Use the power of Cognitive Dissonance to convince your audience

Cognitive Dissonance and using it to advantage

“Cognitive Dissonance what?” That’s the first reaction many have when they are introduced to this concept.

Yes, it’s a hefty word that seems to have come straight out of some geek’s dictionary. Yet these two words are more powerful and relevant to our life than we imagine it to be. If you have ever been in ‘two minds’ over something, then you have experienced Cognitive Dissonance!

Coined by social scientist Leon Festinger back in 1957, it simply means tension or conflict in mind; ‘cognitive’ referring to mind and ‘dissonance’ to a state of imbalance. We experience this when we have conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. A smoker who knows that smoking causes cancer experiences dissonance. A job aspirant caught between choosing a well-paying job in a far off city or a less paying job in own city also experiences dissonance.

This is an uncomfortable situation and can actually paralyze us from taking a decision, with one thought pulling us in one direction and the other thought pulling in the opposite. What do you do in such a situation? And why should we put our audience in such an uncomfortable situation?

Here’s why: Because you have their best interests at heart. You want to persuade them to take some action that’s for their betterment. That means it’s time to shake up their existing beliefs and assumptions! Here are three ways to do so:

1. Give compelling evidence to create dissonance in audiences’ mind: If you are giving a presentation on “eating habits of children” and the audience includes a number of parents, you can present research findings on the harmful effects of junk food.

“Research published in the Journal of Public Health Nutrition reveals a startling fact: Eating junk food not only causes obesity and health-related diseases in children but also has a negative effect on their mental health. The study shows that children who often eat hamburgers, hotdogs and pizza are 51 per cent more likely to develop depression than those who rarely or never ate them. 
The study involved nearly 9,000 participants who had never been diagnosed before with depression. The group was assessed over a period of six months and 493 of them were diagnosed with depression or began taking antidepressant medication.” 

Such a revelation creates discomfort in audiences’ mind and they are left with two choices- either believe you and change their behavior or go in denial mode and continue with their old habits.

2. Make them feel guilty of continuing with their unhealthy behavior: The evidence presented by experts is often downplayed or downrightly rejected. “This will not happen to my children” or “So what, everyone does it” are common justifications people give for their behavior. Make them conscious of this denial by pointing it out:

“Many of you will reject my claims thinking it is biased. You are most welcome to but remember you are only playing with the future of your child if you do not take action now. The best parents ensure their children get a nutritious, wholesome diet.” 

Every parent wants to be the best parent. You have now forced the audience to think twice and motivated them to make a positive change.

3. Resolve dissonance by giving them a solution: Don’t leave the audience suspended in a state of discomfort. Show them what they need to do now in place of their past behaviors. Here’s where you as a presenter can highlight the potential benefits of adopting your proposal and convince them to try it out. 

Cognitive Dissonance can be used in any presentation that seeks to bring about a change in audience’s lifestyle. A motivational speaker can motivate audience to adopt a new lifestyle to actualize their potential; a policy maker can convince government officials to bring out new policies, a marketer can convince clients to try out their proposal, etc. 

It’s a win, win situation for you as a presenter as well as your audience. Have you ever used this theory in your speech? Share with us how you did it in the comments below. 

About Author
Anuj Malhotra

A potter maniac, I live in a world inhabited by wizards and Marvel's superheroes. Writing is my defence mechanism (Mr. Freud, analyze this). Presentations are my new found love.

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