If it seems like the world is getting more and more cynical, remember that people have always filtered information through the lens of their values and beliefs. Data and facts work only when they tie into people’s personal experiences and beliefs.
Last summer, I wrote about the importance of finding credible messengers. This tip addresses message characteristics that promote credibility.
- Add concrete details. Concrete language and visuals activate our senses—if we can imagine something to the point where we can see, hear, taste and touch it, it becomes more real for us. So, don’t just tell landowners that they can have healthier woods; bring that promise to life by describing how these woods will look and feel. Or, if you’re trying to persuade turkey hunters to improve woodland habitat, take some time to help them visualize what turkeys need and what the current woodland habitat lacks.
- Use statistics persuasively. Numbers are often meaningless to people; but using a single statistic that describes changes in things that audience members care about can be very powerful. It also helps to present that statistic in terms that people can understand and relate to their lives. Here is an example, once again targeted to hunters and turkey habitat: “Wild turkey populations have halved over the last decade. If this trend continues, four of every five hunting trips could result in no turkey sightings at all.”
- Offer a test case. Oftentimes people avoid acting by persuading themselves that the argument you’re making doesn’t apply to them. You can change that by highlighting one test case that makes people think: “If it happened there, it is certainly affecting me”. Staying with the hunting example above, perhaps you can highlight recent poor experiences of hunters who might be most likely to be successful—e.g., “At the Governor’s Annual Turkey Hunt last year, half the participants shot no turkey at all.”
- Invite personal experiences. Nothing is more convincing to people than their own experience. Your arguments will be more powerful and memorable if you can alert audience members to large or small changes that they may have noticed in their everyday experiences. This works even if these changes are somewhat tangential to the issue at hand. For example, you may point out that the turkey hunting season will be shorter this year to help protect the turkey population. Because people will experience this change personally, this observation will help bolster your argument.
In closing, a credible message uses statistics and details to illustrate core arguments; relates the issue to landowners; and connects with their personal experiences. And, of course, any message is more powerful if delivered, endorsed, or reinforced by a source that carries weight with landowners.