Professional development and training blog of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)
October 18, 2010

Words That Get People to Do Things

I could sum up today’s presentation on “Simplicity and Persuasion: Move Your Audience to Action” in the few words our presenter closed with:

Motivate the heart. Direct the mind. Simplify to persuade.

Mahmoud Arafa, president and creative director, Designframe USA, told us to simplify the message then present it in a way that elicits interest and taps into the “what’s in it for me” motivation. How do you move from belief to action? That doesn’t come with a single tactic. You must combine tactics and approaches.

Even so, remember simplicity. This is a bandwidth issue — the less words the better. Often simple becomes abstract. Move beyond this.

Be direct with your appeal. Don’t be so clever you end up losing an opportunity. How many times have you loved a particular ad but can’t remember the exact product it was selling? Your stakeholders need to connect your message and your call to action. Make it clear on what you want people to do.

One way to achieve this simple and direct communication is to find the core of what you want to say. Within that message is a story. Tell that story. As you tell that story, remember:

  • Sentences are better than graphs,
  • Two (2)  points are better than five (5).
  • Easy words are better than big words.

This is harder than it sounds. It requires you to prioritize. What points are the most important? Difficult editing is ahead as many great ideas and phrases might be cut for simplicity.

Take these quotes about the 1960s goals of the United States space program:

“We’ll put a man on the moon and return him safely by the end of the decade.” — President John F. Kennedy

… or … what we might find today in a buzzword-filled approach to mission statements:

“Our mission is to build the most sophisticated space shuttles and to invest strategically in nurturing our human capacity in order to expand to new frontiers so we can land on the moon and achieve leadership in space.”

Identifying the motives for action may help with this editing process. Mahmoud Arafa names 9 potential motives to move people to action, then stresses you must hit at least 2 within your audience:

  • Self-preservation
  • Financial gain
  • Love
  • Sexuality
  • Desire for power and fame.
  • Fear
  • Revenge
  • Freedom of body & soul.
  • Desire to create or build in material or thoughts
Riding an Elephant

Image credit:

This process of being simple, being direct and engaging the right motives is key when you think about what is at stake. Often we think as the the communicator or the organization that we are in control. We aren’t. Consider this image of the couple riding on an elephant, accompanied by a guide. At first glance you might think the elephant is in control. Not so. The couple would surely be injured if they were bucked from the elephant. And the guide, what if the elephant turned on him?  What happens if the elephant doesn’t want to go where the humans wants him to go? You betcha, the elephant can overpower both the riders and the guide. This is careful yet important work. You must direct the riders, motivate the elephant and shape their path.

So now if I were to take Mahmoud Arafa’s own advice and revisit that 3-step process he urged us to use, I would leave you with:

Speak simply. Be Direct. Motivate.

Note: An earlier post about Mahmoud Arafa’s presentation appeared on the ComPRehension blog, titled “Art of Simplicity: Streamline and Strip Away Messages for Today’s Information-Deluged World

Dr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+MDr. Kaye Sweetser, APR+M, associate professor, H.W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. She is a practitioner, a scholar and had the great pleasure of advising the national champions in the 2010 PRSSA Bateman Case Study Competition. Dr. Sweetser is a member of the APR+M Council. Connect with Kaye on LinkedIn and on Twitter @kaye.

For more coverage on the PRSA 2010 International Conference: Powering PRogress, visit PRSA Intelligence, follow #prsa_ic and the Conference blog.

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