For credibility, hit the tables

by Peter Watts

To persuasively get your presentation point across, there’s a lot to learn from studying the ethos of casinos.

Oxymoron there? Maybe in the classical sense of “ethos”, but in terms of presenting, when we mention “ethos” we’re talking about credibility. The more ethos you can build in the eyes of an audience, then the more logic or “logos” they will assign to you, and the more logos you have, the more inclined they are to accept your argument. No matter how flimsy it might be. More on that later!

It’s possible to have a watertight argument, but not persuade the audience. Casinos meanwhile have a completely illogical argument, and yet persuade their audience to part with bucket-loads of cash, and this little piece of presentation power is called the ethos-logos loop.

Looked at logically, we know that when we walk into a casino, the odds are against us. The best way to walk out a millionaire is to walk in a billionaire. We know this. And yet still people gamble at the casino. What workings are at play?

Gambling relies on a logical fallacy. Author Jay Heinrichs refers to this as the fallacy of hasty generalization.

“If this person won a million bucks, then you can to.”

Sure you can, but the odds are monumentally against it.

So as a presented proposition, casinos have really weak logic. They overcome it by manipulating that ethos-logos loop:

If an audience perceives you as being credible (ethos), they become more inclined to accept your logic (logos). And as they accept your logos, they become even more inclined to believe that you’re credible

Round and round it goes; an unfortunate little persuasion loop in the human brain that gambling establishments have known about since the first dice rolled across a table.

The logos the casino wants you to buy into is the idea that someone, somewhere, is winning big, and it could be you! It’s a weak argument, but the ethos-logos loop suggests we might buy into it, given a sufficient dose of ethos to power the loop.

How does the casino do this, and how can we do the same in presentations?

Clear Rules

Casinos come with rules, and they emphasize those rules. Croupiers for example work under rules about how each and every poker cards is dealt from the shoe.

Rules indicate ethos. There are policies, there are procedures, they are transparent, and they are the same for everyone. Even the classic sidewalk “Shell Game” scam starts out with an apparently thorough demonstration of the “rules” in order to indicate ethos.

In your presentation: Look to timing, agenda, and audience questions

The closest thing to a book of rules in a presentation are the agenda, the stated duration, and how you intend to take audience questions. Once you’ve put those rules on the table, it’s surprisingly important to stick to them. Deviation means you break your own rules, and when you break the rules, your ethos breaks too.

Pay-off stories

Walk into a casino and you’ll see flashing displays of how many millions of dollars have been won that day. Even individual machines boast their pay-out levels. This is another logical fallacy in play. It’s one-sided information. What you don’t see is how many thousands had to be paid into the machine in order to achieve the payout.

In your presentation: Share pay-off stories

By sharing examples of how your product, your service, or your message has helped others, you boost credibility through saying “this happened for these guys; it can happen for you”.

Cognitive Consonance

The one-sided information presented in all those flashing pay-out displays works because it matches the hopes and beliefs of the audience as they walk in. They want to see how much is being won. They’re not so interested in knowing how much is being lost!

Audiences are pre-inclined to think in certain directions, and they look for information that confirms their pre-held beliefs.

In your presentation: Head for the common ground

Even if you want to shake an audience up, it’s not a good idea to confront pre-set world views too early in a presentation. All you achieve is an uncomfortable dose of dissonance, and rather than doubt themselves, the audience will prefer to doubt YOU!

Start by stating common ground that you have with the audience. Where you already know that they buy into certain areas of your message, emphasize those areas.

Shared views emphasize ethos. Disagreements reduce it.

Cheer Leaders

Listen to all those cheers you hear from the gambling tables around you. Each cheer says that yet another member of Joe Public just won big. If they are winning, then it could be you. A logical fallacy again; we don’t know how many people lost, or if the person who just got the cheer only experienced a reprieve during their landslide to a massive loss. We just hear the cheer, and that’s all we need.

In your presentation: Boost-up the cheer leaders

The important thing about cheer-leaders is that they have to be independent. They have to be fellow members of Joe Public.

That’s why independent benchmarks, customer testimonials, awards, and press reviews are gold within sales presentations. Where you’ve got them, flaunt them. Just make sure they are relevant to your message.

Casinos have a lot to teach us about presenting. They’ve spent many, many years, perfecting their craft.

If careful manipulation of ethos boosts the wobbly logic behind gambling, then imagine what it can do when applied to the positive logic of your next presentation.

Analogy: emotionally powering your sales logic

by Peter Watts

Analogy is to a sales presentation what 3D surround sound is to a movie. By syphoning desired characteristics from one argument into another, you don’t just describe your case to an audience, you invite them to live in it.

The foremost tool of persuasive description, analogy can be used for logic, or for passion. At it’s simplest, it takes a known entity, the source, and transfers the characteristics of that source to a second entity, the target.

“Caffeine is to coffee as alcohol is to beer”

It follows the structure A is to B as C is to D. In a well chosen analogy, multiple descriptive goodies can be transferred all at once from source to target:

Point 1: Analogies siphon desirable characteristics from a known source to an unknown target

Example: If this laptop were a car, it would be a Cadillac

My favourite definition of analogy is “an inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects, they will probably agree in others”.

In the case of a laptop computer and a Cadillac, there could be any number of correspondences such as build-quality and performance for example. Once that connection is set-up between source and target, other attributes then continue to flow down the pipe: prestige, luxury, high-end components, smoothness.

It’s a little like siphoning water out of a barrel. Once you’ve got the flow going, it tends to keep on going, with attributes moving from source to target.

Point 2: Analogies deliver logic and emotion in the same punch

Example: Hitler’s Berlin Olympics of 1936 = Putin’s Sochi Olympics of 2014

Analogy can be as much a tool of pathos, or the appeal to emotion, as it can be a tool for logic.

In response to state approved oppression of gay Russians, a growing protest movement is calling for the 2014 Winter Olympics to be moved from Russia to either Canada or Norway. One of the foremost voices in that campaign is actor and writer Stephen Fry, and in this open letter to the British Government he uses analogy to make his case:

“I write in the earnest hope that all those with a love of sport and the Olympic spirit will consider the stain on the Five Rings that occurred when the 1936 Berlin Olympics proceeded under the exultant aegis of a tyrant who had passed into law, two years earlier, an act which singled out for special persecution a minority whose only crime was the accident of their birth. In his case he banned Jews from academic tenure or public office, he made sure that the police turned a blind eye to any beatings, thefts or humiliations afflicted on them, he burned and banned books written by them. He claimed they “polluted” the purity and tradition of what it was to be German, that they were a threat to the state, to the children and the future of the Reich. He blamed them simultaneously for the mutually exclusive crimes of Communism and for the controlling of international capital and banks. He blamed them for ruining the culture with their liberalism and difference. The Olympic movement at that time paid precisely no attention to this evil and proceeded with the notorious Berlin Olympiad, which provided a stage for a gleeful Führer and only increased his status at home and abroad. It gave him confidence. All historians are agreed on that. What he did with that confidence we all know.”

Fry’s use is emotional and multi-layered, with spin analogies between the two Olympic events, between persecuted Jews and persecuted gays, and most significantly, between an Olympic movement that turned a blind eye in 1936, and appears ready to do the same in 2014.

The piece also points out that for a analogy you don’t need to stick slavishly to the A is to B as C is to D formula. Fry gives us the “C is to D” part in his first paragraph, and then doesn’t hit us with the “A is to B” until half way through his second. Click this link to read the original letter and see how magnificently Fry uses analogy to make his case.

Point 3: Make sure your source will appeal to your audience

Example “If this service was a restaurant, it would be an all-you-can-eat buffet.”

In this final example, a Product Manager describes their new service by using the analogy of an all-you-can-eat buffet. Immediately anybody hearing the analogy will get not just the impression of a pick-and-mix array of offerings, but also a powerful impression of the type of customer that would be attracted to the service. The analogy extends outwards so that the hearer can visualise the service users, namely people who go to their local buffet, and like to load-up. It’s quite possible therefore that customers preferring to order a la carte would be put-off by the analogy.

This is the final point about analogies in sales presentations. Your source must be as suitable for the audience as it is for the target that you want to apply it to.

Opinion is a persuasive tool

Audiences, be they customers or colleagues, act when presentations are delivered with the fist-punch impact of belief. They remember presenters who deliver not just the facts, but the flavour of their opinions.

I’m pleased and delighted to be able to say, that as of this month I’m going to be writing for the business website My first piece is live on their blog today. It’s all about opinion, and why it’s a good idea to not just have one, but to be out loud and proud about it when you want to persuade an audience.

I’ll be talking about why so many presenters are reluctant to stray from the facts-only format, and then examining three easy ways to use opinions within your next piece of persuasive speaking.

Please drop by the blog by clicking here. Come share your opinion!

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