How to Influence and Persuade People

by Guy Kawasaki Influencer

From the beginning of my career as a software evangelist for the Macintosh Division of Apple, learning how to influence and persuade people has been on my mind. Among the first sources of knowledge of the topic were Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Robert Cialdini’s Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion

I put my own spin on evangelism, influence, and persuasion with a book called Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions. As the world has grown (and shrunk) with the Internet, information and sentiment are moving faster and farther than I ever foresaw. And now, here we are today: the challenge of influencing and persuading people to get vaccinated is of life-and-death importance.

In this spirit, I interviewed nine psychology and behavioural-science scholars about ways to rapidly and efficiently reach critical mass: I asked them a single question: How do we convince as many people as possible to get vaccinated? Here’s what I learned about the psychology of vaccination:

  1. Harness the power of scarcity. The perception of scarcity makes something more valuable and desirable. A limited quantity of vaccinations can increase the demand for the vaccine or your product. According to Bob Cialdini, “…the evidence is very clear that when there is limited access to something–a limited number of available options or items–people get a little crazy…”
  2. Use three points to establish a trend. According to Cialdini, one point is data; two points are a “difference;” and three points make a “trend.” Cialdini continued, “People will project that trend on into the future and want to get on board with the bandwagon.” So, don’t just communicate that 30 percent of the people said they’d get vaccinated in May and 50 percent in July. A third point of 60 percent in January seals the deal because people think it’s a trend that will continue. 
  3. Use converts to convert. The conversion of a skeptic convinces other skeptics. “Like you, I didn’t think the virus was real, but then I saw a member of my family get sick, and I realized that we need to take this seriously and get vaccinated.” Cialdini thinks that these people are essential: “They’re the ones who are going to convince the most difficult to convince.”
  4. Don’t overly rely on facts. In this situation, facts are not enough, and they may even be negative. According to Gretchen Chapman, “The literature shows the interventions that try to change what people think and feel about vaccination have a mixed track record in terms of changing actual behavior.” Stories are often more powerful than facts, data, and numbers when it comes to changing someone’s perspective and behavior–especially stories of personal tragedy or triumph. 
  5. Use the negative story. The positive story–not getting sick–isn’t news since most people won’t get sick. What needs highlighting is the negative effect of not vaccinating. For example, the Centers for Disease Control shares a video about families who have lost children to influenza. Chapman said that its highly effective message is, “Don’t let this happen to your child–make sure that you and your kid gets vaccinated.” David Aaker added, “So I would have vivid stories of people that have died or family members that have seen somebody die, and they weren’t able to be with them…and how horrible that was, how sad the next Thanksgiving is going to be without them…how lonely their children are going to be.”
  6. Foster inclusivity. Rather than trying to bludgeon people into seeing the light and agreeing with you, the effective pitch is inclusiveness. According to Phil Zimbardo, the approach should be, “Join our team. We now have ammunition to win this deadly war, and it’s vaccination for all men, women, and children to triumph over this ferocious enemy…”
  7. Ask questions. According to Jonah Berger, “When we tell people what to do, they push back. They counter argue, they come up with reasons they don’t want to do it. They think about all the reasons why what we’re suggesting is often a bad idea.” Instead, we should ask questions such as: “Would you want your kids to get vaccinated?” “Would you like your parents to get vaccinated?” “If you do, wouldn’t you want to get vaccinated too?” The goal is to show empathy, curiosity, and respect in order to learn the needs and concerns of people. 
  8. Remove the speed bumps. The path from awareness to action is filled with speed bumps. The goal is a friction-free experience: easy appointment, easy registration, fast administration, pings and reminders, and defaults. (“Your follow-up shot is on February 1 at 10:00 am. You can change this anytime if you want to.”) According to Katy Milkman, “We should also be making sure that if we schedule appointments for people or get them to make plans, we’re really following up.”
  9. Harness social proof. The more people see that their peers, heroes, and leaders get vaccinated, the more likely they are to get vaccinated. That’s why it makes sense to share a vaccination selfie. Zimbardo added a power nuance, “We need a visible symbol of shared identity, and nothing is better than the V sign–victory in war. And it’s the vaccine’s victory over our most deadly enemy, the pandemic virus…”
  10. Masticate the monolith. (Good alliteration is hard to find.) The assumption that everyone who resists vaccination has the same reason is flawed. Sam Weinberg said, “There are a lot of different communities and a lot of different reasons that people are resistant.” For some, the issue is safety. For others, the issue is personal freedom. The challenge is to develop strategies and techniques to reach multiple segments of the population. According to Neil Lewis Jr., “We have to keep in mind that not all groups are going to assume that the medical establishment really has their interests at heart. And so we have to deal with that history in our messaging and constantly show that we’re doing better this time…” 

I hope that you can use these principles of influence and persuasion

in marketing, sales, and evangelism–and public health issues too.


We are all in this together.