How to be more influential with PDA

Do you sometimes find that you are not as persuasive as you would like, even though you know you have a strong argument? Would you like a simple format that can help you to be more persuasive, in both formal and informal situations? Then take a look at the PDA format – a simple, yet powerful way to structure a persuasive argument.

P  stands for the present situation and its downsides. Tell them how things are now and what’s wrong with present.

D stands for desired situation and the benefits. Talk about the benefits for the organization and, if possible, the benefits for the people you are talking to.

A stands for the first practical step. What’s the small thing you want the person to do first?

Why PDA works

Most human beings are risk averse: they much prefer to hang on to what they’ve got rather than embrace something new. In a classic social psychology experiment, students were willing to pay an average $3 to buy a mug they didn’t have; but when given the mug for free they asked for an average $7 to sell it to someone else. Crudely, we value hanging on to what we’ve got roughly twice as much as we value the prospect of gaining something new. In practice, this means that you have to persuade people to let go of the present before they are ready to listen to the benefits of whatever you are proposing. That’s why the present and its downsides comes before the desired situation and its benefits.

The really clever thing about PDA is to ask only for a very small practical action as the first step. If you can get people to do a small step, it makes it much more likely that they will take a bigger one. My favourite illustration of this is Moriarty’s beach towel experiments. When Thomas Moriarty arranged for an accomplice to pose as a thief and steal his transistor radio from an unattended towel on a crowded beach, only 20% of the time was the bogus thief challenged. But when Moriarty asked someone, ‘Will you keep an eye on my things please?’ before leaving the beach, the rate of challenge leapt up to 96%. A very small commitment – agreeing to keep an eye on things – led to a much bigger one: challenging a thief.

When to use PDA

You can use PDA to structure a formal presentation and you can also use it informally as part of a persuasive conversation. It’s especially useful when you are put on the spot by somebody who says, ‘Just sum up your argument in 60 seconds.’ PDA is the way to do it.

Larry Reynolds is managing partner of  21st Century Leader

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