How Presenters can Persuade with Power

This post is part of a series of posts aimed at PMO professionals ahead of my keynote Public Speaking Demystified at the Future PMO Conference on October 17th in Hammersmith.

A fortnight ago, when discussing informative speeches, I also mentioned that most speeches or presentations either seek to inform or persuade an audience. Persuasion immediately triggers images of sleazy salespersons and manipulation. However, it is much broader than this common stereotype. Moreover, whether we like it or not, the ability to persuade is a skill that can make a difference. This is especially true for project management professionals when that project you’ve been working on goes wrong.

What is persuasion?

Let’s go straight to the definition of persuasion to frame our approach. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, persuasion is:

“The action or process of persuading someone or of being persuaded to do or believe something.”

The three keywords here are “someone”, “process” and “something”. The first word reminds us that persuasion is about our audience and not us. It may seem like common sense, but it is not rare for speakers to sometime forget this core principle when seeking to sell a product or service. Persuasion is not only about how great you are but about your audience’s unmet needs and desires. The second word indicates that persuasion is a journey that we must take our audience members on. This journey could be logical or emotional and should form the core of your presentation. The third word tells us that we need to put a clear idea forward. A concept which harks back to the ‘central idea’ of a speech or presentation that I mentioned in an earlier post. If what you are talking about is not clearly defined, forget about persuading others.

How to craft a persuasive presentation

To take the audience on a journey with you. You can use several approaches to craft a strong persuasive speech. One early decision that you need to make is whether or not you want to persuade using logic, emotions or both at the same time. Some approaches lend themselves more to logic and others lend themselves better to emotions.

  • Problem/Solution: This approach can be very useful for pitches of all kinds and can use a mixture of logic and emotions to win the argument. The main body of the speech will consist of logical arguments backed up by facts and figures. Stories and anecdotes are best used at the start and finish to engage the audience and complement logical arguments. Monroe’s Motivated sequence developed in the 1930s is a variant of this approach.
  • Proposition and proof: This is a very logical approach that states a proposition upfront and then uses a series of arguments to back it up. Could be very useful to explain why a project went wrong and why a corrective course of action is needed. Stories and anecdotes would fit in towards the end to link back to the initial proposition.
  • Compare & Contrast: Better suited to longer presentations where you have the time to go through many solutions or challenges in turn. Can be weaved using storytelling techniques depending on the idea or topic being presented. Potential for audience engagement is high if the subject is familiar and presented in simple terms.

Regardless of which approach you choose, remember that the burden of proof falls on you. Everything you do or say while presenting will impact on your credibility and how your audience perceives you. It is easy for an audience member with a smartphone to challenge any fact in your presentation.

Want to persuade? Avoid these pitfalls

In a previous article about informative speeches, I encouraged readers to keep the content of their speeches and presentations simple. This also applies to persuasive speaking and is in fact even more crucial there. If you wish to persuade with a complicated argument, make sure that you explain it in terms simple enough for a 14 years old schoolkid to understand. Use analogies and metaphors as needed.

A similar pitfall is to include too many facts and too much logic in a persuasive speech. Firstly, you run the risk of including so much information that your speech will be too long for the time you have allocated to speak. Secondly, you need to leave time for your audience to process and understand what you say. Providing too much information could create confusion and thus weaken your arguments. Thirdly, its best to be prepared for potential questions from the audience so keep some points in reserve.

The final and perhaps most crucial pitfall to avoid is not to research your audience beforehand. Persuading a hostile audience requires a slightly different approach to an agreeable audience or even an uninformed one. The last thing you want is not to have a response ready if challenged by an audience member. Should this happen, your burden of proof is gone and your credibility may not recover.

See you all at my keynote ‘Public Speaking Demystified’ on October 17. Why don’t you join me at FuturePMO 2019 – Book tickets now

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