3 reasons to drop names, not take them

by | Jun 21, 2011 | Blog | 0 comments

Birth certificate of Gusto vom Schafshugel (Gustav the dog)--What a name!

Growing up in the Oklahoma countryside, I became familiar with the concept of “taking names” at an early age.

That’s because my father sang folk songs to me at bedtime. While Woody Guthrie’s “I Ride an Old Paint” was his standard, I also remember “Man Goin’ Roun’.”

In the version that Carl Sandburg sang, which influenced my dad, the song is not about hurting people, but dying. The song ends with the chilling line: ‘He’s God’s own census taker.”

Rather than do a riff here on subversive lyrics—especially for children—I’m just saying that years later I much prefer the act of dropping names, not taking them.

And while some people view name dropping as a bad habit, you should embrace it—especially in the context of presentations and other forms of persuasion.

In this situation, when you’re dropping names during a presentation or conversation, you’re sharing the sources that influenced you. From my perspective, the three key reasons to drop names are:

1. You practice integrity. By giving attribution to sources you’re quoting, paraphrasing, or drawing from, you demonstrate that you stand on the shoulders of others before you. You’re not a thief, stealing their work and either pretending it’s your own or hoping that someone assumes it’s yours.

2. You show goodwill. By freely acknowledging others, you display a spirit of generosity. This makes you more human and also vulnerable. You don’t know everything so you reach out to others who have helped shape your thinking and actions.

3. You know the value of social proof. This is the social psychology phenomenon in which people tend to conform to what others are thinking or doing, especially in ambiguous situations. (Think change.) When people aren’t sure of the correct way to act, they often look for cues from others to see what to do. So if you’re accurately quoting experts, people may be more inclined to accept what you’re saying.

How does this come into play? Pretend you’re at a conference listening to an alleged expert whom you’ve never met, or even heard of. The expert starts making all sorts of claims.

If you’re like most people, you’ll wonder: “Where did these facts come from? Did the speaker conduct the experiment himself or herself? Are these examples from the speaker’s direct experience or are they second hand? What’s behind the curtain?”

However, if the speaker cites the research, shares the source, or drops the name, the information is more believable and persuasive and the speaker is more credible.

At the recent IABC 2011 World Conference in San Diego, one of the speakers lost all credibility with me. She started her talk by quoting Dan Pink’s memorable line from his book Drive about “the mismatch between what science knows and what business does—and how that affects every aspect of life.” Only she didn’t mention Dan’s name or his book.

And I boycotted the talk by the speaker who liberally borrows from other thought leaders yet seldom acknowledges their contributions to his body of work.

Ironically, Dan, who’s a best-selling author, as well as other best-selling authors Chip Conley and Bill Taylor are always citing others. They’re accomplished in their own right, yet they’re always spreading the credit with others. This practice helps grease the skids for change.

How about you? Are you dropping names?

P.S. For a great book on persuasion, including the importance of evidence, check out The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas by G. Richard Shell and Mario Moussa.

If you have favorite sources of your own, please share.


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