Telling your community or customers what to do doesn’t work. I’ve seen people try this over and over again in community and business. Traditional conferences are the worst for this, where some sort of expert spews a bunch of facts and tells the audience what to do.


Two things happen when you tell a conference audience what to do:

  1. The audience who does know the person, like the person, trust the person, or already agree with the facts will listen and agree.
  2. The audience who doesn’t like the person, trust the person, or agree with the content will not listen and not agree.
The two groups will debate the facts about this after the conference and nothing will change. Facts don’t change minds and telling people what to do doesn’t work. There’s oodles psychological research on this. Telling people what to do is what dictators, and politicians, and bully’s do, it’s called oppression. It may work short term, but eventually people will revolt.

Here’s an example of why telling people what to do doesn’t work:

My good friend Emily Legrand, an outdoor play consultant, often suggests imagining adult behavior as an expression of the inner child.
Let’s experiment with this.

Ever try telling a fiesty toddler what to do? Does it work? Of course not!

So what do people typically do with a toddler instead of telling them what to do?
  1. Ask them leading questions
  2. Inspire them with a story
  3. Lead by example and do something else that will compel the toddler to join
  4. You invite them to join in something else
  5. Incentivize them (not ideal)

Disclaimer: I’m not a parent yet, nor am I recommending these options, these are what I observe that works.

These toddler strategies work for someone who already trusts you. What if you tried telling a toddler who didn’t know you what to do? Would they listen? Not likely! They’d likely do something else, have a tantrum, cry, or run away.

Building a customer base or community is no different. Telling people what to do is the least effective way to persuade people to change their behaviour.