Secrets of Maximum Influence

Published: Jan 24, 2019
Modified: Mar 25, 2020

By Kurt W. Mortensen

To be an effective persuader, you cannot use the same techniques for all people all the time. You have to customize your message to fit the demographics, interests, and values of your audience. Here are some checklists to help you organize your effort to influence people.

The Hostile Audience
This group disagrees with you and may even actively work against you. For a hostile audience, use these techniques:

  • Find common beliefs and values.
  • Use humor to break the ice.
  • Don't start the presentation with an attack on their position.
  • You are only trying to persuade on one point; don't talk about anything else that could be considered hostile.
  • Because of your differences, they will question your credibility.
  • Increase your credibility with studies from experts or anything that will support your claim.
  • They will try to find reasons to not like you; don't give them any.
  • Don't tell them you are going to try to persuade them.
  • Express that you are looking for a win-win outcome rather than a win-lose situation.
  • If possible, meet with the audience more than once before confronting them on areas of disagreement.
  • Show them you've done your homework.
  • Respect their feelings, values, and integrity.
  • Use logical reasoning as clearly and as carefully as possible.

The Neutral or Indifferent Audience
This audience understands your position but doesn't care about the outcome. The key to dealing with this group is creating motivation and energy—be dynamic. To persuade the indifferent audience:

  • Spell out the benefits to them or the things around them.
  • Point out the downside of not accepting your proposals.
  • Grab their attention by using a story. Make them care by showing them how the topic affects them.
  • Get them to feel connected to your issues.
  • Avoid complex arguments.
  • Use concrete examples with familiar situations or events.
  • Identify why they should care.
  • Use the Law of Involvement and the Law of Social Validation.

The Uninformed Audience
An uninformed audience lacks the information they need to be convinced. To persuade them, you should employ the following tactics:

  • Encourage them to ask questions throughout the presentation.
  • Keep the facts simple and straightforward.
  • Find out why they are uninformed.
  • Use examples and simple statistics.
  • Quote experts the audience respects.
  • Stress your credibility, such as degrees, special expertise, and experience.
  • Make your message interesting in order to keep their attention.

The Supportive Audience
A supportive audience already agrees with you. You may think that persuading these people is easy but remember that your goal is to get them to take action, not necessarily to just agree with you. These techniques should be used with a supportive audience:

  • Increase energy and enthusiasm with inspiration.
  • Prepare them for future attacks by inoculating them against other arguments.
  • Get them to take action and to support your cause.
  • Let them know what needs to be done.
  • Use testimonials to intensify the commitment.

Most audiences are a mix of these types. Find out the dominant audience type that will be present and tailor your remarks accordingly.

This article is excerpted, with permission of the publisher, from Maximum Influence: The 12 Universal Laws of Power Persuasion by Kurt W. Mortensen. Copyright 2002, Kurt W. Mortensen. Published by AMACOM.

About the Author(s)

Kurt W. Mortensen is one of America’s leading authorities on persuasion, motivation, and influence.