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How do we give our ideas credibility?

Psychologically sticky ideas are believable – they have both ‘internal credibility’ (they make sense, and are not self-contradictory) and ‘external credibility’ (they have proof or authority to support them). So make your idea psychologically sticky, make sure it makes sense, and offer proof by example, proof by numbers, or proof by authority – or anti-authority. In other words, use an image of a dying smoker to ‘prove’ smoking is bad for you, or use reviews and popularity as proof you’re as good as you say you are. This is going with the idea that letting people try-before-they-buy, acts as a way of proving that what they’re about to get is actually worth it.

Looking at this in more detail, these are some of the key ways to achieve credibility:

  • Use an anti-authority
  • Use concrete details
  • Use statistics
  • Use something called the Sinatra Test

Anti-authority: You can use a dying smoker to make the point that smoking isn’t good for you. Or, consider the scientist that could not get anyone to believe that bacteria was causing ulcers: He swallowed the bacteria himself and demonstrated his theory to be correct. Or another example would be a non-profit that claimed to turn homeless people into useful workers. They would send a car around to pick up prospective donors and employers of their clients. The trick: Their driver, unknown to the donors until later, was a former homeless person.

Details: We don’t always have an external authority who can vouch for our message; most of the time our messages have to vouch for themselves. They must have “internal credibility.” A person’s knowledge of small details is often a good proxy for expertise. For example, a study revealed that potential jurors were more likely to grant custody in a case where they had lots of detail provided.

Statistics: This is a timeless and standard way to make a point, but it also needs to be used correctly. Statistics are rarely meaningful on their own. Statistics will, and should, almost always be used to illustrate a relationship. It’s more important for people to remember the relationship than the number. Use them as input, not output.

The Sinatra Test: “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere…” – The Sinatra Test, a principle of credibility, embodies this phrase. It implies that if you have one HUGE example, your audience will assume that you can take care of their needs without question.  For instance, if you’ve got the security contract for Fort Knox, you’re in the running for any security contract (even if you have no other clients). If you catered a White House function, you can compete for any catering contract. It’s the Sinatra Test: if you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.

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