Presenting Your Proposal Persuasively
by Janet Macaluso

You've dedicated many long hours to your project. Now it's show-time - the meeting where you present it to your boss, clients or colleagues. They will either pave the way or kibosh your efforts. Many professionals shortchange their chance for success by neglecting to sway undecideds or converting the opposition.

To get the sponsorship your project deserves, take a "Persuasion Audit." Evaluate your proposal through the seven universal principles of influence based on the research of Dr. Robert Cialdini, an expert on the art and science of influence. Because work is so complex and fast-paced, Cialdini found that people utilize these principles as shortcuts in their decision-making process. Use the list below to identify which principles you can honestly and ethically surface for your project.

Persuasion Audit

  1. Reciprocal Concessions - The "Rule of Reciprocity" states that one good deed (or bad) deserves another - we feel compelled to give back what we've received. This also works with concessions. We feel obliged to make a concession to those who've conceded to us. Utilize the "moment of power" immediately after your request is rejected by replying with a second, smaller option. The key is to make your smaller request in the moment of rejection - not a day or two later.

    "If you won't approve this year-long project, would you be open to discussing a six-month option?"

    There's moment of power immediately after you've been rejected. Are you ready to suggest a second option (less costly, smaller, etc.) if your initial proposal isn't accepted?

  2. Consensus - People follow the lead of similar others, employing "social proof" in their decision making process. Try to get several testimonials or endorsements from people similar to those you want to influence.

    "I've already discussed this with the Marketing and Quality Departments. Both agree that the time to strike is now - and they never agree!"

    Can you provide endorsements from "many others" or "similar others?"

  3. Authority - People defer to a credible authority - one who possesses expertise and trustworthiness. Admit the shortcomings of your proposal upfront, don't sneak them in at the end. If you explain how your proposal addresses these weaknesses, you will be deemed as both knowledgeable and trustworthy.

    "We're #2, but we try harder. (Avis). "Expensive, but you're worth it. (L'Oreal). "The taste you'll hate, three times a day. (Listerine).

    Are you prepared to explain, upfront, the shortcomings in your proposal, and ways to mitigate these weaknesses?

  4. Consistency - "Stand by Your Stance." People strive to be consistent with their prior beliefs, values, deeds and words. Demonstrate how moving in your direction is consistent with the other person's prior commitments or values.

    "Rolling out this diversity program is consistent with our stated desire to positively impact organizational culture. It demonstrates the values we recently developed for our business."

    Can you link your proposal to previous commitments/values/actions of the people you're trying to influence?

  5. Scarcity - This "Rule of the Rare" has two components. First, people put more weight on something when it is exclusive, unique or in competition. Second, they are more motivated by "loss framing" so emphasize what they stand to lose if they fail to move in your direction.

    "Failing to change your dietary habits will reduce your life by five years (Loss Framing). This health regimen is based on the most recent scientific studies. (Unique/Exclusive Information)."

    Can you present your request by "loss framing" or explaining unique features?

  6. Liking - People are more readily influenced by those they like. Instead of seeking ways to make someone like you, actively search for things that you genuinely like about those you want to influence. This helps you see others as partners, not adversaries. And, on some level, they will sense it.

    Ask yourself, "What is it that I can honestly appreciate about the person I'm trying to influence?"

  7. Contrast - Two different things will be perceived as more different from one another if they are presented in succession. Contrast your proposal to something else to help people answer the question "Compared to what?"

    My client is sentenced to 10 years for obstruction of justice. The convicted murderer who testified against him in exchange for a reduced sentence will be free after serving only 11 years. Is that fair?

    Can you explain the alternatives to your proposal and why they aren't appropriate? Can you contrast other options to your recommendation?

Janet Macaluso, Ed.M., MSOD, was personally certified by Dr. Robert Cialdini to teach his "Principles of Persuasion" workshop. She is a contributing Thought Leader to several publications including The CEO Refresher, the MBA Association, Consulting Today and the Executive Excellence Journal. Janet is writing her first book: "Power, Influence and Politics: Secrets to Making It in Today's Workplace." Visit her website at for more information.

Many more articles in Presentations & Public Speaking in The CEO Refresher Archives


Copyright 2003 by Janet Macaluso. All rights reserved.

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