Originally published in the Boulder Daily Camera and the Longmont Daily Times-Call.

I took a break from social media recently. I grew weary of the divisiveness and vitriol contained in many messages. Rather than seeking to persuade, propaganda was ruling the day. Social media provides great platforms for reaching many people, and properly done, it can greatly impact businesses and organizations in a positive manner.  Done poorly, however, it can alienate and drive customers and clients away from your business. They simply block you out.

Persuasion, versus propaganda, is the most effective means of sharing your message. Propaganda, in contrast to persuasion, “seeks to spread information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote or publicize a particular political cause or point of view.” This may be harmful to your business if you fall for its siren call. Propaganda is generally a one-way communication process.  Enduring relationships are built on the give and take of two-way communication.

The art of persuasion has been practiced for thousands of years. Aristotle originally outlined how to effectively persuade, and he’s still correct. Why?  Because it is the most effective communication tool available, then and now. Those engaged in communication should consider this when interacting with customers and prospects.

So, what is Persuasion?  First, persuasion isn’t manipulation. “Persuasion is the art of getting people to do things that are in their own best interest that also benefit you.”

Persuasion seeks to form an ongoing relationship with key stakeholders. Propaganda doesn’t focus on relationships, just what is important to the author. Propaganda is rarely open for discussion. That’s why it isn’t effective in the long-term.

Some economists believe that persuasion is responsible for generating one-quarter or more of the United States’ total national income. Think about the role of persuasion in our daily lives:

  • Entrepreneurs persuade investors to back their startups.
  • Job candidates persuade recruiters to hire them.
  • Leaders persuade employees to take specific plans of action.
  • Salespeople persuade customers to choose their product over a competitor’s.

The ability to persuade, to change hearts and minds, is perhaps the single greatest skill that will give you a competitive edge in the knowledge economy – an age where ideas matter more than ever.

To become a master of persuasion, and to successfully sell your own ideas, try using these five rhetorical devices identified by Aristotle:

1) Ethos or “Character” –  Ethos represents the part of a speech or presentation when your audience gains some insight into your credibility.

2) Logos or “Reason”-  Once ethos is established, it’s time to make a logical appeal to reason. Why should your audience care about your idea? Use data, evidence, and facts to form a rational argument.

3) Pathos or “Emotion” – Persuasion is unlikely to  occur in the absence of emotion. Storytelling is one of the best ways to transfer emotion from one person to another. Neuroscientists have found  that narratives trigger a rush of neurochemicals in the brain, notably oxytocin, the “moral molecule” that connects people on a deeper, emotional level.

4) Metaphor – Aristotle believed that metaphor gives language its verbal beauty. When you use a metaphor or analogy to compare a new idea to something that is familiar to your audience, it clarifies your idea by turning the abstract into something concrete.

5) Brevity – Brevity is a crucial element in making a persuasive speech. An argument should be expressed “as compactly as possible.” The opening of a person’s argument is the most important since attention drifts. The lesson here is, start with your strongest point.

Over time I’ve returned slowly to some social media platforms, but I’m watching out for propaganda. I’d much rather be persuaded.

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