No matter the profession, an ability to run meetings and persuade people to follow your lead is often the difference between whether your project moves forward in the fast lane or stalls on the hard shoulder. Whilst some meetings are set to share information and updates, in many cases we need them because we need to persuade people to buy from us, supply us better, support our plan or give us something we need.
Good meetings are often about persuasion. But how much time do we take to think about how we persuade? What are the ingredients of being persuasive in a meeting?
From ancient Greek philosophers to today’s latest business authors, the importance of being able to persuade and connect with people, one to one and one to many, has been emphasised again and again. For example in 1936, the American author Dale Carnegie studied successful business people and in his classic book ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ he revealed that successful people were good at building great relationships with people and were able to achieve things through other people.
Mark McCormack reinforced the point again in his 1984 book ‘What They Don’t Teach You at Harvard Business when he famously pointed out; ‘All things being equal, people will do business with a friend; all things being unequal, people will still do business with a friend.’ And today, modern commentators such as Dan Pink and entrepreneurs such as Richard Branson once again emphasise the importance of bringing people with you, connecting to the right people – and persuading them.
The study of human persuasion clearly has a long history and so if you want to be more persuasive in your meetings – and by extension better at managing, leading, selling, planning and negotiating. It is interesting to bear in mind some of the advice that been consistent over thousands of years, from the ancient forum – to the boardroom.
Long before conference calls, monthly meetings and status reports, the Greek philosopher Aristotle identified three great persuasive appeals of rhetoric that are worth us noting today; Ethos, Pathos and Logos.
Ethos refers to the character or credibility of the speaker, presenter or chair of a meeting. If you are chairing a conference call or meeting, you are often the person trying to get your message or argument across. Those attending are going to have an impression of you based on past interactions, reputation, your manner and style among other factors. No matter how good the content of your material or your plan, it is important to bear in mind that your own personal background, style and behaviour will have a big impact on whether those listening to you will follow your lead – nor not.
Pathos relates to the emotional side of persuading. Whilst it is nice to think we are rational and logical (see below), our communications always have an element of emotional appeal. This kind of appeal can use creative analogies, metaphors or stories that evoke the emotions of your reader or listener. It is well known that humans are accustomed to learning and passing on knowledge and wisdom through a good tale, so being able to weave a good story that touches someone emotionally is an excellent way to win them over. In Dan Pink’s book ‘To Sell Is Human’ – he points out that we listen to and understand clear stories, with a beginning, middle and end and that the best communicators and sales people understand this and use it to persuade.
Finally, Logos – which refers to logical persuasion. Using logic, we are persuading or leading a meeting based on the belief that those involved will respond to facts and an appeal that is structured in a, left-brain and rational manner. Unfortunately whilst it mainly the first step we take when we come to build a meeting or presentation, relying totally on logical elements of persuasion is often falsely seductive. We cannot focus completely on logical appeals all the time as despite what we may think, people are people and will respond to matters of character and emotional appeal too – even if they think they are behaving logically.
Firstly, in terms of logical (Logos) appeal, it is smart to make sure your meetings and calls have solid content and agendas, with clear facts and evidence to back up your points. Secondly, in terms of the character elements (Ethos), it is important to run meetings fairly and honestly so that people can trust your advice and lead, based on your background and experience. Finally, all the writers and research over the years reinforces that it is smart to recognise the emotional (Pathos) content too; we can add creative openings and bring our business ideas to life with good examples, stories and personal information – to bring the right level of emotional engagement into a meeting.