If you want to influence people in a written message, they first need to read it carefully. So how do you induce people to invest the effort?

Social psychologists Robert Petty and John Cacioppo found that two factors determine whether someone will think carefully about a message. One is motivation. Afterall, we are not inclined to read  every message that tries to persuade us. We might not have the time, we might think it’s trivial, or we might assume we will hear about it again from another source. The second factor is the ability to carefully consider a message. Even if someone is motivated to study it, sometimes he or she simply can’t, the psychologists say. Numerous variables will determine whether those conditions exist.

Two factors governing motivation

  • People are less motivated to read a message closely when they know that numerous other people are also evaluating it. So personalize the message if you can.
  • People are more motivated when the message is relevant to them. It is personally meaningful or they need to know because they are involved in the decision-making.

 Factors that can hinder a reader’s ability to absorb and study your message

  • You don’t repeat your position. People have greater ability to consider your argument if you repeat your position two or three times in the message, perhaps not in exactly the same words but in substance.
  • You fail to present a clearly stated position, or argument.
  • The reader can’t understand your argument
  • She has no framework for relating your argument to her own experience. Given her personal or professional background, she has difficulty connecting with what you are saying.
  • She is distracted. A CEO who is trying to persuade employees in a video message will be less successful among those who are sitting in a noisy cafeteria when they listen to it.

So remember, it’s not enough to have a convincing message. You want to be sure the audience is reading.