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Communication skills: persuasion, strategy

Know Where You're Going... And How To Get There

Persuasive speaking is all about achieving a specific outcome. It's aimed at getting an audience to take certain action. But to succeed, you must first either change their attitudes and beliefs or reinforce attitudes and beliefs they already hold. You begin by planning and preparing. And by focusing clearly on the outcome you want to achieve and the means to achieve it.

There are elements common to all successful presentations. There are also differences in approach between aiming simply to inform your listeners and aiming, on the other hand, to persuade them.

Plan towards a specific goal.
It's even more important to be clear about your objective when you're setting out to lead people to a specific outcome.

When your goal is to motivate people to take certain action, focus on what exactly you want them to do. Have you made your call to action clear to your listeners? Is your request realistic? Do your listeners have the resources they need to do what you're asking? Will they need help or guidance? What help are you ready to provide?

Articulate your objective.
Write down your objective as concisely as you can in one sentence or at most in a few sentences. In that summary, state what you want your listeners to feel, think, and/or do as a result of your presentation.

Defining your goal in this way provides you with a starting point for a strategy to achieve it. It will help you to develop and stay focused on compelling argument. And, as you build your presentation, it will guide you in deciding what to content to include and what to leave out.

Your objective should also be measurable, so that you can check back to make sure you achieved it.

"State what you want your listeners to feel, think, and/or do."

Facts and emotions.
When your purpose is to persuade, you should use only data and visuals that support your messages, and no more.

Persuasive speaking, remember, is about changing or reinforcing people's attitudes and beliefs and even their values and behavior. Your listeners will respond as you want them to only if you can convince them that they will benefit from the action you're proposing. You're dealing with people on the level of their needs, and that means dealing with emotions more than facts.

Recognizing that you need to move people by their emotions, by the way, doesn't mean that you yourself must be emotional. It means only that you must take the emotions of your listeners into account.

Your credibility.
People form perceptions very quickly, so first impressions count. It's especially important, when you're attempting to persuade others, to establish your credibility at the outset. You achieve that through a variety of means.

Start with your personal appearance and attire. This is the first image you will project to your listeners. Everything about you should suggest professionalism.

Another factor affecting credibility is authority, a sense that you are confident in yourself and your argument. This is not the same as cocky or arrogant. It is a confidence that comes from having properly prepared your presentation. That includes having researched your audience and knowing from that how your listeners are likely to respond to your argument. (For more information on audience analysis, see our article You Talkin' To Me? in the Fall 2003 issue of The Total Communicator, and our article Know Your Audience in this issue.) It is also a confidence that comes from having properly rehearsed your presentation and having internalized your messages rather than memorizing them or relying on a script.

To prepare for your next presentation, begin with a clear goal and develop a compelling argument built to persuade your listeners based on your audience analysis. There are specific tools and techniques that you can use to make the process easier and more effective. To make the most of your next opportunity to present, why not get some expert advice and assistance?

This Issue

To raise the impact of your next presentation, let our consultants help with the planning, preparation, and delivery. They can coach you for this particular event or just help you brush up on your skills. You can also attend a seminar that will build your presentation skills, including honing your skills for building persuasive arguments. For more information, follow the links or give us a call at 1-800-874-8278 or outside the US, +1 201 894 8200.

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