The Dos and Donts of Persuasion

Mind Professional

The Dos and Donts of Persuasion

by Dr. Marlene Caroselli,
Professional Persuasion Skills

No matter the friendly-factor evident in those whom you hope to persuade, no matter the size of that audience, no matter the size of the project you wish to reify--there are some things to remember if you wish to be remembered and to have your proposal accepted. To illustrate: imprinted upon my aging brain cells are two words an executive friend of mine used, whenever she was considering someone’s bright idea. Rather than listen at great length and then respond to the points being made, she would issue this two-word exhortation to the proposer: “Persuade me.” While the proposer still used some of the data compiled for the proposal meeting, the request to be persuasive brought a new focus to the presentation. And, sometimes, my friend was persuaded and would accept the proposal. At other times, of course, she would have to acknowledge that she hadn’t found the request persuasive enough to receive her endorsement.

The next time you have to influence someone to accept or adopt a bright idea of your own, keep that persuasion-slant in mind. And, as you prepare, realize there are things to remember if you want your words to be remembered. Here are two suggestions, complete with examples.

1. The Verbal Twist. A single sentence can capture the mind and sometimes the heart of those whom you wish to influence. Amid the hundreds of words you will use in your influence effort should be one group that the listener or reader can take away. With the verbal twist, you can create sentences that continue to influence long after you have used them. This sort of sentence uses the content in the first half and twists it around to create an equally meaningful thought in the second half. Some examples follow:

            Jesse Jackson: "I was born in the slums but the slums were not born in me."
            John D. Rockefeller, Sr.: "A friendship founded on business is better than a business founded on friendship."
            LeRoy Satchel Paige: "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it don't matter."
            Henry S. Commanger: "Change does not necessarily assure progress, but progress implacably requires change."
            Anonymous: "If you lead through fear you will have little to respect, but if you lead through respect you will have little to fear."

2. The Unexpected Outcome. One way to make your listening or reading audience sit up and take notice is to stop before the expected outcome and pronounce an unexpected outcome. Quickly, they will move from complacency to contemplation or some other mental mode. To illustrate, when a period is placed after the word "fancy" to stop the sentence from veering into the familiar, you are forced to contemplate the meaning of the words in a new way: "In spring, a young man's fancy." (Unspoken is the reason for such attention to attire, namely, the hope of attracting young women.) Similarly, the observation that a book in the hand is worth a hundred on the shelf surprises us with its fresh variation on a familiar theme. Here are other examples.

            Anthony Burgess: "Laugh and the world laughs with you; snore and you sleep alone.”
           Elizabeth Gilbert: “Stop wearing your wishbone where your backbone ought to be.”
           Anonymous: "Every great acorn was once a nut that stood its ground.”

Finally, let this list of Do’s and Don’t’s help shape your next persuasion effort.


1. Aim to leave your audience with a memorable phrase, one they can use when they take your proposal to those whose further acceptance is needed.

2. Offer a fresh slant on the situation.

3. Prepare with persuasion in mind.

4. Start as soon as  you can with your presentation outline. (Remember that Mark Twain noted if you have to swallow a frog, you shouldn’t stare at it too long.)

5. Do a trial run with someone whose honest opinion you can expect to receive.



1.  Go into a question-and-answer period without having anticipated tough questions and rehearsed the answers to them.

2.   Minimize the power of stories. But don’t make your stories too long. People’s attention, according to some experts, begins to waver after 30 seconds.

3.  Let your sentence length exceed an average of 15 words.

4.  Start every sentence the same way. Bring variety to your syntax.

5. Overuse the passive voice. (Ideally, you will use it only 20% of the time.)

6. Overuse long words. (A good balance is 100 syllables for every 70 words.)