March 20, 2016 fm

They Will Never Save The World

This April we’ll be back. We’ll be back at IESE Business School. Together with my fellow comfort zone transformers, we’ll boost the persuasive power of 250 Executive MBAs both in Barcelona and Madrid. And once again we’ll hear our friend Conor Neill say, The eight most significant words for any persuasive communicator are, ‘After listening to my speech the audience will ________ !’

What is it that they will do after listening to my speech? What action will they perform? What symbolic first step will they take? Conor calls this symbolic first step Point X.

Why is this call to action – CTA or Point X – so extremely important when it comes to persuading others and moving them to action?

In his 1984 business book classic on persuasion and marketing, Influence: The Psychology of PersuasionDr. Robert B. Cialdini comes to the conclusion that people who commit, orally or in writing, to an idea or goal, are more likely to honor that commitment because of establishing that idea or goal as being congruent with their self-image. This means that a symbolic action performed by your audience increases their level of commitment to your cause.

The most effective Point Xs I experienced during my first seven years as a corporate trainer had one thing in common. They all were:

  • small,
  • simple,
  • specific,
  • symbolic.

Take my favorite one. It was also at IESE. One of the participants wanted to persuade us to reduce the level of salt in our daily diet. Before his speech he put a regular Maggi cube in front of everyone. At the end of his speech he made us open the cubes, break them into halves and then eat one half of it. I’ll never forget that horrible, disgusting taste of pure salt. Ever since I haven’t used them.

Eating one half of a Maggi cube was a small act, it was simple to perform, it was more than specific and it was definitely symbolic.

A signature for a petition to save orangutans in Borneo, a one-dollar contribution to a social cause XYZ, writing down a one-word-dream on a sheet of paper, eating one half of a Maggi cube – all these actions are small, specific, simple and symbolic.

Unfortunately, this is exactly what most public speakers do not do. They don’t go for a 4S-action. Instead, they ask their audiences to “save the world”:

Now go out there and…

  1. eat more healthily!
  2. do more sports!
  3. become a better leader!

I call them Save-the-world-Point-Xs. Save-the-world-Point-Xs are big, unspecific, complex and nonsymbolic. People, your audience, will never save the world. But – as a speaker you can make them take that first step towards a better world. An effective Point X is a first small step within that giant leap of persuasion:

  1. Eat that half of that Maggi cube!
  2. As a first step, after this session, don’t take the bus back to the hotel, but come with me and walk. 
  3. Start your journey to becoming a better leader today. Later at the cocktail party, share a personal story with someone from this group about an important mistake you made in your professional career. 
Next time you give a business presentation, make sure you ask for a small, simple, specific and symbolic action at the end of the presentation. Your Point X will not only make Conor Neill happy, but also tremendously increase your persuasive power.

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