You can find lessons in speaking and persuasion in some unexpected places: like speed dating night at the local singles bar.

Let me explain.

Let’s say that you have the choice of attending either of two “speed dating nights” at competing taverns. “Speed dating” is where singles rotate through five minute “dates” with potential partners. The night ends with people selecting their preferred matches.

At one tavern, you get eight speed dates. At the other tavern, you get 20 speed dates. Which event do you think would be most effective at finding strong “matches?”

If you picked the event with only eight dates, you were right. That’s because having too many choices creates confusion and ambiguity and ultimately impedes the matching process, according to the book Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard, out recently in paperback. Too many choices create what the book’s authors Chip and Dan Heath call “decision paralysis.”

This story, and many others in this essential book, tells us much about how to speak with people in a way that connects with listeners and motivates change. The Heath brothers are college professors and authors of the also terrific and bestselling Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.

Script Critical Moves

The lesson of the speed dating study is that if you want to motivate change, it may be helpful to give fewer choices.

In fact, the authors say, one of the strongest motivational tools is to eliminate choice and prescribe simple steps to success. You should “script the critical moves.”

So how does this help us learn to speak in a way that motivates change?

Let’s say that you’re trying to motivate your colleagues to work harder at business development. You call a meeting and present a grand vision for growing your practice group’s revenues. “We’re going to focus our marketing efforts on high tech companies,” you say. And you have plenty of evidence indicating it’s the right strategy. No one disagrees.

You may have the team sold on the general vision that the plan is a good one. But to get people to change their actions is hard. Everyone wonders, “What do I do now? There are dozens of ways to approach high tech companies. Should we make cold calls? Should I take friends to lunch? Should I write articles in high tech journals?”

Eliminate “Decision Paralysis”

All those ambiguous choices create “decision paralysis”. With too many choices, your partners may opt to do nothing. They’re like the singles on speed dating night with too many choices. They may get confused and demotivated.

By “scripting the critical moves”, the authors point out, you motivate by eliminating ambiguity and creating a clear path to success. For example, you might end the meeting by giving out a detailed plan for approaching the high-tech market place.

You might tell everyone that we’re going to have four marketing events over the next year and that everyone has to contribute to the events in one of two ways. You can either speak at the event or invite five prospective clients to each event. Suddenly, the ambiguous plan to “find high tech clients” has been made much simpler and concrete with a few scripted moves.

That motivates change.

Great speakers get their listeners to change behavior. To get there, prescribe concrete steps.

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.”