Environmental Manipulation: A Secret Of The Most Influential Influencers

Environmental Manipulation

In one example of environmental manipulation, real estate agents bake bread for open houses.

You’re in a comfortable, chic executive boardroom. You’re sitting at a polished hardwood table, enjoying the smell of fresh brewed coffee. You’ve gathered a few colleagues this morning to discuss an idea you’ve worked on for months. How do you use your environment to make sure your audience is receptive, relaxed and motivated to listen?

If you want to be an effective speaker, you’ll need to recognise that the environment matters. Whether we notice it or not, little changes to sensory perception have a big influence on your listeners’ perception of message value.

This is environmental psychology.

When you want to influence someone consider these concepts of environmental manipulation.


Think of the last time you entered the cinema. As you enter, the room is lit in low light even before the film begins. This is about setting the tone. The owners understand how manipulating the environment manipulates the people and the effectiveness of the experience.

By keeping the room at low light the cinema goers tend to be quiet and respectful so everyone can watch the movie in quiet and focus on the screen.

Pay attention the next time you enter the cinema room. You’ll notice hushed tones of people speaking. You’ll probably naturally keep your voice quiet. It’s all part of environmental manipulation by the cinema owners.

When you present, you need to understand how natural light plays a role in your message.

For example, if you are trying to control the audience, having the bright light behind you will put you in a position of power. As the light shines in from behind you, the audience will have trouble seeing you while you will have no issue seeing them.

Everything people see when they enter the room to watch you speak affects you and your presentation.

It’s common to have the introductory slide showing on a PowerPoint as you wait for everyone to enter the room. People usually put their name, the date and relevant information on the slide to give the audience information they already know (and don’t really care too much about anyway.).

To get people curious and intrigued show them a series of images or photograph that are relevant to your message. Get them thinking even before the presentation begins.

What do they see on the walls? What is on their chairs? How would you use this in a sales environment?

Manipulate everything the audience sees before, during and after your presentation. You can use your surroundings to your benefit.

It’s the first step to winning them over and getting them on board with what you’re selling.


Thinking back to cinema, there is often soft music playing in the background as you enter the quiet room. It’s another way the owners get visitors to remain relaxed and quiet in the lead up to the film.

With music, you can set the exact right tone for your presentation.

I had a professor at a university Who before each of his lecture would play music as the students enter the hall.

I used to think the music is just a collection of favourite songs. I later found out that he was using the music to get everyone in the right frame of mind for the lesson.

Up-tempo songs get people excited and eager to participate in discussion. Soothing music relaxes people and frees the mind to focus on tasks such as taking an exam. Fast loud music is used at the gym to keep people working out and to push through the pain barrier. It all helps.

Outside noise also has a big influence on the way people respond to messages. Imagine sitting in a conference room watching a presenter only to hear laughter coming from the room next door.

Noise is distracting. The best communicators understand that they need to control all noise that may influence their message. They don’t want the audience to become distracted.

Quiet is a tool of sound you can use to your advantage.

Think about the quiet reverence of church. The setting is designed to limit sound. People naturally become quiet because the chapel amplifies anything they say. The audience remains quiet while the leader’s voice commands attention.

Controlling your environment means manipulating the sounds your audience hears before during and after the presentation.

It all influences their interpretation of what you say and it affects how they will respond when it comes time to buy.

Touch, Scent & Taste

Real estate agents are some of the best professionals when it comes to staging an environment. They have been known to bake fresh bread for an open house. The smell, touch and taste of the bread makes potential buyers feel at home.

It’s an inexpensive way to get people in the right mood. Often that is all you need to get people over the hurdle when making a large purchase decision.

At the cinema, the smell of popcorn has become part of the experience. The smell makes people hungry. The act of eating a tasty snack occupies the mind while people wait for the film to begin. Popcorn is more than just a way for the cinema to make money. It’s a way to control the environment.

As your audience enters the room the items they touch, smell and taste all influence their mood. It’s common for presenters to provide coffee in advance of the presentation.

Coffee is warm to the touch. The aroma of the drink is rich and distinctive. The taste is hot and soothing.

The seats in the room are important. When people are relaxed and comfortable they aren’t thinking about their chairs. They’re thinking about you and what you’re saying.

Before your presentation, sit where your audience will sit. Experience the environment just as they will when they enter the room. Listen to a presentation ahead of yours and get a feel for how your audience will be affected by surrounding elements. A simple thing such as having the seats too close together will put your audience off. After all, none of us are comfortable when we have others in our personal space.

Environmental manipulation isn’t about what you say, but how you appeal to all five senses while you are saying it. Psychologists have extensively studied this as an underlying source of hierarchy in social relationships. Think about these elements of environmental psychology as you set about influencing others.

Image: Pen Waggener

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