Business Writing For Dummies
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Essentially, when you use the tools of persuasion, you are asking people to change in some way. The challenge is that human beings don’t like change. We may enjoy deciding whether to travel to Paris or Rome, but change a long-held conviction? Give up a skill we took years or decades to develop in favor of the new? Cheerfully accept a company reorganization that transforms patterns and habits and relationships we’re used to?

Even talking people into changing their brand of coffee is an uphill battle, let alone asking them to take a risk. We are emotionally invested in the choices we’ve already made, from our coffee to our political leanings to our work patterns. No wonder persuasion is hard. Let’s start with some general ideas about that art and a few fun shortcuts to generate your own enthusiasm, because your own conviction is a first essential.

Draw from psychology

From the golden age of Greece on, persuasiveness has absorbed plenty of attention. The philosopher Aristotle described the formula for a great speech as combining ethos (establishing authority), logos (logical argument) and pathos (swaying an audience emotionally). Today, techniques of persuasion obsess marketers, communicators, psychologists, neuroscientists and even economists, who created the field of behavioral economics with breakthrough analysis of how humans make decisions. Their opinions are backed by research that ranges from brain imaging to big data crunching.

Consensus is that Aristotle knew what he was talking about but according to today’s thinkers, the balance of factors—logic, authority and emotion—has shifted toward the last. The key takeaway: While we may believe we make choices based on information and logic, in truth, our decisions are usually driven by emotion and then justified with rationality. Analytic thought consumes enormous amounts of brain energy, so we typically call on it only when we more or less force ourselves to take the trouble.

For business writing, the key lesson is: Whenever possible go for both the heart and the mind. When it’s important that readers respond to your message in a particular way, create an emotional connection. Relate to your audience’s hopes and aspirations, or perhaps feelings like worry and anxiety. Use language that produces positive associations, builds trust and shows empathy. Find ways to capture people’s imagination. Give them a vision. But back it all up with evidence that speaks to your claims and your own authority or expertise.

The emotional connection draws people in and encourages them to stay with you, but most people will look for backup information that justifies trust. Also, some people typically approach decisions more rationally, so the facts, and signals of authority, are dealmakers for them. In short, covering all three elements makes perfect sense.

Drawing on the resource of techniques and strategies that follow can improve all your communication, from emails to proposals, presentations to interviews, websites to speeches to sales pages. I can’t cover every need you encounter to write or speak persuasively. So read this advice with an eye toward adapting it for your use according to the goal and situation.

Communicate with conviction

Identifying and understanding your audience is the key to succeeding with every message. But the other side of the equation is you. You must speak and write from a sense of your own value and the value of whatever you’re pitching. When persuasion is in order, your own belief is your best friend.

One corollary of the self-belief principle: When you craft an important message to introduce yourself in person or in writing, remind yourself of your own value and relevance. If you’re pitching a product or service, soliciting a donation or asking for peoples’ votes, take a minute to reinform yourself of why you believe that what you represent is worthy and why (I presume) you’re making it your life’s work.

What drew you to do what you do? Why does it matter to you? Is it a passion? A commitment to solve a problem or help people? Why are you certain that knowing about your service or product or yourself will benefit others and/or their own audiences? Why are you the ideal person for the opportunity?

A popular quote often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt sums it up this way: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Enthusiasm is the best convincer. Few will review your facts and figures if you don’t project enthusiasm and generate it in others. If you aspire to a leadership role, few will follow you if they don’t sense your enthusiasm.

To bring confidence to your writing as well as to face-to-face situations, experiment with techniques that actors, presenters and salespeople commonly use to set the stage for a good performance. When you’re about to work on an important message or make an appearance, energize yourself by assuming an assertive but comfortable posture and walk around that way for a few minutes. This technique exploits the mind-body connection, signaling to your mind that you are capable, resourceful and knowledgeable.

Another strategy from the psychologist’s repertoire: choose a photo or other image that’s associated with a proud moment in your life when you felt on top of the world, and relive that moment as vividly as you can. Perhaps you won an award, were congratulated on something, finished a marathon or celebrated another personal achievement. Employ all your senses to re-create how you felt, stood, held your shoulders, moved. Practice recreating this glow in your mind and body several times and you’ll be able to trigger your confidence just by calling up the image!

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