Why the Principle of Scarcity Can Inspire Persuasive Speech Audiences

Posted by Bridget Beirne
June 23, 2014

by Bridget Beirne



How many times have you opened your mailbox to find a flier proclaiming a "One Day Sale"? The insinuation that you will miss out on never-to-be-lower prices should you not act FAST is loudly proclaimed in large fonts and bright colors. They're practically GIVING it away!

Now, admit it- you probably give those fliers an extra look, thoughtfully considering if you should, in fact, take advantage of this most scarce of deals.

We don't like to miss out. If we know something is exclusive, or time-sensitive, or easily lost, we want to get our slice of the pie before it's gone. This human need to "act now!" is discussed in Robert B. Cialdini's article, "Harnessing the Science of Persuasion". As a persuasive and motivational tool, the Principle of Scarcity can truly light a fire under people. Look at this study Cialdini quotes that illustrates our reactions to scarcity and exclusivity:


"A doctoral student of mine, Amram Knishinsky, wrote his 1982
dissertation on the purchase decisions of wholesale beef buyers. He
observed that they more than doubled their orders when they were
told that, because of certain weather conditions overseas, there was
likely to be a scarcity of foreign beef in the near future. But their
orders increased 600% when they were informed that no one else
had that information yet."


principle-of-scarcity-persuasive-speechesWe are inspired to "act now" when we fear something is going away, and exponentially more inclined to do so when we feel we are the only ones informed of the impending doom. Think about another form of advertising, the "As Seen on TV" ad- many show a countdown clock which ticks off an ever-declining availability of product. They are encouraging you to race to the phone (or the website...) by conjuring images of empty warehouses and unfulfilled need.

And it works.

We are even more compelled when the presentation of scarcity involves loss language, rather than potential savings. While that One Day Sale is intriguing thanks to its offer of potential savings, studies have shown that we have an even greater response when we're told that we could possibly LOSE money if we don't take advantage of said offer. Again, from Cialdini:


"The power of “loss language”
was demonstrated in a 1988 study of California home owners
written up in the Journal of Applied Psychology. Half were told that if
they fully insulated their homes, they would save a certain amount
of money each day. The other half were told that if they failed to
insulate, they would lose that amount each day. Significantly more
people insulated their homes when exposed to the loss language."


The beauty of the Principle of Scarcity is that, when used with care, it can greatly influence your professional presentations and persuasive speeches. Studies, sales, and ads aside, we know that we are motivated to act by the thought of scarcity in our daily lives. (Heck, look how folks reacted when they thought they'd never see a Twinkie again!) As Cialdini points out with all of the Principles, you must use them responsibly and with honesty. Insincere, manipulated, or fabricated pressure of scarcity can not only backfire, but undermine your overall credibility and professionalism. So, how can you use this idea to sincerely persuade and inspire your audience to action? Here are some examples:


1)  Be open to loss language: This may be scary for some, because sharing potential savings with an audience can make a speaker feel like a hero. However, especially in a scenario that calls for a bit of truth-telling, look to loss language. Analyze how you want your audience to feel about your content to determine whether or not you may be presenting in a situation that would benefit from loss language.


2) True exclusivity is good: Sharing a new, updated, or original piece of data with your audience? Good for you! Let them know that they are getting an exclusive, first-hand, inside look at this knowledge- you're allowing them into the club. However, remember that exclusivity must be genuine- tell multiple audiences that they are the first or "one and only", and you will make them feel hoodwinked rather than special.


3) Time is always a factor: Just like the One Day Sale, be clear and definite about the timeline on which you would like your audience to operate. Need them to make a timely decision? Let them know rather than giving a fuzzy estimate: "To keep from losing this amount, we need to take action this quarter." "The next three weeks will see a huge change in the field." Remember, the ticking clock is a great motivator.


Want to learn more about the Principles of Persuasion? Check out our thoughts on Likability, Reciprocity and Authority!


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