Laws in the Art of Persuasion

Four ways to hold people's attention.

By H. B. LUNDQUIST, Educational and M. V. Secretary, Southern Union Conference

Persuasion is the work of changing men's minds, making them think as you do. A salesman has been defined as one who gets you to buy something you don't want and many times do not even need. In order to persuade, the speaker is ofttimes obliged to mak,- use of all five of the general ends of speech—clearness, belief, conviction, action, and even entertainment.

The Bible gives us a very definite clue as to how to persuade, in the simple statement, "Out of it [the heart] are the issues of life." Or, to paraphrase: "In order to win the soul, you must first reach the heart." Add to this the part played by the will, and certainly we cannot fail to see the importance of studying the laws of persuasion. If you want others to do something they are not now doing, "you must enlist the will on the side of right," as you see it.

In this discussion of the art of persuasion, we shall limit ourselves to a single step, atten­tion. As to the importance of securing the at­tention, suffice it to quote William James: "Only  those items which I notice shape my mind." In other words, the absence of attention is chaos. Attention has been defined as the se­lective action of consciousness. Eminent psy­chologists tell us that if attention can be kept on one thing to the exclusion of all others, ac­tion will take place along that line.

Permit me to illustrate this selective action of the will. When a prospective customer visits a restaurant, three things may happen to him. He may go away hungry because of failure to select. He may go away stuffed with a wrong combination, or an unwise choice of food. Or he may go away satisfied. Even in so trivial a thing as buying a meal, it is highly important to employ the selective action of the will. Ap­plying this same principle to social life, one may go through life as a lonely, unhappy re­cluse, or with relationships which produce only unhappiness, or he may go through life with true, satisfying companions.

Four Kinds of Attention

1. Let us consider attention under four heads. First of all, there is compulsory, or involuntary, attention, as when consciousness is awakened by a loud noise, a gnawing pain, or a great surprise. Applied to evangelistic advertising, such a subject would be, "World Dictator Com­ing," or "Japan and Armageddon." Even a physicist knows why this kind of attention is undesirable, because, "for every action there is a corresponding reaction." Honest Abe voiced another and stronger reason against this type of advertising when he said, "Don't pre­tend what you need not, lest you be called upor to prove what you cannot." This sort of adver­tising may 'secure attention, but if it does not hold it, or if the product does not come up to the advertising, there may result a revulsion of inverse proportion. Furthermore, this sort of attention is undesirable because it calls at­tention to the man and the method, rather than to the message.
2. Next, there is voluntary attention. This is often secured by begging for it. Don't say, "If the people will listen, I will preach:" but rather, "If I preach well, the people will listen." A definite warning should be considered in con­nection with this kind of attention : There is no such thing as voluntary attention sustained for more than a few seconds at a time. What is called sustained voluntary attention is a repe­tition of successive efforts which bring back the topic to the mind.
3. The third kind of attention we shall con­sider is passive intellectual attention. It is re­lated that the famous mathematician Archime­des was so intent in the pursuit of his science that he did not become aware of a Roman inva­sion of his patrimony until just before he was killed by the invading hordes. During my school days a curious incident occurred which further illustrates this kind of attention. The fire gong sounded, the classrooms, chapel, and dormitories were soon emptied, and a conflagration was averted. Upon resumption of the normal activities of the college a student was found sitting in the chapel totally oblivious to anything that had taken place. He had been studying ! Usually those exercising this class of attention come under one of two heads ; namely, geniuses or pathological cases.

4. We now come to the fourth and last class, the spontaneous. When the speaker has se­cured this kind of attention, he, like Dewey's aide, may begin firing. And those who know their history know that when Dewey's task force began operations, the enemy's ships began to slip beneath the waters of Manila Bay until the fleet had disappeared. Spontaneous atten­tion has been defined as the concentration of consciousness upon something which momen­tarily dominates the mind. The psychologist Gardner tells us how to secure this highly desirable kind of attention : "Stimulate some inclination not opposed to the message so ef­fectively that it will overflow the consciousness with the corresponding feelings, and submerge the opposing inclinations." In other words, pass from the known and the loved, to the unknown and unloved. We shall give three rules to follow in order to secure spontaneous attention:

(I) Say something at once. Don't kill time with banalities or trivia. Get right down to the subject.

(2) Talk from three to five minutes in concrete, nonabstract language. Avoid logic or philosophy. Exclude flights of oratory or panegyric. Keep firmly planted on terra firma.

(3)Stimulate curiosity or the spirit of inquiry in the audience. This may be done by a series of thought-provoking questions or •propositions.

Four Ways to Hold Attention

However important it may be to secure atten­tion, unless it is held, it will be of little avail. We shall now consider how to hold attention.

The first rule is, "Arouse expectation and desire." Humanity is hungry for something that will satisfy. We are to point the audience to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it must be real, rather than illusory ! The presentation of the speaker must lure his hear­ers on and on. The perspective situation arouses the mind to positive activity, and the interest passes beyond the hearers' control. They are in the speaker's hands.

The second law is simply "Variation." Vari­ation has been called "the spice of life," "the life of business," and other names. But its use is based on a sound psychological law ; namely, the tendency of the mind to leap from one thing to another. If an attempt is made to pin it down to one thing, it tends to sink into drowsy extinction. Vary the manner of presentation. Frequently introduce short illustrations, and address questions to the audience.

The third law is "Movement." Every dis­course should have movement. Different phases of the subject should be presented with a ra­pidity corresponding to the rapidity of normal mental movement. And let the movement of the discourse be accompanied by physical move­ment. The younger the speaker and the more difficult the subject, the more he should avoid standing like a stone statue. Use the pulpit as a fiip.,,ht deck. Take off, and come back to fill the bomb bays with ammunition, and take off again. Don't come to rest behind the pulpit until the close of the discourse.

The last rule is rather precautionary : "Time." Inasmuch as the absolute limit of modern psy­chological endurance is thirty minutes, don't go beyond that time. If you have to, or think you have to, then break the discourse into two parts by introducing something relaxing or diverting halfway through. Remember that no concert runs an hour without a break, no play is given in a single one-hour act, no sports contest is given in one inning. Let us strive to be as wise as the children of this world, and perhaps our audiences will stay with us longer.

Public speakers, let us aim to be a wing com­mander of a mighty, individually powered and directed aerial armada, rather than a modern Caesar dragging unwilling captives chained to our chariot wheel.

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By H. B. LUNDQUIST, Educational and M. V. Secretary, Southern Union Conference

August 1943

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