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All Places > The Communication COMMunity > Blog > 2018 > June

Let’s talk persuasion.

In my days as a campus recruiter, I was often called upon to meet with prospective student athletes (and their families) to give them helpful information about the university admissions process. At some point along the way, one of the coaches informed me that 100% of the athletes with whom I met signed with the university. I was delighted, yet somewhat shocked, to hear that information since I truly was not trying to be persuasive in my conversational approach – I was simply being informative yet sincere. I bring this up because our words (and behaviors) inspire action (or inaction), whether we realize it or not.


A person holding a wooden board with three small plants taken out of their pots


Fast forward a few years into the classroom, and I am influencing students to essentially buy into course concepts every day. I find that whatever seeds I plant into the minds of my listeners typically get regurgitated. For example, if I tell my students that a project is relatively easy, they buy into that idea and provide me feedback that it was, in fact, easy. If I tell students that same project will be difficult or challenging, they face it with fear and a sense of being overwhelmed. What happens when people get overwhelmed? They shut down. Language matters. How we frame ideas matters. As educators, we need to set a persuasive tone and use influential language that is filled with possibilities and opportunities so that our students flourish. We regularly draw upon Aristotle’s persuasive appeals when teaching imperative lessons, but is there anything in particular we can do to help our ideas stick?


Let’s change the narrative to being “positively influential”

Sometimes, people attach a negative connotation to the word persuasion. When I think back to my days in recruitment and my present-day classroom discussions, I never felt like I was “persuading” anyone. When I overthink my persuasive tactics, I worry I might come across as “rehearsed” or “sales-y”; I prefer to use the phrase “positively influential”. The best way to plant positive seeds is to do it in such a way that people do not even realize they are being influenced. It is important to note that being influential is both language-based and behavior-based. In your approach to be influential, consider employing some of these ideas to drive home ethos, logos, and pathos even further:

  • Use confirming language. Young, moldable minds believe what we tell them to believe. Confirming language such as, “I really liked your contribution to today’s discussion,” lets students know that you are listening to them and that you truly value their input. This has a great impact on their own identify and can affect their academics, how they communicate with others, and ultimately, how they influence others. Paula Denton, EdD and author of The Power of Our Words: Teacher Language that Helps Children Learn and Founder of the Responsive Classroom, notes, “teacher language influences studentsIt shapes how students think and act and, ultimately, how they learn.” While Dr. Denton’s focus is on interactions within an elementary setting, it is safe to assume that language matters well beyond grade school years. Dr. Denton suggests that by being direct, by conveying our faith in students’ abilities, by focusing on actions, by keeping things brief, and by knowing when to be silent, we are fostering a respectful and positive community.
  • Speak to your listener’s needs. People buy into ideas when it benefits them. Make the information matter to those who are in your presence. It is up to your audience to determine if your message is communicated effectively. Nancy Duarte speaks about the power to change the world in her TedxEast Talk; more specifically, she notes, “It's easy to feel, as the presenter, that you're the star of the show. I realized right away, that that's really broken. Because I have an idea, I can put it out there, but if you guys don't grab that idea and hold it as dear, the idea goes nowhere and the world is never changed. So in reality, the presenter isn't the hero, the audience is the hero of our idea.”
  • Be an Equal. It is important to be able to command a classroom so that we do not lose sight of our desired objectives, but one of my mentors once advised, “you gain power when you lose the power trip.” I have found this approach to work great in a classroom.
  • Be Honest. Even if people ask you hard questions, be honest in your approach to providing information and answering questions. People appreciate honesty and would rather not be persuaded through a false hope; false hope leads to disappointment and distrust.
  • Be Responsive, Timely and Follow Through. Do what you say you’ll do. If your listener has a question with which you do not have a firm response, you may offer to get back to them. Always get back to them in a timely manner. You will build respect and trust.
  • Be Genuine and Kind. Providing information in a genuine and sincere way comes across in various ways. From the tone of our voice to our gestures to our facial expressions to eye contact, these nonverbal behaviors are typically not rehearsed when we are speaking in the moment, authentically. Being authentic creates a sense of trust.
  • Tell a Story. Offering a story helps seal a relatable appeal. One of my mentors once told me, “if you start getting some glazed eyes in the audience, tell a personal story to reel them back in.” People remember stories because they can visualize them, and it also reassures them that you are also a human.


Whether we are inside or outside of the classroom, from what we say to how we say it, we are planting seeds in the minds of those who are giving us their attention. Words and behaviors are powerful tools and we should use them in such a way to help create successful contributors to society. If we do a great job as educators, we will see those seeds flourish into something phenomenal.




Professionally yours,

Jennifer Mullen

Students make the most of their college experiences when they step out of their comfort zones -- which can sometimes mean physically stepping out of the classroom, or even the country. During this past fall semester, I studied abroad in Galway, Ireland (cue Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl) where the entire continent of Europe served as my classroom at large.


That semester I sat through the fewest classes of my college career, yet I would argue that I learned the most during that time.


Galway, the future host of the European Capital of Culture for 2020, served as my home base for my travels, my host university, and my new developing friendships. Living with both native Irish and American students, we had plenty to learn about each other’s cultures despite the lack of a language barrier. From slang words to accents to cultural norms and even social media practices – for example, Facebook is still huge for millennials while Twitter has yet to really take off in Ireland – it was almost seamless to pick up on these differences and integrate them into daily life. I learned to love cheesy Irish reality TV, appreciate the bounty of Irish dairy products, and live like a native to the extent that tourists frequently asked me for directions. My Irish friends laughed at the fact that I describe myself as “Irish” (as in Irish-American) back home, and I astonished them with the fact that the state of New York is bigger than their entire country.

The Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare, Ireland.Each year, the beautiful Cliffs of Moher located in County Clare, Ireland attract millions of visitors. 


Although I thought I knew what I was getting myself into, the education system was drastically different at my Irish university than back in the States. Where American students are accustomed to continuous learning through daily classes with required attendance, discussion based seminars, homework assignments, essays, presentations, and group projects, European instructors commonly expect students to engage in the majority of their studies on their own time. Without the pressure and reinforcement of continuous learning, students must hold themselves responsible to complete readings and in depth studies outside of class time. As a result, I gained a new-found appreciation for the American education system that I once took for granted, as I learned that I’m personally better suited to a more rigorous class setting.


The availability of class notes and lecture slides online (thank you BlackBoard!) and the lack of attendance policies made for the ideal opportunity for international students to travel while still (more or less) keeping up with their courses. During my semester abroad, I was fortunate enough to travel to eight other countries. And, as cliché as it sounds, that was when I learned the most.


Overlooking Dyrhólaey arch in south Iceland where I road-tripped to Reynisfjara black sand beach and Seljalandsfoss waterfall.


Living, traveling, and exploring independently is one of the best ways to gain self-confidence and a sense of accomplishment. After successfully driving a tiny rental car on frozen back roads through Iceland, I truly felt like I could do anything. As your confidence and comfort zone stretch, you learn more about yourself, as well as the other people and cultures you had set out to explore. A once reserved young girl returned a semester later as sociable as the friendly natives of the Emerald Isle, perhaps earned from the gift of the gab at the Blarney Stone. She acquired tastes for new foods, fashion trends, and a knack for looking like a local in a new city.


Kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland is said to give the kisser "the gift of the gab" -- or the ability to speak with eloquence and fluency. The kisser must climb to the top of the castle where they will lean back over the edge, hold onto the rails, and kiss the Stone. 


No matter how different the landscape, language, or culture, people are people and they can find a way around any barrier. Standing at the edge of the Cliffs of Moher, skiing in the shadow of the Matterhorn, marching through the peaceful demonstrations in Barcelona/Catalonia, and gaping in awe at the aurora borealis showed me how small the world can be, yet how small I am in this big beautiful world. These experiences help you to better know yourself and the world around you, allowing you to communicate more easily across cultures and in any new situations life has in store for you.


Despite longing for my bed, my dog, my family, and my friends back in New York, I knew that studying abroad was the best decision I had ever made for myself. Although I missed Galway as soon as I landed in JFK, I’m lucky that I have a home to return to across the Atlantic, and international friends that I could someday tour around my own country. I highly recommend that everyone given the opportunity to study abroad -- whether for a semester, a summer, a year, or just a few weeks -- live it to the absolute fullest.

“Who do we know?”


This question is frequently asked before any position is posted on a job board in an organization. I have been a member of several hiring committees, and we always start a search by listing out the names of people we know who might be interested in the position and reach out accordingly. Organizations always want the “best fit”, culturally and skillfully, and that “best fit” is not always easy to find. Relying on connections we already have often makes it easier to fill positions, and many companies provide incentives for referral-based hiring these days since it helps with recruiting and retaining great talent.


On the flip side, when potential applicants are on a job hunt, the first thing they think about is their resume, which is great…because formatting and content matters. However, many times, resumes come second to relationship building in the job search process. Research shows that up to 85% of positions are filled via networking; they are filled by either internal employees or through referrals. Even more data suggests that 70-80% of jobs aren’t even posted before they’re filled. It’s not just about who you know but who knows you and can speak to your qualifications when you are not around.


In short, students need to learn to master the art of networking to help them in their goal of obtaining employment post-graduation. Most students do not realize that many experienced professionals enjoy helping and giving advice to young people. Most students also do not realize that experienced professionals are greatly impressed when “go-getters” seek them out.




This past year, I had a freshman in a basic communication course who had been assigned to interview someone in her potential field (business). Brilliant assignment, right? It pushed students out of their comfort zones, but most students want to interview someone they already know, like a family friend or relative. It’s great to utilize your existing connections, but it’s not the best way to grow a network.


So when my student told me she admired my passion for my job but had no desire to teach herself, I told her not to interview me. Instead, I thought about how she could combine her passions and turn them into a career. I knew that she loved to run and wanted to help people, so I searched “Olympics” on LinkedIn (an amazing resource to find professionals in their respective industries) and found the profile of an executive from the Olympic Training Center in Colorado. When I read his bio I noticed that he had several things in common with my student, so I told her about him. (Relationship building starts with finding commonalities, after all). She reached out to him, and they had a great phone conversation a few days later. He was very impressed that she was already networking at the age of 18 and spoke about potential internships she might look into down the road.


The point of that story is, once you find your passions, you can use them to build a career path, but you need to rely on your networking skills to propel you forward. Since most jobs are not even posted, it is vital to start making connections and good impressions so that others remember you. The world seems huge, but industries are quite small once you start finding your passions. So how do you start making these connections? I’ve compiled a brief list to master the art of networking:


  • To make the most of networking, you should first know your why. Know what you desire. People want to know how they can help you, but you first need to know what it is YOU want enough to articulate it to someone else in conversation. If you are unsure about what you are passionate about, a good book to check out is Start with Why, by Simon Sinek.
  • Next, create a LinkedIn account and use it in a way that gives you a competitive advantage. Start with a professional headshot and a unique bio that separates you from everyone else. Everyone has a story; this is an opportunity to start yours, and as my friend and National Elevator Pitch Champion, Chris Westfall says, gives others the chance to say “tell me more.”
    • Follow people on LinkedIn within the industry you seek and you’ll start seeing things they post. This can help you become more knowledgeable in the field. Pay attention to the authors of the articles they post and then look them up. Follow them too and so on. If you would like to do more than just follow them, send an invite to connect. Find a commonality and send a professionally-written email that is unique. This should be concise and to the point.

    • If you would truly like to ask their advice on the industry, do not be afraid to send an email to request 10 minutes of their time to learn more about what they do. People typically do not feel put out by giving up 10 minutes of their time. If they do not respond, do not feel bummed. The fear of rejection is real, but if you don’t ask, the answer is always going to be “no” anyway. Someone will eventually respond. Think of rejection as divine redirection.

  • Create professional-looking business cards with relevant information. Here are some tips for What College Students Should Have on Business Cards.
  • Participate in community service that is MEANINGFUL to you. Do not solely do it to rack up service hours for an organization for which you belong. Participating in something meaningful allows you to create more connections with people who have the same interests. If you can assist in a service project that is related to your career, that is a double-bonus!
  • Attend every single networking event that makes you feel uncomfortable. Truthfully, any public space gives you an opportunity to network and connect with people. Do you like yoga? Do you like the dog park? Whatever your interest, others will be there with a common one. People do not know you exist until you let them know you exist. Be prepared to tell people about your interests and how you can potentially collaborate with them once you find that commonality. You never know where one conversation might lead.


To wrap this up, it’s important to know that it is never too early to start meeting people. It’s also important to be you…authentically you, in every conversation – you will be seen as more genuine that way. And finally, remember that it’s not all about you – it’s about collaboration, and so every relationship should be a mutually beneficial one. Find your tribe and your networking circle will continue to grow. Opportunities will follow.





Professionally yours,

Jennifer Mullen