Presentations take significant effort and time to prepare and rehearse. To ensure that your investment is not wasted, you need to master the art of influence. To effectively influence your audience to pay attention to you and give your ideas the time of day, try these 6 rules of influence as developed by Robert Cialdini, the Regents’ Professor Emeritus of Psychology and Marketing at Arizona State University and the president of the consulting firm Influence at Work.

6 Key Principles of Influence 


#1 – Reciprocation


Quick summary: When you offer or give someone something, they will feel a sense of obligation and indebtedness, which will make them more likely to comply with your subsequent requests.

“Reciprocity is a part of every society,” Cialdini says. A classic experiment from the 1970s found that people bought twice as many raffle tickets from a stranger if he first gave them a can of Coke — proof that even tiny favors can work to your advantage. Likewise, your buddy is more likely to help you move that couch if you’ve ever given him a ride to the airport. (source)

Presentation Tip: Every presentation needs a call-to-action. As a presenter, you should be prepared to ask your audience to do something at the end of your presentation. You might ask your audience members to sign up for your newsletter, buy your book, or invest in your business. However, your request does not need to be self-centered; perhaps you decide that you should ask the audience, which also happens to be your staff, to take use all of their vacation days before the end of the year for their mental health. Or, maybe you decide to ask your audience to donate to a charity, or mentor an at-risk youth. A call-to-action is important because it ensures that you don’t end your presentation by leaving your audience hanging, and wondering, well, now what?

Since your presentation will conclude with a call-to-action, set yourself up for success by giving something to the audience so they will feel inclined to give you what you request in your call-to-action.

Think of a gift that you are truly inspired to give your audience. If your gift feels forced, and therefore manipulative, your audience will likely see through your scheme.

Be authentic and give your audience a real gift. You can give something as small as a magnet with a motivational quote, or a copy of your book. Whatever you do, though, don’t ask your audience to give you their time by listening to your presentation, and then also give to you again at the end of your presentation. Give your audience something real so they feel motivated to give to you when you conclude your presentation.

science of influence



#2 – Commitment & Consistency


Quick summary: If people commit to an idea or goal, they are more likely to honor that commitment than if they never committed to it orally or in writing.

People will go to great lengths to avoid seeming flaky or wishy-washy. As Cialdini explains in his book, car salesmen exploit this trait by making fantastic “lowball” offers to potential customers. Once a customer decides to buy a car, he’s unlikely to want to flake out on the deal even if the price mysteriously balloons — Oops! There was a mistake! — before he gets the keys. Or, for a less slimy example, you’re more likely to get that raise or a promotion if you remind your boss that she has a long history of treating her employees well. (Surely she wouldn’t want to change her tune now.) (source)

Presentation Tip: If you give your audience a call-to-action that can only be completed in the future, perhaps when they are in front of a computer, or at the office, you should ask audience members to give you a verbal or written commitment in regards to completing the call-to-action. A verbal or written commitment will increase the likelihood that audience members will follow through with your CTA, even once they are removed from the presentation environment. If you don’t ask for a commitment, your audience has no, or little obligation to do as you asked.

Your request for a commitment does not need to be formal. You don’t need to ask people to sign on the dreaded dotted line with their blood or anything dramatic like that. Simply asking audience members to raise their hand if they will follow through with your request is all it takes.

influence how to


#3 – Social Proof


Quick Summary: People are influenced by decisions made by other people – either people in their social networks, or people they respect.

Your friend is more likely to try something — recycle, eat at the new tapas place, watch “Glee” — if you mention that lots of other people are doing it. That’s why his letter to Brit taxpayers was a billion-dollar success, Martin says. People may not want to follow the herd, Cialdini adds, but they do assume that other people make choices for a reason. (source)

Presentation Tip: If you have testimonials, positive reviews, or celebrity endorsements, don’t be shy about sharing those connections. Your audience will love the social proof, and interpret it as a sign that you are credible and competent.

When adding social proof to your presentation, refine your presentation content until your social proof fits in with the overall message and flow of your presentation. You don’t want the social proof to stick out like a sore thumb and consequently make you seem desperate and needy. Have some grace and humility when leveraging your fans’ support. 

If you force the social proof into your presentation in an awkward way, your audience will not be as impressed as they might have been if you had inserted the social proof with smooth style. In addition, you don’t want it to get back to the people who endorsed you that you are waving around their name in a lame fashion. Have some class, and respect the people who put their names on the line for you.

If you can master the art of being proud of your accomplishments and connections without being an annoying braggart, you will have the audience in the palm of your hand – and rightfully so. 

influence social proof


#4 – Authority


Quick Summary: People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts.

Your suggestions will go a lot further if people think you’re pulling them from somewhere other than thin air. Martin has an example: In a recent study, a real estate company significantly increased home sales when the receptionist took a moment to inform potential customers of each agent’s credentials and experience. “The statements were true,” Martin* says, “they didn’t cost anything — and they worked.” (source)

Presentation Tip: If possible, have someone else introduce you before your presentation. Let them tell the audience about your great experience and exceptional skills, so you don’t have to try to finesse these items into your presentation content.

If you have no option but to introduce yourself to the audience, create a few slides that tell the audience who you are, but don’t linger too long in this area. Simply mentioning a few of your most relevant successes will likely be sufficient to establish yourself as an authority figure.

science of influence persuasion


#5 – Liking


Quick summary: People are easily persuaded by other people that they like.

A tough assignment for some, that’s for sure. But Cialdini’s research has found that a little easygoing pleasantness can be just as persuasive as talent or actual ability. Perhaps unfairly, looks count too: A study of Canadian elections, for example, found that attractive candidates received more votes than their less-blessed opponents,, even though voters claimed they didn’t care about appearances. (source)

Presentation Tip: Being likable seems easy, but it can be hard to pull off in the presentation environment. When giving a presentation, most people get at least slightly tense and also typically transform into a more awkward version of themselves. To counterbalance this tendency, weave some stories into your presentation. Tell stories that will make you smile or display some emotion that will help the audience see you as a real person that they can understand.

In addition, if you know anything about the audience members’ professional interests or personal life, try to find something that you share in common with them. Once you have found a similarity or two, connect to the audience over your shared interests. For example, if you’re speaking to room of executives in suits, but you are an influential modern artist, you might not be able to connect to the audience over professional interests, but you might have similarities in your personal life, such as a shared love for talking about your kids. If so, before you start your presentation, strike up some friendly chit chat with the audience about their weekend activities. Before you know it, you might be scheduling a trip to the ballpark together so your sons can hang out while you two talk business over beer.

science of persuasion presentation tips


#6 – Scarcity


Quick summary: Perceived scarcity will generate demand.

Job seekers should do more than make the case that they’re right for a job; according to Cialdini, they should present themselves as a unique fit. As he explains, nobody wants to miss out on a scarce opportunity. The allure of scarcity explains why people line up at Best Buy at4:30 a.m. on Black Friday and why inside info is valued more than common knowledge. (source)

Presentation Tip: If possible, take advantage of the sense of urgency that scarcity creates. For example, if you’re giving a presentation to close a deal, consider angling your pitch so that it seems like a special offer that comes in limited quantity. Or perhaps market your business as an exclusive service that only a few people can have.

This tip is more difficult to execute because you don’t want to be dishonest, or potentially scare away business by creating a limited time offer that expires before your audience is prepared to take action. However, if possible, use scarcity to positively influence your audience to take action, instead of twiddling their thumbs while a good deal floats away.

science of persuasion presentation

Conclusion: No matter the nature of your presentation, you need to be a master of influence to success as a presenter. You need to persuade your audience to listen to you talk, consider your ideas, and eventually follow through with your call-to-action. To be effective during your presentation, master these six tips for influence. These tips will help you write your own destiny, instead of leaving it all to chance.

Additional Resource:

The Uses (and Abuses) of Influence, Harvard Business Review

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