An Unusual Request – Public Speaking tip

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There are times in public speaking when you know making a request will only result in a refusal. It almost doesn’t matter what you want, it seems the answer is pre-programmed to come out as ’No’. It’s a killer for sales presentations, managers and anyone needing to influence at work.

But there is a way around this. You can bypass the automated answer and get the answer you need. You just need to think a few steps ahead. 

The Pique Technique

The pique technique is the use of an unusual request in order to obtain compliance. The idea behind this is that if you ask for something they are not expecting they will want to know why you are asking for it and therefore give you an opportunity to engage them further.

Once you have your audience engaged – there is more chance of them completing an action you request.

The Evidence

In 1994 a psychological experiment put this technique to the test. A beggar was given a task to ask members of the public for some small change. Originally the beggar asked them “Do you have any small change?” 44% of those he asked gave change.

Then the research team asked the man to ask those passing by for a specific amount, this time a quarter. The number of people who responded and gave the man money increased to 64%.

The homeless man was then asked to request a more precise amount, 17 or 37 cents. Again the number of those willing to give money increased to 75%. The unusual request was engaging the audience. (This experiment has been repeated a number of times under different conditions.)

The Reason

The reason why this worked is because the recipient disrupted their usual cognitive patterns of ‘say no to beggars’. This caused them to stop and think about the request and why the beggar was asking for it. This in turns makes them think about complying with the request.

Once your audience has been engaged you have a higher chance of further communicating and explaining the benefits to them.

The application

You can use this technique everyday in your leadership and presentations or any public speaking situation. Say for instance you are presenting to a potential client about your services. It is often the case you would demonstrate what benefits your service offers them. The figure percentage you use either ends in 0 or 5. They are nice round numbers which are better understood.

However, if you present it and said you could improve productivity by 17% it would make more of an impact. Your audience will automatically stop and think about the figure you are giving them. This allows for the figure, the vital benefit of your business, to be properly absorbed and understood by the audience – instead of being glossed over because that figure or one like it is to be expected.

The same can be said if you are talking to your staff to request a certain task to be done. Instead of asking them if they can complete the task, instruct them to complete a very specific but unusual task. For instance, “can you write 227 tweets for the marketing department?”

It is a very specific number, something which will have your audience concentrating on the number not on your request and have them stop to think about your request, instead of disregarding it automatically.

A common ask is also when giving a length of time for work to be completed. If you want to give a specific deadline, instead of saying the usual three o’clock or half past four try for something like ten past ten or ten to two.

Improving the Uptake

Once you have engaged the audience you can increase the uptake of your request and improve production within your business. An important aspect of this is ensuring you are giving a specific reason why you would like the work to be completed.

In the experiment, those that did not request any further information only complied with the request for some small change 23.2% of the time.

Those who were presented with a vague reason why the person needed the money complied with the request 71.4% of the time. If there was a very specific reason (i.e. I need the money to buy some food) the compliance was increased to 75.9%.

Therefore you should be prepared to have a very specific reason for those seeking further information. For instance, you need a certain number of tweets because that will give your marketing department six days worth of output, or you can promise to improve a client’s profits by a certain amount because no other client has received less than that amount.

Giving a reason why you need those tweets may have your team deliver even greater results than you requested.

By using the experiments and the thought processes above you can implement this to your leadership at work. This is done by having a process where you identify what task you want to have completed and then requesting it in a method that does not seem generic.

Once you have requested it, to ensure you have a higher uptake and your workforce give you more – have a very specific reason why you need the work to be done.


The pique technique is not always the best solution. Sometimes making too much of an unusual request may have your request rejected without question. For instance, requesting a 10,000 word report written within 2 hours 10 minutes is unlikely to have your team performing well.

However, making reasonable but unusual requests and statements, ones which your competitors and peers will be hesitant to make, will increase the uptake of the actions you want to happen. Try it next time you are in a public speaking or presentation setting.

This is one method in which you can achieve your business goals in less time because your work and that of your team is becoming more motivated and efficient.

Posted in leadership, public speaking

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  • Shaun O’Reilly

    Great content!

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