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Past or future - which is more persuasive?

By Kim Harrison,

Consultant, Author and Principal of

If you are promoting a product or trying for a new job, do you focus on your past performance or on potential? The answer to this has been revealed by recent research.

Researchers at Stanford University put this matter to the test in a couple situations. Job applications where two candidates had almost identical qualifications and experience were assessed by a panel. The candidate whose CV scored highly on a leadership potential test was chosen over the candidate whose CV showed highly on a leadership assessment test.

Also, to test this in a consumer environment, a study was conducted among users of a social media website. Facebook users were shown a series of quotes about a comedian. Quotes about his potential drew more general interest, measured by click through rates and likes, compared with information about his actual performances.

The conclusion from the researchers was that if supporting information is provided immediately after attention is focused on potential (eg a testimonial from a trusted source or some other type of persuasive message), people are more likely to develop a more favorable attitude or impression to what is being offered.

This is important for job interviews and also for product or service promotions. First highlight the potential you will bring to the role rather than starting off by discussing your previous experience.

Similarly, if you want to increase the chances that your products and services appear more attractive to future clients and consumers, it would be wise to consider how to position messages in a way that first focuses a client’s or consumer’s attention on the potential future benefits that you offer them as opposed to what has been previously achieved.


About the Author

Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website,, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.


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