How to influence individuals to drive action on the Sustainable Development Goals

Last week we ran our first skill-builder workshop focused on influencing people to drive action for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with Charlotte and Jo from creative change agency, Impact. In this blog we share three areas of learning from the day.

UKSSD was to pilot a new type of event offering last week, thanks to the support of Jo and Charlotte from Impact. Our half-day workshop aimed at building the skills of attendees to help them drive action on the Goals by influencing internal or external stakeholders (by ‘influence’, we mean getting a positive outcome or your desired response from your interaction with them).

We had a room of 20 hosted at Herbert Smith Freehills in London and crammed in a lot during the four-hour session. Here are three areas of learning from the day that will help anyone with their influencing activities.

1. Know your audience

During an exciting and challenging insights game we learnt to understand the character traits of our audience and what they want to hear, be they decisive and goal focused, detailed and logical, or calm and diplomatic. We need to understand what the audience wants to hear and how to communicate it in order to get the reaction we need. Using insights, it’s possible to categorise people by certain character traits or preferences to help with this.

2. Use a personal story

When public speaking or presenting, we’re often told that this is best when there is a balance of evidence and emotion, backing up statistical or factual statements with stories or statements that trigger an emotional response. The same is true of communications with individuals when you are trying to trigger a certain response. We explored this in groups within the workshop, and it’s surprisingly hard to place a personal twist on the information – this is where knowing your audience is useful, so you know what might trigger an emotional response in them, and indeed whether it’s something they respond well to.

3. Understanding individuals takes times

There was a reoccurring theme throughout the afternoon; how do you influence someone when you hardly know them? How do you get someone to engage with your ideas when you don’t know what might appeal to them? The answer was simple, you can’t. It’s an iterative process that means you need to take the time to learn what works with certain audiences and adjust your own communications in response. This is a crucial for all of us who are trying to support action and raise awareness of the Goals – whether you’re trying to influence Government, businesses or an individual in your organisation. 

Overall we had a great response to the workshop and as one attendee reflected, it was the right balance of comfortable and challenging self-reflection.