Identify Opportunities to Use the Principles of Persuasion (Step 11 of 15)

Part of Build a Strong Business Case

Use this toolkit to develop and pitch a winning business case for your risk, compliance, internal audit or any other risk-related program, large or small!

Part of Build a Strong Business Case

Use this toolkit to develop and pitch a winning business case for your risk, compliance, internal audit or any other risk-related program, large or small!

Identify Opportunities to Use the Principles of Persuasion (Step 11 of 15)
Article filed in Business Case , Communication , Persuasion

Use ethical and scientifically proven principles of persuasion to convince your audience.

More than 30 years ago, Robert Cialdini wrote the book Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. In it, he explores identifies six principles of persuasion: reciprocity, commitment, consensus, liking, authority and scarcity. Those principles can be mighty useful when building the case for an investment in risk management.


Humans generally don’t like to feel indebted to others. When someone does something kind for us, we prefer to reciprocate rather than feel like we owe them something.

Many people aren’t even aware that they follow this pattern; as with many of the principles of persuasion, they do it subconsciously.

To use reciprocity in making a business case, consider how you can build relationships with the audience — even before you enter the conference room. Encourage people to feel reciprocity toward you by helping them before you “need” them.

Let people know they can turn to you for help with tasks or advice about your areas of expertise.

Nurture a connection with those in the audience even during the presentation. Something as small as bringing doughnuts and coffee or tea to share can encourage people to reciprocate and approve your proposal.

Cialdini notes that that a concession is also a gift. There is a moment of power when someone declines your initial plan. As such, you should always have a backup plan ready to go, so that you can immediately offer it as an alternative.

This is key. You need to be able to immediately offer it as an alternative for reciprocity to activate.

This is where doing your homework during analysis, and understanding all of your options comes in handy.

This alternative should still be in the same vein as your preferred option. However, you might have ways to adjust the approach to address the reasons why an individual rejects your initial offer. For example, perhaps there is a way to reduce costs of your approach by avoiding an element. Or, perhaps there is a way to phase in your solution so that upfront costs can be reduced.

While this alternative option isn’t your preferred option (and it will likely have fewer benefits and a different risk profile), it should still be a genuinely sound approach that you can stand behind.


People we like have an easier time convincing us to do something.

A human’s idea of “liking” something comes in several forms. We like people we view as similar to us: their interests, education, age, or other attributes that we also see in ourselves. (Open rates on direct mail marketing nearly double when the sender’s name is the same as the recipient).

We also like people who cooperate with us and those who work with us towards mutual goals.

Humans tend to look favorably on those who recognize their value; even giving compliments. This can, admittedly, sound superficial and empty -- and if you give compliments in this way they absolutely will be. Compliments must be genuine because false flattery ruins your persuasion.

In fact, ideally you should give compliments “behind their back” instead of in their face. Make sure to reflect something you genuinely admire.

In a business presentation, use the principle of liking by nurturing unity in your relationships with those who will be listening.

Research the audience who will hear your business case. Look for areas of genuine similarity and likeness. See if they have hobbies or interests that dominate their free time. See if you have any overlaps about which you can strike up conversations to further nurture relationships before your presentation.

Once again, this must be genuine! Don’t engage in false or fabricated similarity and likeness.

You can also work these shared interests into your presentation. If several members of your c-suite leadership enjoy golfing and you enjoy golfing too (and assuming you understand golfing enough to use it for explaining your ideas), then using golf metaphors or images in the presentation can persuade people to view your ideas in a more favorable light. If nothing else it will make your ideas more understandable.

Consensus (Social Proof)

People imitate what other people think, feel, and do. This phenomenon traces back to the human understanding of safety in numbers: if we all stick together, the outcome will likely be favorable for us.

Our need to imitate the behavior of others explains why we try restaurants that look crowded on Friday and Saturday nights, or why we all love to read the books that everyone else is reading.

Interestingly, people respond even more strongly to this phenomenon when they feel similar to the other people participating in a certain action (the “liking” principle).

When people can detect similarities, such as age, interests, or station in life, they tend to respond better to attempts to cultivate this interest. (For example, one study found that a teen was 26 percent more likely to smoke if a parent smoked, too; but was 10 times more likely to smoke if one of his friends smoked.)

To strengthen your business case, help those in the room feel connected to others like them, who have taken actions similar to your proposal. For example, cite peer organizations that have pursued similar risk management strategies and the success they saw. If you can point to sheer numbers who are pursuing a similar path, all the better.

You can also cultivate this idea within the audience itself. If you have the opportunity to work with a few influential leaders who will hear your proposal before your presentation, convincing them to vote in favor of your ideas will help to persuade the rest of the group — people who are similar to them.

The principle of consensus is especially powerful for personality types and people who have high social preferences; and for people who are high extroverted (these are people who look to others as a primary source of energy and information).


People tend to follow authority figures. They trust those in a position of authority to lead them. That explains why people tend to listen to those in uniforms and why they respond well to celebrity endorsements in commercials.

People respond even more strongly to suggestions if they can see the credentials or the authority of the person they regard as a leader. Doctors, for example, tap into this idea when they display their diplomas, or real estate agents when they advertise the number of homes they have successfully bought or sold (number of homes also taps into the principle of consensus).

In your business case presentation, you want people to regard you as an authority on the topics you will present on. This means that you want to find ways to boost or highlight your credentials.

If you have specialty certifications that help you with your project, include them. You can list them after your title slide of your presentation or find ways to work them into your actual speech. For example, if you have a degree in accounting even though you work in risk management, mentioning your background when you arrive at financial projections will encourage people to pay more attention to what you have to say.

Your credentials might also come in different forms than certifications. You might have extensive experience working with a project or with leading a type of product development, for example. Consider what makes you an authority on the topic you present on and use that to bolster your presentation.


The perception that something is scarce drives desire for it. Most people, upon seeing scarcity-targeted advertisements, automatically feel more temptation to buy the good or service, and to do so quickly. The more people feel as though they might soon miss out on an opportunity, the more likely they become to make a purchase.

To make this form of persuasion work well, those promoting it need to stress to the audience what they might lose if they do not act quickly. Limited seats, excellent prices, or rare products can all inspire people to act.

When urging the audience to support your proposal, create a sense of urgency for those watching your presentation. Begin by outlining the needs of your organization, how your plan can help solve these problems, and then tell them how quickly the opportunity will pass them by.

As with all principles of persuasion, be genuine and ethical. Don’t engineer fake scarcity if none exists as it undermines your case.

Consider different elements that might push the organization to act quickly. An impending new rule, the end of the quarter or the fiscal year, or an upcoming sales season are all natural examples that nudge organizational leaders to seize the opportunity quickly.

You might also have a real scarcity of resources for “use it or lose it” budget cycles. Or, you might have a window of opportunity to engage a specialized advisor for a project.

Again, genuine scarcity should be highlighted.


People like to take actions that are consistent with their values or habits. For example, when people to download white papers or sign up for online classes, that business often finds it easier to have an ongoing conversation with this potential customer. Thisi because the potential customer has taken a step toward the business.

To use the principle of consistency in your business case, consider the core ideas that you want people to hear and support -- and therefore be consistent with and approve when the time comes.

Break your business case into its main ideas: these are the ideas that you hope will resonate (that is, be consistent) with the audience.

Begin the presentation by presenting a refined Big Idea that encapsulates the Purpose (business need, category of solution) and the Value (how the proposal fits into business objectives and strategy) and the ROI.

Gaining this high level consensus on Purpose and Value will help your audience be consistent; and to listen to ways to address this purpose and value. Consider taking a poll of the business leaders to see if they agree that the fundamental problem exists, before you even begin your presentation. This will encourage them to take a personal stance (maybe even a public stance) in favor of the foundation behind your idea.

From that point forward there will be powerful principle of consistency for them to extend this agreement to some sort of solution -- hopefully yours!

Bonus Principle: Contrast

Years after Cialdini identified the first six principles of persuasion, he defined a seventh: contrast. Contrast helps people view how your solution is different from something else.

It helps people understand your solution because they have a basis for comparing / contrasting.

At a minimum, use contrast to explain how your solution compares with “doing nothing” or the status quo. You also can use contrast to highlight why you selected one option over another.

To be clear, you should NEVER present a full analysis of several options.

However, providing a high level basis for why you considered, and then rejected other options, will help persuade your audience. Using this approach helps them understand some of the nuance (and rigor) that you analyzed along the way.