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ChangingMinds Blog! > Blog Archive > 14-Nov-07


Wednesday 14-November-07

Influencing gods

This week I went to see a god and, you know, I might have influenced him.

Robert Cialdini is one of a rare breed: an academic who crosses the great divide and communicates with the greater public about the secret world of research and the power it can bring into everyday life. He wrote the first edition of his book 'Influence' in the 1980s and I was indeed influenced by it when I came across it in a bookshop about 15 years ago. Still in print, it continues to sell in the millions. The book describes six fundamental principles of persuasion which it powerfully illustrates with well-known cases such as the Jim Jones cult suicide and the Kitty Genovese affair, where a young woman was repeatedly beaten and eventually murdered whilst many people stood by and did nothing to help.

When I heard that Cialdini was speaking at the RSA in London, where I am fortunate enough to be a fellow, I booked a seat and got there early to sit at the feet of this esteemed deity. And indeed, like his book, he was engaging and used fascinating examples to illustrate his points. But I had an agenda: I wanted to get a little publicity for and perhaps even get the great man to look at the site. He was also sharing stage with an engaging government advisor who almost upstaged him with her wit and verve, and I determined to wave the flag with her, too.

The style of the lecture was for talk first and questions after. Sitting centre-front, I thought I would be able to get the eye of the chairman, though he had determined to go around the room, starting from the edge. So I bided my time, whilst putting my hand up each time he sought more questions to show my keenness and determination. As he was coming to the end of asking questions, I took another tack: I held up an orange pen and waved it a little (not too much: I don't want to appear over-zealous). He had asked for short questions, but most questioners rambled. By then, however, I had rehearsed my question and kept it terse: 'Hello. I'm Dave Straker from In today's cacophony of communications, when people are aware of persuasive intent and are increasing cynical, how does one message stand out? How does it gain your attention when thousands of others fail?' There was a murmur of agreement which was a nice affirmation that I'd hit a real concern with the audience. And the answer was good: you've got to personalize, making the message truly relevant to the listener.

Goal one achieved: I'd gained attention and said the name of the site.

Goal two was achieved at the end of the lecture when people were hurrying to meet with Cialdini, I headed towards the government advisor. She works at the highest level and, I wondered, what if the site became known there? She seemed pleased that someone wanted to speak with her first and I asked her if she'd heard of the site. She politely said she thought she had, but who knows. I repeated the name of the site and so did she. Bing! Tick in the box.

The final goal was to speak with Cialdini himself. As I made my way to where he was, the route because clear and easy: he was signing books. I'd already bought a copy so I joined the queue. As he signed the book, I asked if he'd heard of my site. I also mentioned that it got lots of hits, immediately promoting it in his mind from a minor crank site to one which may be worth visiting. More bingo: he wrote down the name of the site on a card and tucked it carefully into his folder! He also seemed like a genuinely nice guy. I expressed my enthusiasm for the subject and he leaned forward and I could see his passion for the subject too. But there was a queue behind me and I didn't want to outstay my welcome, so I moved on, feeling rather chuffed that I had achieved all three goals.

I had gone to the lecture with my bright and very patient daughter, who watched all this with interest and amusement. Afterwards, she bought dinner for us, where I paused now and again for a 'smug moment'. It's nice when you achieve your goals.

Will anything come of it? Who knows? Will the government advisor visit the site and promote it at the highest level? Wouldn't that be cool. What if Cialdini likes the site and tells lots of others? Wouldn't that be a wonderful reference.

But then again, nothing may come of it all, but you can't fault me for trying. One can but dream, and maybe the gods will one day reach down and make those dreams come true.

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