For those interested in creating more persuasive content, I wanted to quickly highlight this new TED talk by Dr. Niro Sivanathan, Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the London Business School. It contains some of the latest science on content, and what form the elements of a truly persuasive argument.
Since 2016, our Thinkbait model has sought to construct each whitepaper, blog, podcast, newsletter or even social media post in a way that optimizes meaningful engagement, that is to say learning and retention, over compulsive clicks or interactions. We’ll be updating our Thinkbait whitepaper soon as the pandemic has brought on a flood of new research about our online behaviours; the templates and strategies we’re continuing to implement for our clients are inspired by groundbreaking insights like these and we bake them into our work regularly.
What do we learn from Prof. Sivanathan that’s so useful? Quite simply confirming what any artisan would describe instinctively: To best persuade, the quality of arguments trump quantity.
If you are a pundit or other Thought Leader™, you may want to print this quote and staple it to a wall near your desk. It’s that good.
“In the world of communicating for the purposes of influence, quality trumps quantity. By increasing the number of arguments, you do not strengthen your case, but rather you actively weaken it.
Put another way, you cannot increase the quality of an argument by simply increasing the quantity of your argument.
The next time you want to speak up in a meeting, speak in favour of a government less legislation that you’re deeply passionate about, or simply want to help a friend, see the world through a different lens, it is important to note that the delivery of your message is every bit as important as its content.
Stick to your strong arguments. Because your arguments don’t add up in the minds of the receiver, they average out.”
Here’s Prof. Sivanathan’s full TED talk from last month:
Being just old enough to have experienced the media business before the social media revolution, I’ve nagged peers of my generation for years about the dangers of online populism and drive-by journalism. Shaming political opponents, rallying online mobs or otherwise engaging in performative activism for clicks over focused, precise arguments of substance is bad! Bad for your brain, for your arguments and the issues they attempt to advance, and for everyone’s mental health. It’s about time we started accepting the dangers of clickbait as nearly-settled science.
That means regulation or, to be more precise, government creating a self-regulatory environment for all media companies, online and traditional (more on my Medium rant about regulation). Anything less is simply disregarding public health, and opening the door to more misinformation, cultural tension and political unrest.
But the bottom line would be that taking shortcuts with your arguments makes them weaker and less persuasive. As these latest findings confirm, over time, your public opinions will be judged not by their popularity but by your record of getting the fundamentals right with mind-numbing regularity.
Dan Delmar is Managing Partner, Communications with TNKR Media.