How to rock at being persuasive as an aspiring entrepreneur

Every time you talk to someone about your startup, face-to-face or through digital means, you are trying to persuade them of the value of your idea. It’s time to assess and refine your ability to be persuasive.

Have you ever thought of how you manage to persuade people do to what you want them to? How sometimes you joke, sometimes you cajole, sometimes you point towards a goal bigger than what’s going on right now? Especially in work environments, being able to persuade someone else of your stand, whether they’re about the future of your product or the next market segment you’ll tackle, can make or break your professional career.

Being persuasive is a vital trait to have as an aspiring entrepreneur. So how come we think of it as something you have or don’t have? How come the first advice you get as a rather introvert entrepreneur is to get a persuasive co-founder onboard?

If you are guilty of this way of thinking, it may be time to throw a wrench into that mindset. Being persuasive, just like learning to ride a bike or run a business, is a skill you learn, not something you are born with.

We are here to remind you that you can learn the basics of being persuasive. In fact, being persuasive was a skill to master before tech was even a thing.

The first constructs of persuasion

how to be persuasive: picture of greek statues debating

As any skill that involves talking and thinking (and thinking before talking), the first people to debate the art of persuasion were the Ancient Greeks. Aristotle, in between debating geology, physics, biology, medicine and many more, thus becoming the father of Western philosophy, also spent a lot of time thinking about rhetorics and how one can change another person’s mind.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos

The framework Aristotle proposed was based on three routes – three voices you could choose to play – that applied in the right combination and the right measures, could change someone’s mind.

Ethos is the voice of authority, focusing on the speaker as a person of integrity and good character. It is built upon the speaker’s reputation – their past, what is known and what is spoken about them – and you might recognise it if the speaker reminds you of their expertise, their past successes or how they called meaningful insights or trends before they became obvious.

Pathos is the voice of emotions, appealing to the heart of the listener to excite them. It calls out values the speaker may have in common with the listener, underlines the importance of having positive values and uses language to trigger sensations of closeness or repulsion.

Logos is the voice of reasoning that brings forward arguments with cool logic and presents empirical evidence for your positioning. Many times, you pursue the rational voice by making use of statistics, pictures and first-hand accounts of experience.

Applied in today’s day to day life on an entrepreneur, if you’d be building, say, an app that recommends the best ice cream venues in the area, these different voices of persuasion would use different statements to appeal to the end user.

Voice of authority Voice of emotions Voice of reasoning
“We’ve been food critics for 5 years and wrote for the best restaurant magazines in the country before creating this app for you.” “We recommend the most savory places in your area, because we want to create only positive experiences.” “Our app will recommend you ice cream venues based on 12 different criteria that have been validated by 1000 beta users.”

Persuasion meets social sciences

Many things have changed since the Ancient Greeks and while persuasion has branched into fields like management, sales and marketing, the bottom line remains the same: to convince others of your argument and to have them change their behaviour in a way that suits you. Truthfully, the issues we are trying to be persuasive about today are more varied than ever, ranging from public health concerns such as remembering to put on sunscreen when going out, to having new users download your brand new app that helps them try out yummy ice cream.

As persuasion became embedded in various industries and in various topics, soon enough intuition was not enough to get a feel for persuasiveness. Instead, researchers started taking out their measuring sticks to identify what worked best.

how to be persuasive: billboards in times square (NY)

Robert Cialdini is the first social psychologist to research and write about what he identified as principles of persuasion. In many ways, his discoveries are the foundation of many of the experiences we have today when sitting across a salesperson or in reading a landing page. He describes six principles that work to persuade people towards changing their mind, and thus, changing their behaviour. Here they are:

Reciprocation

This principle refers to the social norm of returning a favour that’s been given to you freely. It’s been observed at small scales – like families sending each other holiday cards each year despite being out of touch most of the year – to large scales – like countries helping each other out during moments of crisis.

Consistency

Being consistent refers to a person’s need to be consistent with prior acts or statements. In fact, people will often change their attitudes, beliefs, or behaviours in order to avoid feeling inconsistent towards their perceived identity. One way to persuade people towards certain behaviours is to have them publicly state or write down commitments in order to encourage them put in action their intentions.

Social proof

This principle refers to people being more willing to try out new products or new experiences if they see other people doing it or if they can read firsthand accounts of other customers. You see this principle in action every time you try out a new product because everyone of your friends is using it and recommending it.

Liking

Simply put, people are more willing to be persuaded if their counterpart is someone they like. It plays into attractiveness and personal biases and may differ depending on who the target audience is. If you’re trying to be persuasive through a digital filter – like trying to get people to try out your app when it’s launched – it’s worth going that extra mile to create delightful digital experiences, not just decent ones.

Authority

This principle, similar to Aristotle’s voice of authority, refers to people being more easily persuaded to act if they hear it from what they consider to be a voice of authority. You see this principle in action often when it comes to remarkable founders drawing attention and recommending their own products: remember how Steve Jobs would present Apple’s new products or how Elon Musk stands behind SpaceX and Tesla.

Scarcity

This refers to the fact that perceived scarcity generates demand. Limited editions or limited availability will generate quicker sales. Like a line in front of a brick and mortar store will attract more onlookers who will wait to become customers as well, offering limited rewards on crowdfunding campaigns can become the drop that leans the balance towards acquisition for page visitors.

You can apply Cialdini’s principles individually or combined, depending on the context of how you have to be persuasive. It’s very likely that now that you’ve become aware of them, you’ll start recognising them more often in your day to day life. The one thing that’s important to remember at this point is that no amount of persuasive techniques can save a bad product from itself. While it’s worth giving your product every chance to be attractive in this overcrowded and over-advertised world, remember that being better at attracting attention shouldn’t be done at the expense of the value you provide through your product.

No amount of persuasive techniques can save a bad product from itself.

How to become more persuasive

For a beginner in the art of persuasion, research as Cialdini’s work or the old teachings of rhetoric build a foundation on which one can fall back to create persuasive arguments. Whether your audience is a potential partner or investor, your team or your core audience, and your means of communication personal or digital, you have to remember that principles of persuasion are first and foremost frameworks.

Being aware of the tools you have at your disposal is just one half of the game of persuasion. The other half is to be aware of your audience, their mindset and their interests and to offer them a product of real value – whether it’s delightful or solves a pressing problem. If you fail to know your audience and what they are looking for, any tools of persuasion in the world will only make you sound as an awkward and impolite interlocutor. But with the right insights into your audience and the right mix of persuasive arguments, you can pave your way towards a successful app startup. And we can’t wait to see how you’ll persuade us that you have everything figured out.

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