Six secrets to being more persuasive on issues you care about

By Sarah Hunt | 28 May 13

By Sarah Hunt.

I have worked for many years using the media to educate and persuade people to develop more compassion on human rights, multiculturalism and social change issues.

One thing I have learnt is just how challenging it is to persuade someone to change their mind. Here are several ideas I want to share about how to build a better response from other people on an issue you’re passionate about:

Three things to stop doing

1. Quoting facts and figures to change values. Opinions are often formed based on value and not fact. Even if you quote all the factual evidence under the sun, this may not result in a change in someone’s subjective personal values.

For example, the 2012 Scanlon Report revealed that from 2009-12 over 50 per cent of Australians believed migration was increasing significantly, even in periods of moderate or no increase. The survey noted there was little correlation between public perception and actual factual migration numbers.

2. Assume someone doesn’t fully understand the issue. Understanding and agreement are not synonymous with each other. Someone may have a high level of understanding about an issue and still disagree with you.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is one that has many well-informed individuals participating in debate. Their interpretations of and selection of factual evidence vary greatly, but not their level of understanding or engagement.

3. Mix multiple elements of an issue together. I have often seen bad examples of issues persuasion, where writers will transpose their own personal slant onto an issue and present it as a holistic view.

In recent years, Australian media debates about the public wearing of the niqab have mixed religious, gender, culture, and immigration viewpoints together, often resulting in conflated assumptions about why women wear these garments.

Three things to start doing

1. Frame the issue personally. People relate better to things they can personally connect with. If you are talking about a large-scale issue like global warming, then scale it down and talk about how that might affect the day-to-day life of a family in your city.

SBS’s Go Back to Where You Came From is a fantastic example of successfully personalising the asylum seekers debate; an issue that is very removed from the everyday life of most Australians. It was SBS’s highest ever rated show and brought a highly political issue into family homes and everyday discussion.

2. Create a tangible angle. Often social change campaigns are dealing with large and abstract issues that are hard to define in concrete terms. Create a visual metaphor to describe your issue.

The 2012 Victorian Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission campaign, Protecting Us All, is a great example of bringing visual elements to an abstract idea. The use of semi-invisible armor on posters of Victorians effectively conveys the abstract idea of human rights.

3. Combine your issue with something your audience already enjoys. Try approaching your issues based on a non-traditional connection point such as lifestyle interests and hobbies. This will allow you to engage audiences that aren’t usually interested in your topic or area.

For example, Mindful in May is a campaign that successfully connects social justice with lifestyle. The campaign is a one-month meditation challenge to improve health and wellness, but it also raises money for Charity Water. In this way, it combines two seemingly unrelated things together and draws in a much larger audience than an issues-based campaign alone.

What are your experiences with persuasion? What effective techniques have you used?