Is communication an art or a science? The answer is not simple, but in this article we will try to show the principles that govern the “scientific” part of communication. Many investigations in the psychology and behavior fields suggest that persuasion is governed by basic principles that can be taught, learned, and applied. In the past few decades, behavior researchers have conducted experiments that have shed light on the reasons why people pay attention to us and are convinced by what we say.
The fact is that having creative ideas is easy, but convincing others of their value is more complicated.
The principles of communication are universal, and they are equally applied in all circumstances. It does not matter if we are explaining our entrepreneurial initiative to an investor, if we are presenting at a conference or in a conversation, of if we are positioning ourselves in a negotiation. It does not matter if we need to direct ourselves to an audience of thousands of people or if we try to communicate with only one person in order to convince that person of something. The principles that we will be dealing with in this article will be useful to us to improve our communication and persuasion skills in all areas. To act as entrepreneurs, we will need to use all this knowledge when we are speaking to clients, providers, and venture capitalists or in general, to persuade all of those around us who are “not on board.” The fact is that having creative ideas is easy, but convincing others of their value is more complicated.
What Depends on Our Communicating Well or Poorly?
On many occasions, entrepreneurs hopefully prepare their presentations, talk about the benefits of their business models, and are finally rejected by the people who make decisions but do not appear to understand the real value that exists behind those ideas. Why does this happen? The fact is that the problem has as much to do with the way the idea is explained as with its quality.
All of us like to think that others will judge us objectively depending on our merits, but that is not the case. The reality is that as we begin to talk, they are pressured to classify us in different categories. In some way, they stereotype us. The research suggests that as human beings we categorize people in less than 150 milliseconds. It remains clear then that in a conversation of, for example, 30 minutes, the audience will establish a very hard value judgment about the communicator.
The fact is that those who listen to us do not have a formal, verifiable, or objective way to evaluate the quality of our project—but they are capable of judging us. The audience responds in a very clear way using a series of rules and formal structures. Knowing that can help us to be more effective in our presentations, conversations, and negotiations. We will try to learn how to structure our presentations and improve our interpersonal relationship skills, analyzing the tools to develop a clear pitch, grab the audience’s attention, and persuade them. Our effectiveness when transmitting ideas depends on:
First, that we are capable of communicating the adequate level of credibility (ethos);
Second, that we are capable of creating a favorable emotional realm (pathos); and
Third, that we are capable of creating adequate arguments (logos).
These three points constitute the classic triad of rhetoric. In order to articulate a good strategy of communication, we should pay attention to those three dimensions that, logically, are narrowly related.
The dimension of ethos will be defined by our credibility. The dimension of pathos will be determined by the knowledge of the psychology of emotions, both ours and the audience’s. The dimension of logos will be played out by the tension of our speech and arguments we will use to get the approval of the rest or in order to change their way of thinking. Let’s see each one of the three dimensions in more detail.
Ethos is concerned with the style and credibility of the communicator. It is the most important of the three and the most difficult to manipulate in the minds of our audience. The image that the audience has of us is based on our characteristics as people, our story, our accomplishments, the respect that the sector has for us, and so on. We will need to try to align those audience perceptions with our interests. This is essential because without credibility the audience will not accept our message.
We need to force ourselves to construct our credibility and preserve it during the conversation.
Therefore, we need to force ourselves to construct our credibility and preserve it during the conversation. If the audience already knows us, and the topic we are going to deal with is a topic where we are especially well known and respected, we do not have to worry ourselves. If our audience does not know us or the object of the conference is not in an area where we are respected, we will need to construct this credibility at some point of our speech. It usually is useful to:
Report on past successes that we had in the field that we are dealing with.
Appeal to other experts’ opinions (experts that might have ethos already) that are aligned with ours.
Later on, when we analyze the basic structure of any act of communication, we will see at what point in the “speech” it is most convenient to reinforce that first dimension of ethos.
In addition to the audience perception of our “excellence” as experts in the topic with which we are dealing, ethos also depends on showing an image of integrity and frankness that demonstrates our beliefs, our principles, and values, and that it is aligned with the opinions, attitudes, and behavior that we show to begin the communication.
Pathos requires delivering to the audience at the adequate state or level of emotion. This point deals with how to connect emotionally with our public. Once our audience reaches an appropriate emotional state, it will accept our message more easily. We need, therefore, to worry about emotions. They are very important to persuade our colleagues, our clients, our subordinates, our shareholders, and those that finance us in order for them to collaborate with us.
We feel attracted to good communicators because they make us feel good. That process of making us feel good is fundamental in the act of communication. We persuade the rest by speaking the same language, aligning our style of seeing things with theirs. It is important to take into consideration that:
The audience should be ready to experience the emotion that we want to share.
We need to select the right type of excitement to induce that emotion.
The object of that emotion that we want to provoke in the audience should be appropriate for our message. The emotional reaction should be aligned with our interests.
Without that identification and trust that emotions contribute, it is difficult to construct something positive in the mind of our audience. We need to emphasize that the face is a mirror of our emotions and of the audience’s also:
It tells us a lot about how our audience is receiving the message.
It also shares our state of mind.
As we will see in the section dedicated to nonverbal language, we will need to learn how to “read” our audience, and be certain that we are careful with emotions that we allow to surface.
Logos is based on inductive and deductive reasoning that we use to “construct” our story. Through logos, we invent our “reasons” to win for us the audience’s consent and so to persuade them about our interests. When looking for these arguments, consider the important role of three different aspects:
Invention. We should discover/find the arguments that support our premise. Arguments are invented to support our ideas, because what ends up being essential is not the arguments (they only have a supporting role) but rather the premise.
Structure. This determines how our arguments flow from beginning to end. A persuasive presentation should contain five parts: 1) Introduction; 2) Narration or development of a fact; 3) Proof; 4) Refutation; and 5) Conclusion and call to action. An ordered and clear structure will allow us to more easily convince those who listen to us. This structure should clearly explain the arguments and maintain coherence throughout the speech. Similarly, it should use appropriate language for our audience. It is not the same to talk to a committee of doctors where we can use very precise scientific language, for example, as a healthcare audience.
Style. Rhythm and body language are two essential elements of style. Style reflects the speaker’s control over the balance of words and nonverbal forms of communication. The manner in which we move and our self control says much about us. This style is what is going to allow us occasionally to revert to formulas in order to emphasize our speech, such as the repetition of words or sentences, the game of words, the use of irony, the use of paradox, and the use of questions and metaphors. We need to be capable of painting a visual image of our message in the audience’s mind.