The three elements of effective persuasion

The easier your message is to read, understand, and remember, the more convincing it will be – Daniel Kahneman

You’ve spent hours carefully pulling together information that can explain an outcome. The intention is to bring the rest of the team onside with your idea. You have your graphs, your list of citations, your 30 page report of recommendations. Yet when you get to presenting, the team is far from receptive.


People often think that the content is all that matters when it comes to making an argument or trying to persuade someone. The truth however, is that it’s only one of the three elements in a very important equation:

Persuasion= messenger + presentation + content

If all you do is focus on the content, you’re expecting people to act in a purely rational way when human beings are not purely rational creatures. When making decisions that can affect us, we’re less influenced by fact and more greatly influenced by trust and ease. This depends both the person presenting the information and the way that the information is presented (how easy it is to understand and how familiar the message seems).

So how do you make sure that all your hard work gets the consideration it deserves?

Step 1: All about the messenger

Initially published on LinkedIn, the role of the messenger is one that shouldn’t be underrated and which we discuss in great detail here. Identifying who is best placed to present information depends on how well you know the audience (as this will influence how willing they are to either identify with you or trust you). If you’re someone the audience can’t identify or won’t respect, your ability to influence them is likely to be very low. Similarly, if it’s an area they are uncertain about and they feel you lack credibility, they’re more likely to ask a friend or adopt the thinking of those they trust which could greatly harm your chances at getting the outcome you want!

Why presentation matters

How you present the information is important because this is related to cognitive ease. In essence, the less someone’s brain needs to work to understand something, the more likely they are to accept it as non-threatening and true. In contrast, the more technical, convoluted or overwhelming the content, the more the brain is inclined to perceive it as a threat and become non-responsive to anything being suggested.

So how do you make information seem more trustworthy?

  • Repeating the same statement or concept several times
  • Including images rather than words or very complex graphs to convey information
  • Where text is used, use simple words in short sentences and make sure the text is in an easy to read font on a background with a clear contrast.

Consequential benefits

In addition to becoming more open to the information being presented, there are added benefits for those on the receiving end. For example, research from the field of psychology has shown that when the information is easy to process, it takes less effort and energy, allowing people to more easily tap into creativity. Similarly, by being able to draw associations between things easily, it helps people build confidence and can elevate mood as well!

The above recommendations are largely based on the research of behavioural scientists, psychologists and economists including Daniel Kahneman, Sarnoff Mednick and Robert Zajonc. Many of these studies are discussed in detail in Kahneman’s book ‘Thinking Fast and Slow’.

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