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Want to be more persuasive? Preparation is the key.

I started out my legal career as a litigator. For years I read every book I could find on trial practice and technique. One message kept coming to me loud and clear: to be effective in a courtroom, you need to prepare … and then prepare again.

I have carried this message with me into my career as a business attorney and businessman. Like trial lawyers, we business people are also always trying to persuade someone to our point of view. And, our effectiveness, in my view, has a lot to do with how we prepare for persuasive events.

What is a persuasive event? It is any encounter – by e-mail, by phone, in person – when you are trying to convince someone to see things your way. It could be a long meeting or even a short phone call. All that matters is that you have an opportunity, perhaps a need, to move someone’s mind a little closer to yours.

Recently I was trying to get 5 minutes with the CEO of a company. I had a scheduled meeting at the company offices with a senior executive, and I figured if I got there early and hung around the lobby, I had a 50-50 chance of bumping into the CEO. We had met once before so I knew if I saw him he would say hello to me.

So, with the hope that I would bump into him, I spent 15 minutes the night before thinking through (and in fact writing down) exactly what I would say in my 5-minute window.

As luck had it (well not entirely luck), I did bump into him. And I did ask for 5 minutes of his time. And he gave it to me. And, in that five minutes I quickly got out all my points – since I was well prepared. As it happened, that chance encounter turned out quite well.

My point is that you need to prepare for any situation where you might be able to persuade someone. Sending an important e-mail? Do it in draft form first. About to get on a critical conference call? Consider in advance what you want to accomplish … consider how others might respond … prepare your comments in rebuttal. In other words, do not rely on your ability to ad lib … do not rely on your memory … do not rely on your ability to think quickly. The fact is that no one thinks on their feet, no one thinks spontaneously, as well as they think in the quiet of their own room.

I propose that if you just take a few minutes of reflective time to prepare in advance for important persuasive events, you will increase the probability of achieving your objectives with these events.


Jim Randel is the founder of The Skinny On book series. His latest book, The Skinny on Success: Why Not You? has been endorsed by a wide-range of business executives. The Skinny on Persuasion will be available in April 2010.


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