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April 16, 2024

An Equation for Effective Persuasion

Tom Sullivan

I would like to share an excerpt of my chapter in a new book that was just published by Leaders Press: Pivotal Leadership – A Masterclass in Innovation and Persuasion. The book is a collection of insights and key learnings drawn from the careers and personal experiences of CEO’s, entrepreneurs, and other leaders. 

In the chapter, “The Path to Persuasive Leadership”, I share my personal journey, including some failures, that served as a source of motivation for improvement. With improved skills and greater confidence, I was empowered to think bigger and take worthwhile risks. I hope you will benefit from this excerpt which is a more pragmatic approach that summarizes my “Equation for Persuasion”. 

This is the equation I offer up to help you remember the factors that must come together to achieve effective persuasion:

P = (M + K + C) x AU

In this equation,  

  • P is Persuasion 
  • M is Messenger 
  • K is Knowledge 
  • C is Conviction 
  • AU is Audience Understanding 


So, effective persuasion is the result of the Messenger (M), plus knowledge (K), plus Conviction (C), multiplied by Audience Understanding (AU). Essentially, I believe that it all starts with a deep understanding of the needs and best interests of the audience you want to engage. That’s where persuasion strategy starts. But it also strongly depends on who the messenger (M) is—the reputation and character of the messenger. You have to have a trusted messenger, which is both a trusted brand and a knowledgeable, trusted representative. And that brand messenger needs to be equipped with cutting-edge knowledge to be able to truly share something of value that benefits the audience.


Conviction is the C in the equation, and it separates out the good communicators and persuaders from the pack. The best communicators have strong convictions in their value propositions and in their relational intent. Sharing quality information with conviction, respect, and with passion creates trust and emotional bonds. I recommend that you ask yourself a few questions before engaging with a prospect. “Are you sincere? Are you authentic? Do you really believe what you’re saying? Are you open to new ideas and a dialogue with an audience?” In my view, successful communication is shared, it’s organic, it’s rhythmic—it’s a relationship. For me, the best communicators with conviction were Jesus, Gandhi, and Martin Luther King. They all changed the world. They were effective messengers with strong convictions, but they were also completely authentic. They communicated with people with humility, and related to people where they were at. That’s why they were masters that changed the world. 


Remember always, the multiplier variable is AU – Audience Understanding. You need to know your audience. Ask yourself, what are their needs? What are their interests? What do they need from you? You want them to give you their time and attention. That is valuable. So, you better give them something valuable.   

Tom Sullivan
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Tom Sullivan is an accomplished business leader and brand marketing professional who brings together business, government, and non-profit experience to accelerate growth and advance positive change. He has led brand transformations and go-to-market initiatives for Fortune 1000 companies, major banks and financial institutions, hospitals, government entities, universities, and start-ups. He has worked with over twenty community banks with assets from $500 million to $50 billion and is dedicated to advancing the growth and success of community banks and the communities they serve. Tom has also advanced innovative programs and expansion initiatives for many non-profits, including Special Olympics New Jersey, and First Lady, Michele Obama’s Partnership for a Healthier America (Let’s Move Campaign).

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