By: Robert Cialdini



For nearly three years, author Robert Cialdini did research about what practices encouraged people to say “yes.” He studied salespeople, direct marketers, TV advertisers, charity fund-raisers, public relations specialists and corporate recruiters. Surprisingly, he learned that the highest achievers spent more time crafting what they did and said before making a request. The best persuaders become the best through pre-suasion, the process of arranging for recipients to be receptive to a message before they encounter it.

It should be noted that no persuasive practice is ever foolproof. This summary will outline many strategies that improve the likelihood of agreement.

Part 1: The Front-Loading of Attention

There are moments in time when an individual is particularly receptive to a communicator’s message.

Cialdini used to go around at parties and offer to read people’s palms. Most of the time, he was simply saying broad statements such as “you are stubborn” or “you are unhappy about something,” but the guests always believed him. This is because, when deciding whether a possibility is correct, people typically look for confirmations of the idea rather than disconfirmations.

Frequently the factor most likely to determine a person’s choice in a situation is not the one that counsels most wisely, it is the one that has been elevated in attention at the time of the decision. A marketer can greatly increase the chances of finding survey participants if they first asked people if they considered themselves helpful. A scientist can increases the willingness to try an unfamiliar product if they begin by asking if they consider themselves adventurous.

They will agree, and then feel like they need to act in a way that is consistent with that description of themselves.

We also have the human tendency to think that whatever we focus on is the most important thing. Typically this is the case, but we can sometimes be convinced that something is important merely because we have been led by some irrelevant factor to give it our attention.

For example, if a certain news story catches our eye, we may believe it is important and influential, but that certainly isn’t always the case. It can also work in terms of persuasion. Naomi Mandel and Eric Johnson, two marketing professors, found that viewers of an online furniture store placed elevated levels to comfort if there were fluffy clouds in the background of the web page. In contrast, when the background was an image of pennies, viewers gave price more importance.

There is a great impact of bringing selective information to attention. Because of this, strategies that channel temporary attention can be effective as pre-suasion devices.

We also assign causality to factors that have our attention. And presumed causality can be a big deal for creating influence.

This is why police can get innocent people to confess to committing a murder. If you get them to focus their attention on it long enough, they will believe in the cause. It’s also why CEOs in America make more than double what the next person in command makes – because they are visually prominent and psychologically salient. They are assigned an exaggerated causal role.

Channeled attention can make recipients more open to a message pre-suasively before they process it. To channel attention, some strategies are more effective than others.

Sexual and violent stimuli capture out attentions because they are linked to our survival. In terms of advertising, though, people are dramatically more likely to pay attention to and be influenced by stimuli that fit the goal they have for the situation. Sexual stimuli wouldn’t help sell laundry detergent, but it would help with items people frequently buy for sexually related purposes, such as perfume or makeup.

Like everything else discussed in this summary, the precursor is crucial. One study showed an advertisement for San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art. One advertisement stressed the popularity of the museum (“Visited by over a million people each year”) and the other emphasised the uniqueness (“Stand out from the crowd.”)

The first ad was well received by people that had just watched a violent movie – because the threatened people wanted to join the crowd. The distinction ad was well received by people that had just watched a romantic movie – because they wanted to stand out.

Putting people in a specific state of mind will alter the way they perceive a message. In fact, there’s actually a part of Pavlov’s experiment that rarely gets mentioned. As many people know, Pavlov was able to train a set of dogs to salivate at the sound of a bell by presenting the dogs with food each time the bell rang.

When the dogs associated the bell with the food, they salivated – even when food wasn’t presented. However, when the dogs went to a new location or had new stimuli introduced to the room, the experiment no longer worked. This is because their attention was focused on the new environment instead of the food. Pavlov called it the investigatory reflex.

Once you have someone’s attention, you need to hold it there. Information about the self is a powerful attention magnet. When information has been tailored specifically to one person, they are more likely to pay attention to it.

There is a behaviour social scientists call the next-in-line effect. When people know they are about to speak, they can’t focus on what is happening in front of them – they are too busy rehearsing in their head. And after they spoke, they are focusing on reviewing what they just said.

A lack of closure also causes us to retain our retention. There was an experiment that showed participants different television programs, including commercials. The ones with the greatest recall for the commercials were the ads that the researchers stopped five to six seconds before their natural endings. This is because the mind feels a desire to get back and finish it, so it thinks about it more.

This is why mysteries are so interesting to us. We feel a pull to get closure of the situation – we feel like we need to get to the conclusion or solution before our mind will rest. One good format to capture an audience’s attention is to pose the mystery, deepen the mystery, hone in on the proper explanation by considering alternative explanations, provide a clue to the proper explanation, and then resolve the mystery.

Part 2: Processes: The Role Of Association

The brain’s operations arise fundamentally and inescapably from associations. As a persuader, the main purpose of speech is to direct listeners’ attention to a selected sector of reality.

Language is extremely important, as it causes association. Multiple studies have shown that subtly exposing individuals to words related to achievement (win, attain, succeed) increases their performance and more than doubles their willingness to keep working at it.

Initial exposure to either words or images can have a pre-suasive impact on later actions that are merely associated with the words or images. Similarly, metaphors can be extremely powerful. And the metaphors don’t even need to be verbal. Studies show that individuals that have held a warm object, such as a cup of coffee, immediately feel closer to and more trusting of those around them.

Negative associations can be transferred as easily as positive ones. Used car salesmen say “preowned” instead of “used” because it generates better associations.

The strongest association is one with the self. It draws and holds attention, and thereby enhances perceived importance, and it also often causes positive associations. For example, research shows that individuals prefer products – chocolate, candies, and teas – with names that share letters of the alphabet with their own name.

People also have positive associations with ease. Words that are easier to pronounce, spell, read and remember are much more persuasive than words that aren’t.

Our physical environment can also be key to pre-suasively send us down specific pathways. Surround yourself with physical objects that automatically activate a preferred way of responding (such as a plant to make you feel relaxed). Or you can alter your internal self-persuasive geography.

Recall positive memeries, think about pleasant thoughts, seek out and retain favorably information and happy faces, and focus on the upsides of life. Pre-suade yourself before a big business meeting to be confident by recalling previous times you have succeeded. You can create the ideal state of mind simply by deciding to do so.

The basic idea of pre-suasion is that by guiding preliminary attention strategically, it is possible to move recipients into agreement before they experience the pitch. The key is to focus them on concepts that are aligned associatively with the information.

Once an opener concept gains our attention, secondary concepts become more accessible in consciousness, which greatly improves the chance that we will respond. Players of a violent video game are more likely to engage in immediate forms of antisocial behaviour because the games plant aggression-related thoughts in players’ heads, which makes it easier to provoke aggressive behaviour.

The strength of the association between an opener concept and a related concept will determine the strength of the pre-assuasive effect. If you wish to prompt an action, you should find a concept that is already associated strongly and positively with the action.

The association doesn’t need to necessarily be related. Simply being in the same frame can be enough. Showing a brand of beer five times on pictures of pleasant activities such as sailing, waterskiing and cuddling increased viewers’ positive feelings toward the beer.

A communicator who channels attention to a particular concept will heighten the audiences’ reception to a forthcoming message.

Part 3: Best Practices: The Optimisation of Pre-Suasion

There are six concepts that empower the major principles of human social influence.

  1. Reciprocation – People say yes to those they owe. We have a strong tendency to feel that those who have given benefits to us are entitled to benefits from us in return. If you want to pre-suade with this message, take a chance and give first.
  2. Liking – People trust those who like them. If you want to pre-suade with this message mention similarities and give compliments. This will cause people to feel like to like them, and they’ll want to do business with you.
  3. Social Proof – People think that it’s appropriate for them to believe, feel or do something if others believe, feel or do the same thing. Mention the many other people that are doing the same thing.
  4. Authority – People will listen to those that are authoritive. Show your audience that you are trustworthy and knowledgeable on the topic and it will be well received.
  5. Scarcity – People want more of what they can have less of. The scarcity of an item raises the perceived value. In the consumer’s mind, any constraint on access increases the worth of what is being offered.
  6. Consistency – People want to be consistent. Communicators that can get people to take a pre-suasive step, even a small one, in the direction of a particular idea will be able to increase their willingness to take a larger, congruent step when asked.

Another important factor is relationships. The ability to create change in others is often grounded in shared personal relationships. Unity is a powerful construct. People are willing to help relatives, friends, and people that they feel connected to. Observers of a photograph of someone whose face has been modified to look more like them trust that person more.

Humans feel a strong connection to those that are located in close proximity to us. The unitising powers or family and place can be harnessed by a skilled communicator. It doesn’t need to come from actually being together, but from acting together synchronously or collaboratively.

There are many experiences that will cause people to feel unity. This includes liking, support, continued reciprocal exchange, co-creation, and getting together. Installing one of these unitising experiences in people pre-persuasively, we can arrange to act in a way that will bring you closer to success.

Now that you know the strategies for pre-persuasion, be sure to use them for good, not evil. Always take the ethical route and be honest. An organisation that regularly approves, encourages or allows the use of deceitful tactics in its external dealings will experience a nasty set or internal consequences such as poor employee performance, high employee turnover, and employee fraud.

Successful pre-suasion can occur when audience members’ attention is channeled temporarily to a psychological concept favourable to a follow-on message. For optimal impact, consider post-suasion as well.

In large measure, who we are with respect to any choice is where we are in the moment before the choice. The made moment is pre-suasive. And it’s powerful.