Psychology of influencing a crowd

Covent Garden“Can everyone gather round please, I’ve got something to tell you.”

Phrases like this have been told throughout the ages as a preliminary to telling a story, making an announcement or giving a performance.

But there are sound psychological reasons for doing so:

Asking the crowd to come in closer to hear you speak is asking the crowd to do something. It’s a suggestion, and a first step towards influencing your audience.

If the crowd complies with your request, you have begun to exert control, which makes it more likely that the audience will comply with your next suggestion.

I work in London, and during my lunchtime visits to Covent Garden I have seen street performers putting this principle into practice.

The performer says they won’t start until all the people sitting down have moved forward at least a couple of spaces. After much coaxing by the performer, the large crowd stands up, moves forward, and then sits down again.

There are two advantages to this:

1. The crowd is now closer to the performer, and therefore easier to engage and control. It’s a fact that emotion is more infectious in a tightly packed crowd than in a dispersed one.

2. Though the crowd is still sitting down, they are now sitting down because he’s told them to. They are now sitting down on his terms – not theirs.

He now has control of the event and whatever subsequent requests he makes of his audience, they are far more likely to respond positively – as indeed they always do.

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