I drove to the Great Smokey Mountains near Townsend, TN recently to fly fish for trout. And I caught more than my fair share – 14 gorgeous rainbows. But who’s counting?

Spending time with my guide — a terrific, pony-tailed fisherman and author named Ian Rutter, of R&R Fly Fishing — I also learned a lot about persuasive communication.

Lesson 1: To Catch a Trout, Study the Trout

“Be a predator,” Ian said.

But that doesn’t mean thrashing the stream like a hungry bear. Rather, Ian wanted me to study the trout’s habitat. Learn where trout feed, what bugs they eat, and how those bugs flow through the water. Then you can make an offer consistent with the trout’s environment.

The same is true about persuasive communication. To persuade, you must study the audience’s habitat and fit your proposal into that environment.

Let’s say that you’re trying to win the business of an auto leasing company. You can’t say, “We have a great firm and many big clients.” You must study the world of auto leasing. Are owners worried about negotiating deals with manufacturers? Are they trying to reduce the terms of their leases? Are they trying to improve relationships with insurance companies?

Figure out those things and then present an idea to address those problems. Then you’ll maximize the chance of an owner taking your fly.

Lesson 2: To Catch a Trout, You Have to Listen to the Trout

Ian taught me that you must have a dialogue with the trout. You must listen and adjust. Last Friday, Mr. Trout said “no” several times before saying “yes.”

We started with a fly called a “Parachute Adams”, which floats like a bug on the surface.

Mr. Trout said, “No thanks.”

We switched to a floating “black ant” fly. “Ants fall out of trees all day long,” Ian said. “This one usually kills them.”

But Mr. Trout said, “I’m not interested.”

Then we returned to the “Parachute Adams”. But this time we added a “dropper fly”, tying an 18-inch line to the bend in the hook and attaching a “nymph”, which mimics an underwater bug. Two flies on one rig!

Mr. Trout said, “Looks like dinner to me.” We went on a tear.

The point is that we had a discussion with the trout and found a point of connection.

Similarly, great speakers know that persuasion happens more readily through dialogue.

Let’s say that you’re trying to persuade your partners to move into a new market. You’ll increase your chances for success if, during your presentation, you take questions rather than trying to ram your ideas through with logic alone. Let your partners object. Then you can respond, adjust, and increase your chances of success.

Lesson 3: Trout Care About Your Presentation Style

“Nice cast Joey,” Ian said. “Now hold up the rod tip and let the fly drift as naturally as possible.”

Trout care how a fly is presented. They are most likely to bite if the presentation is authentic.

Similarly, speakers with an authentic style are more persuasive. We tend to believe people who sound like they’re speaking to a close friend.

Just a few lessons from a skilled Tennessee fly fisherman and some Smokey Mountain rainbows on how to hook and land a skeptical audience.

Joey Asher

Joey AsherJoey Asher has worked with thousands of business people helping them learn how to communicate in a way that connects with clients. His new book 15 Minutes Including Q&A: a Plan to Save the World from Lousy Presentations” is available now. He is also the author three previous books including “How to Win a Pitch: The Five Fundamentals That Will Distinguish You from the Competition”, “Selling and Communication Skills for Lawyers” and “Even A Geek Can Speak.”