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Christina Hession

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The persuasion principles


Got an upcoming presentation? Have a read of these great tips from Toastmasters' Christina Hession.

If you are delivering training, then by definition, you are, on some level, attempting to persuade people to do or change something. To succeed, therefore, you need to master the art of persuasion. Benjamin Franklin noted “if you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect”. In other words, you must identify with your audience. In 1950, theorist Kenneth Burke said in his book ‘A Rhetoric of Motives’, that in order to persuade an audience, you have to overcome the natural divisions that separate you from the audience members and find common ground. Your audience must like, trust and respect you before they will adopt your ideas.

How you present your message will depend on who your audience is. An audience will invariably comprise of several personality types from the agreeable to the visibly hostile. Be aware of their various expectations. ‘What’s in it for me?’ is the question listeners to your presentation will ask themselves most often. Discount it at your peril. Ask yourself why should an audience listen to your presentation and, most importantly, what do you want them to do as a result of listening to you? Structure your presentation on points of relevance and concern for your audience to ensure maximum success.

Here are ten tips to help you persuade audiences to support your views:

  • Purpose: Be very clear about the purpose of your presentation. Do you want to inform, motivate, entertain or inspire? Or is it a combination of all four? What do you want the audience to think, feel or do as a result of your talk? If you don’t know what you want your presentation to achieve, don’t blame the audience for looking confused or asking you what it was about.
  • Sincerity: Be authentic. Do you engage your audience with passion and conviction about a subject which interests them? Can you believably sell its benefits? Remember, smarm and swagger will only make an audience suspicious of your intentions.
  • Authority: This is Aristotle’s first component of effective persuasion in his book ‘On Rhetoric’. He called this ‘ethos’ and this comes from your own experience and reputation in your chosen area. Be sure to inform your audience of your speciality and qualifications in a brief introduction before your presentation.
  • Logic: Another one of Aristotle’s three essential components of effective persuasion, which he referred to as ‘logos’. This can be achieved in a number of ways, for example, a) linear reasoning - set out a number of individual aspects of the particular problem, before linking them to their causes and solutions, or alternatively b) fact-based thinking - include relevant statistics and cite credible sources for your assertions.
  • Speak to the heart: Aristotle called this ‘pathos’. Make a point, then tell a story. Audiences love personal stories and anecdotes, because they engage our emotions. Don’t be afraid to tell a story which exposes your vulnerability, because it will enhance your connection with your audience. We can all relate to the person who has struggled to overcome a fear or a life challenge.
  • ‘You-Focused’: Make your presentation ‘you-focused’, in other words focused on your audience. Using the word ‘you’ instead of ‘I’ or ‘me’, makes your presentation more personal and conversational. It shifts the attention away from you and ensures that the audience feels that you are speaking to them individually.
  • Humour: Humour is a very effective device in engaging and connecting with an audience. This is especially true if your presentation is statistic-heavy. It will serve to lighten the tone, but I must sound a word of caution here; humour should not be bawdy, politically incorrect or poke fun at audience members. Leave that for your stand-up routine. Err on the side of caution, and sprinkle your presentation with self-deprecating humour. Eliminate gaps in your audience by getting your audience to sit closer together. Laughter causes a ripple effect.
  • Empathy: Get your presentation off to a flying start by researching your audience. Who are they? What are their needs and expectations? Is there a current issue causing strife in the company that you should know about? Will the audience comprise people from different cultures? At your presentation venue take some time to mingle with your audience members. If possible, ensure the seating is arranged to facilitate maximum participation with your presentation, as close to the speaking area as possible.
  • Delivery: When you stand in front of an audience, pause and smile. A smile is like your personal handshake with the audience. It relaxes you and the audience, and the audience will reciprocate and be open to your ideas. Speak firmly at a measured rate and vary the pitch to engage and persuade the audience. Establishing direct eye contact with your audience will also help achieve this.
  • Confidence: Your presentation begins from the minute you leave your seat to walk to the podium. Walking with your head up and back straight will convey to the audience that you are a speaker who is confident with your subject matter. Assuming an assured stance at the podium is also important. Stand tall with your feet slightly apart and your weight evenly distributed on each foot to convey confidence and poise. A confident speaker is a persuasive speaker.

Christina Hession is a member of Phoenix-Tara Toastmasters and Naas Toastmasters in Ireland and has achieved Advanced Communicator Gold & Advanced Leadership Bronze and is District 71 Toastmaster of the Year, 2013. Toastmasters International is a nonprofit educational organisation that teaches public speaking and leadership skills through a worldwide network of meeting locations. Headquartered in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, the organisation’s membership exceeds 292,000 in more than 14,350 clubs in 122 countries.


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