or primes or mindsets or first impressions. I’m going to refer to them as openers – because they open up things for influence in two ways.

First, they simply initiate the process: they provide the starting points, the beginnings of persuasive appeals. But it is in their second function that they clear the way to persuasion, by removing existing barriers.

It’s because of the only-temporary receptiveness that pre-suasive actions often produce in others that I’ve introduced the concept of privileged moments.

The meaning of the word privileged is straightforward referring to special, elevated status. The word moment, though, is more complex, as it evokes a pair of meanings. One connotes a time-limited period: in this case, the window of opportunity following a pre-suasive opener, when a proposal’s power is greatest. The other connotation comes from physics and refers to a unique leveraging force that can bring about unprecedented movement. These yoke dimensions, temporal on the one hand and physical on the other, have the capacity to instigate extraordinary change in a yet third, psychological, dimension.

Robert Cialdini, Pre-Suasion: A Revolutionary Way to Influence and Persuade


Author Robert Cialdini believes that altering a listener’s attitudes, beliefs, or experiences isn’t necessary. All that’s required is to alter the audience’s focus of attention just before requesting a relevant action.

The factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is often not the one that offers the most accurate or useful counsel; instead, it is the one that has been elevated in attention (and thereby in privilege) at the moment of decision.

“Privileged moments” are identifiable points in time when an individual is particularly receptive to a communicator’s message.

The artful channeling of attention leads to potent pre-suasion and positive outcomes.

In his earlier work, Influence, Cialdini argued that there are six concepts that empower the major principles of human social influence. Understanding and practicing these concepts will help you “pre-suade” your audience.

Reciprocation – People say yes to those they owe. Those “freebies” given away in stores? Studies show they can increase the likelihood of purchase by over 40%. Requesters who hope to commission the pre-suasive force of the rule for reciprocation have to do something that appears daring: they have to take a chance and give first. The “gift” should be meaningful, unexpected, and customized.

Liking – It may seem so common sense, but it is true: people say yes to those who they like. Two specific ways to create positive attention get the most attention: highlight similarities and provide compliments.

Social Proof – People think it is appropriate for them to believe, feel, or do something to the extent that others, especially comparable others, are believing, feeling, or doing it. Two components of that perceived appropriateness – validity and feasibility – can drive change.

Authority – When a legitimate expert on a topic speaks, people are usually persuaded. Sometimes, information becomes persuasive only because an authority is its source. This is especially true when the recipient is uncertain of what to do.

Scarcity – We want more of what we can have less of. Our aversion to losing something of value is a key factor. Scarcity also raises the judged value of that item.

Consistency – Communicators who can get listeners to take a pre-suasive step, even a small one, in the direction of a particular idea or entity will increase our willingness to take a much larger, congruent step when asked.

Review each of the above concepts, along with their brief description, and commit to applying one or more of these concepts over the next two months. Examples could include: social media posts, sermons, vision casting moments, or staff meetings. At the end of two months, review the use of each to determine how effective it was in helping your audiences take a next step in their walk with Christ.


Part of a weekly series on 27gen, entitled Wednesday Weekly Reader

Regular daily reading of books is an important part of my life. It even extends to my vocation, where as Vision Room Curator for Auxano I am responsible for publishing SUMS Remix, a biweekly book “excerpt” for church leaders. Each Wednesday on 27gen I will be taking a look back at previous issues of SUMS Remix and publishing an excerpt.

>>Purchase SUMS Remix here<<


How to Make Your Influence “Stickier”

Want to make your written communications more likely to be read?

Use a sticky note.

Social scientist Randy Garner ran an intriguing study in which he sent out surveys to people with a request to complete them. The survey was accompanied by either (a) a handwritten sticky note requesting completion of the survey, which was attached to a cover letter; (b) a similar handwritten message on the cover letter; or (c) the cover letter and survey alone.

That little yellow square packed quite a persuasive punch: more than 75 percent of the people who received the survey with the sticky note request filled it out and returned it, whereas only 48 percent of the second group and 36 percent of the third group did so.

Garner suggests that people recognize the extra effort and personal touch that this requires, and that they feel the need to reciprocate this personal touch by agreeing to the request. Reciprocity is the social glue that helps bring and keep people together in cooperative relationships – and you can bet that it’s a stronger adhesive than the kind on the back of a sticky note.

An ounce of personalized extra effort is worth a pound of persuasion.

The above information came from a great book entitled “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.” Authors Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve Martin reveal simple but remarkably effective strategies that will make you much more persuasive at work and in your personal life.

This week I have been looking at some of my favorite examples of persuasion from the book in preparation for a major presentation this fall entitled “Selling Change.” You can see the other posts here, here, and here.

Using a Trimeth Lab to Boost Your Influence

The chemical and pharmaceutical industries have given us drugs for everything under the sun. You might be surprised to learn, however, that there’s a drug that could make you more persuadable if you take it and make you more persuasive if you give it to others. Perhaps even more shocking is the fact that this drug is now widely available through “trimeth labs” that are popping up in neighborhoods everywhere.

Before we explore that trimeth lab, a quick explanation: I’m wrapping up a series of posts from a great book entitled “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive” by Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve Martin. The information above (and expanded below) is a sample of simple but remarkably effective strategies that will make you much more persuasive at work and in your personal life.

Now – back to that trimeth lab.

The drug, known in the chemistry community as 1, 3, 7-trimethylxanthin, is more commonly known as caffeine, and these “trimeth labs” are more commonly known as coffee shops. Be it Starbucks, McCafe, or your local favorite coffee-house, the beverage you get there is a potential tool of influence and persuasion. We all know that caffeine can make us feel more alert, but can it make us more persuasive?

To test coffee’s persuasive prowess, scientist Pearl Martin and her colleagues first asked all of their participants to drink a product resembling orange juice. Half of the research subjects had their drink spiked with caffeine – the approximate amount that you might find in two cups of espresso.

Shortly after drinking the juice, all participants read a series of messages containing very good arguments advocating a certain position on a controversial issue. Those who had consumed the caffeinated beverage before reading those arguments were 35 percent more favorably disposed toward that position than were those who drank the plain juice.

The researchers also tested the effect of caffeine when participants read messages containing weak arguments. The results showed that caffeine has little persuasive power under these circumstances.

Given a choice, the studies suggest that you should make presentations when people are most alert – shortly after they’ve had their morning coffee fix, and never right after lunch. If you can’t choose the time of day, having coffee or caffeinated tea or other drinks on hand should make your audience more receptive to your message. Be aware that it usually takes about forty minutes for the full effect of caffeine to kick in, so time your presentation well!

Remember, the research suggests that this strategy is effective only if your arguments are genuine, thoughtful, and well-reasoned. So pour yourself a cup of coffee and write, edit, and rewrite your next presentation till it is absolutely on point.

Then break out the coffee for your audience.

If you have enjoyed this post as an example of increasing your persuasion, check out the others in the series from Monday and Tuesday. I highly recommend the book as well. The stories and examples contained show that persuasion is not just an art, but has many elements of science to it as well.

Jumping on the Bandwagon

When you are leading out in new directions, and want to get group buy-in, there’s nothing like using the momentum of the bandwagon.

But remember: the person who asks others to “jump on” is critical.

In a wide-ranging study based on hotel guests buying in to the reusing of towels for more than one night, social scientists were able to increase the frequency of reuse by several different methods. In addition to the standard environmental protection appeal and the social proof appeal (guests in our hotel reused towels x% of the time), the study went one step further.

Using data collected from the housekeeping staff, some guests saw a simple sign informing them that the majority of people who had previously stayed in their particular room participated in the towel reuse program at some point in their stay.

Guests who learned that the majority of the prior occupants of their particular room had participated were even more likely to reuse their towels than guests who learned the norms of the hotel in general. Compared to the standard environmental appeal, there was a 33 percent increase in the likelihood of participation.

It’s usually beneficial for us to follow the behavioral norms associated with the particular environment, situation or circumstances that most closely match our own. The results of this experiment suggest that the more similar the person giving the testimonial is to the target audience, the more persuasive the message becomes.

Here’s the application: say you’re trying to persuade your team to willingly embrace a new system. You should ask for a positive testimonial from others within your group who have already agreed to make the switch. But what if you’ve got a really stubborn team member, maybe one who has the most invested in the old way? Don’t make the mistake of choosing the most eloquent team member to try to convince the holdout. Instead, look for someone to solicit the opinions of another coworker who most closely matches the situations and circumstances of the holdout – even if that particular person happens to be less articulate or popular.

It’s all about understanding the circumstances of those who are most comparable to your target audience.

The above information came from a great book entitled “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.” Authors Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve Martin reveal simple but remarkably effective strategies that will make you much more persuasive at work and in your personal life.

As I prepare for a major presentation this fall, I will be looking at some of my favorite examples of persuasion from the book; here is yesterday’s post.

When Asking a Little Goes a Long Way

Thinking big by going small is a powerful concept.

Consider the following scenario: you are asking colleagues to support a favorite charity of yours. Even though many would genuinely like to support the charity in some way they say no because they can’t afford to donate very much and they assume the small amount they can afford won’t do very much to help the cause.

Researchers put this hypothesis to the test, going door to door to ask for contributions to the American Cancer Society. After introducing themselves, they asked the residents, “Would you be willing to help by giving a donation?” For half of the residents, the request ended there. For the other half, however, the research assistants added, “Even a penny will help.”

Analysis of the results found that a penny’s worth of ask was worth a pound of persuasive gold. People in the “even a penny will help” condition were almost twice as likely as those in the other condition to donate to the cause.

There are several applications for the “even a penny will help” approach:

  • To friends and members regarding participation in a community project, “Just an hour of your time would really help.”
  • To a colleague whose handwriting is illegible, “Just a little more clarity would help.”
  • To a busy prospective client whose needs must be more fully understood “Even a brief phone call would help.”

The chances are that this little step in your direction won’t prove so little after all.

The above information came from a great book entitled “Yes! 50 Scientifically Proven Ways to be Persuasive.” Authors Robert Cialdini, Noah Goldstein, and Steve Martin reveal simple but remarkably effective strategies that will make you much more persuasive at work and in your personal life.

I’m working on a major presentation this fall entitled “Strategic Persuasion,” and this book has been a great help in my research. Look for a few more gems over the next few days.