The Three Phase of Influence

The Three Phase of Influence

public speaking, project management, community building


5 min read

The framework

The three phase of influence framework applies in many scenarios. I'm going to tell you what it is in the original form and how to apply it in other scenarios.

I firstly learned it from a public speaking workshop. There are three steps of "tell":

  • Tell them what you are going to tell them
  • Tell them
  • Telll them what you have told them

Puting this in the context of presentation, you can think of the slides flow as below:

  • Agenda
  • Content: Section 1, Section 2, Section 3, ...
  • Conclusion

Puting this in the context of managing a customer-facing project, there are a few typical meetings:

  • Kick-off: can be a simple 30min chat, or a few discovery/ scoping meetings.
  • Get things done: set up a cadence (weekly/ monthly) to keep things in sync.
    • For longer span projects, there may be quarterly/ yearly review meetings with senior stakeholders to gather feedback and ask for resources.
  • Debrief: a quick meeting to wrap up the project, usually focusing on WHAT (impact measure), to influence senior stakeholders from both organisations. Also a good opportunity to acknowledge contributions from the team (shout-out).
    • Depending on the size of people engaged in the project, sometimes a wrap-up email is preferred.


In a loosely coupled team (e.g. community/ society/ club/ association), the leaders must dedicate significant time in communications (PR), in order to orchestrate the crowd. Sometimes the communication effort is way larger than working on stuffs.

A community usually emerges from one individual that has a clear identity -- aka demonstrating certain traits that are easy to follow. When the size of community reaches certain level, it is difficult to maintain the culture by simple word of mouth channels, so a steering committee core may emerge to keep driving the vision of mission.

One common challenge faced by initiators is how to influence the community participants, so the steering committee is undoubtedly perceived as the leaders.

The key is: leading without authority.

The prospects of steering committee must initiate some time-bounded projects that bears the same vision of the community. The prospects spend time socializing in the community to get buy-in and rally a team to deliver the project. Lastly, the prospects leverage announcement channels to get recognition from the community.

After gaining positive feedback from the community, the prospect merges into the core, aka initiator & onboarded prospect, aka the candidate of steering community.

The first and third steps can be done by the core. In this way, a personal identity can grow into a collective brand -- The core effectively transfers her personal credit into the hands of prospects. In return, the collection of prospects becomes the undoubted leader of the community, and grow it to a new height.

Just to recap the framework:

  • Prospect claims ownership areas, usually starting with a time-bounded/ clearly measured project with specific OKR. Core announces to the community of such uptaking and helps to recruit a team.
  • Prospect leads the team to deliver the project. In a loosely coupled community without management chain, building concensus and managing uncertainty are the key challenges. Prospect makes sure plan B is always at hand and is ready to fulfill the project on her own in the worst case.
  • After the project, core announces to the community about the achievements and clearly shout-out the efforts from prospect. The prospect who leads the project is also suggested to shout-out her team, to pass on the positive energy.

There are some common caveats when leveraging this framework especially when the would-be-team is new:

  • The vision and mission are not clearly communicated before gaining momentum. The projects initiated by prospects may not fall into a coherent frame. Initiator needs to keep in mind that there is never any over communication about vision and mission. Each communication of vision and mission is also an opportunity to gather show-of-hands interest to work together.
  • Core (initiator & onboarded prospects) overlooks each individual's personal interest and focuses solely on community's vision and mission. The challenge is that most people do not well articulate her fundamental interest. Some cultures even discourage to express explicitly, to avoid being perceived as pragmatic. In order to drive the community go further, the initiator must encourage such expression among prospects to truly understand each individual. This phase of information gathering could take a very very very long time and the efforts often result in vain. Towards this end, the initiator & onboarded prospect must collectively control the pacing, making sure each new prospect is fully onboarded.
  • Prospect is too eager to stand out, and distracts the community with many non-informative interim updates. Or the prospect directly initiates phase 3 without the help of core. One thing to note about effective communication is that what people hear/ remember is more important than what one says. The same effort could be more impressive when presented by initiator & onbaorded prospects, who are well bought in by the community. One can leverage the core to gain the power of collective brand.
  • Prospect overlooks the importance of saying no. Some cultures even encourage people to stay quiet, to be nice and friendly. During the show-of-hands stage, initiator fails to differentiate a simple message loss or an expression of no interest. After multiple such iterations, the initiator learns to either involve a new group, or expands an existing group, so as to increase the probability of show-of-hands. It is worth to note that EVERYONE owns the community, so everyone has the responsibility to explicitly express no-interest/ disagreement/ disatisfaction, so as to collectively shape the future. Or it will be weird trying to own something one does not buy in at all. True leaders never mind confrontation and always appreciate revealing miscommunication/ misalignment/ mismanagement at early phases, because every conversation is a precious opportunity to build up consensus, or even helps to polish/ uplevel the vision once more -- every talk counts. On the other hand, gossiping is more worrysome.

The wrap

We have discussed the three phases of influence approach in different scenarios. Besides getting things done, communication is a key element of one project. By leveraging effective communication channels, one can drive more awareness and get support for future projects. Communication is also a key method to lead without authority. We have also discussed some caveats in a loosely coupled community, because it requires certain trust level and some effort between the core and prospect to coordinate the three phases. No effort of communication is wasted, as consensus building is a constant in driving communities.

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