Lead with Pain, Point to the Pleasure

Photo by  nikko macaspac  on  Unsplash

If you want to get your customers to change their mindset and take bold action on your idea or proposal, which is the more powerful motivator to tap: pain or pleasure?


But you should lead with the pain and then point to the pleasure.

Here’s what I mean.

When you begin your talk (or sales demonstration) by addressing the pain your customers are experiencing, you grab their attention. They have this visceral reaction of “Yes! That’s exactly what I’m feeling. You understand me! So … what do you have to say or offer that can help me?”

That’s because, all things being equal, we’re more motivated to avoid pain than pursue pleasure. While pleasure represents a “nice-to-have” benefit, pain stirs up intense negative emotions that incite immediate action—an “I-must-change” attitude.

Think of the distinction like this.

If we're struggling with weight gain, we might desire the benefits (or pleasure points) of losing weight—such as improving our appearance, feeling more energy to play with the kids, and boosting our self-esteem and confidence in all other areas of our lives.

But are any of these benefits powerful enough to compel us to change habits (such as eating less, exercising more, etc.)?

Sometimes, but not likely.

The benefits of weight loss may elicit a sense within us that we SHOULD change, but not that we MUST change. We need the "must" factor to gain leverage over ourselves to push through our inertia—the desire to maintain status quo—so that we do something about our eating or exercising habits.

But once we’ve accepted that we must change and have committed to take the first step toward that goal, we’re able to see and believe the possibilities—the pleasure points—of who we will become and what we can attain by changing our behavior.

And that’s why after leading with pain, you point to the pleasure. It nudges your audience toward their aspirations, giving them a specific direction to move towards.

The Stick and Carrot

Say, for example, that I want to inspire you to break out of your comfort zone and start giving more speeches to grow your business. How would I apply this principle of “lead with pain, point to the pleasure”?

I would first tap into you pain—the fear that might be holding you back from achieving your full potential as an entrepreneur.

You know deep-down that giving speeches is a great way for you to boost your exposure and credibility in the industry, but you're scared to death of public speaking.

Your mind is flooded with doubts. “What if I blow it? How would failure build my credibility? Wouldn’t that just make me—and my business—look bad?”

If you're apprehensive about public speaking, you’re definitely not alone. Forty million Americans are so terrified of speaking to a group that they'd do almost anything to avoid it. In fact, according to an oft-cited study done by Brushkin-Goldring, more people said they feared public speaking than even death.

Yet, as an entrepreneur, can you afford to allow this fear to hold you back? Think about it. How much business are you leaving on the table right now by NOT being out there speaking? How much money do you think this fear will cost you and your company if you continue to succumb to it?

I would then point to your aspirations to set the stage for my proposed solution.

With the right mindset, a strong message, and thorough preparation, you can gain the confidence you need to overcome the fear of public speaking and open doors to new business opportunities you never imagined possible before.

How? Here are five tips (or whatever solution I’m going to propose) …

The Bottom Line

If you want to capture your audience’s attention, first tap into their pain to get them to feel, deeply, that the status quo is unacceptable. Then point them to your content, ideas, product, or service as the elixir that can help take that pain away.

Sean M. Lyden is CEO of Lyden Communications LLC, a Strategy and Storytelling consultancy that helps entrepreneurs tap into the power of story to grow their business.

The Next Step

If you'd like to learn how to build up your story muscles, then join me on this journey to becoming a stronger communicator by subscribing below to receive my best posts sent to your inbox.

And you can also connect with me directly via email at sean@lydencommunications.com.