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Advocacy? Or Manipulation?


"Is advocacy or persuasion the same thing as manipulation?"

Puppet Master image from Shutterstock.

I sometimes get this question during the Corporate Storytelling Workshop where we work on persuasive messages and presentations.

Usually the question comes from a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who is accustomed to giving presentations that inform rather than advocate. Sometimes they worry that they'll lose credibility as an expert if they have to "sell" an idea or recommendation. Or they feel their role is to provide options, not make decisions.

My perspective is that in a professional setting, the presenter should always advocate for their idea, their product, their recommendation. Or put more bluntly:

If your idea isn't worth promoting, it probably isn't worth presenting.

And I believe that promoting / advocating / persuading is different than manipulating.

Manipulation has a negative implication, that the audience is being tricked or forced into doing something they don't want to do.

Advocacy doesn't force someone down a path of action... it helps them decide for themselves to take action. Or not.

Effective advocacy includes some critical ingredients:

  • It provides perspective on the situation or opportunity

  • It helps the audience understand how they benefit (what's in it for them)

  • It provides the logic and relevant information for a rational decision

  • It provides the emotional trigger(s) to create urgency

  • It is authentic and real

In other words, as a presenter:

  • Your recommendation has to be the right fit for your audience

  • You have to show how it will help them

  • You have to prove it

  • You have to be right (not showing only the positives in order to get the decision)

Be an advocate. Your audience wants your recommendation, not just your information, so they can make the best decision possible.

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