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Communication Skills: strategy, content

Build An Argument That Will Persuade Your Audience

You've identified your objective and completed your audience analysis. Now you're ready to begin structuring your talk. What argument will generate the outcome you want?

You won't always be able to persuade every listener to accept your argument. But developing the argument that best suits your purpose and your audience, at the very least, will boost your chances of gaining a favorable reception, if not full acceptance of your case.

Structure your argument carefully.
Your argument must be clear and be understood from the moment it's uttered. A persuasive presentation thus calls for careful crafting.

Start with a strong opener to grab your listeners. You may have found something in your audience analysis that will resonate quickly and get your listeners' attention. Use your audience analysis to guide you in shaping content throughout your presentation.

You can use a variety of techniques to support your argument. You should express each point you make as a clear idea in a single sentence. Your key messages should usually be stated as claims expressing an opinion or making an assertion of fact.

When you make a claim, you're essentially saying you regard it as important and you want your audience to think of it the same way. Your main messages, or claims—no more than three—should be compelling on their own.

Support your claims.
Your next challenge is to make your claims believable and acceptable by supplying the most appropriate supporting material.

Choose data that best supports your claim. What you choose to include should be clearly relevant to your argument.

Also explore more creative kinds of support—stories, anecdotes, quotations, and other devices that further help your audience to visualize what you're claiming.

Don't drown your audience in a torrent of data. Instead, focus your argument and support it with just the right facts and figures to persuade your audience. If you make a statement, show just the data that prove, support, or reinforce it enough to address specific concerns of your audience. Then, move on.

End with a bang.
Design a close that concludes your argument with a strong call to action.

Just as your listeners are influenced by the first impression you make, they're likely as well to remember you for the final impression you make.

Your conclusion should be short and to the point. It should be your call to action, supported by the weight of the argument that you have just delivered to prove its merit. Drive home the key benefit of taking the action for this specific audience, and make sure they feel it as well as hear it. It's the conclusion of your presentation, after all, that you've been working towards. Make it clear, concise, and memorable.

And now, for a little background.
What leads a listener to accept a speaker's message? It's an age-old question. Over time, the theory emerged that all kinds of arguments a speaker might use could be classified into one or more of three categories of proof: the logic of the argument, or logos; the emotions felt by the audience, or pathos; and the person of the speaker, or ethos.

This says simply that we are all influenced, to one degree or another, by logic, by emotion, and by the person and by the qualities of the speaker.

"We are all influenced... by logic, by emotion, and... by the speaker."

Logos: Where's the proof?
This essentially is about supplying both the quality and quantity of data that best supports your key message points. It can include statistics, examples, illustrations, analogies, quotations—in short, whatever types of evidence are best suited to your purpose and your audience.

Your success using this approach will depend largely on how well the evidence you offer reinforces your claim.

Pathos: What's emotion got to do with it?
In a word, plenty.

Listeners are moved by their emotions. Which means you must take this into account during your preparation.

Appeals to the emotions are common in everyday communication. We're bombarded with advertising aimed at making us feel positively about a product or service. Lawyers routinely use emotional levers to sway jurors. Elections are won or lost over how well rivals can connect emotionally with voters.

There's nothing wrong with building your presentation around sound logic. But you should take special care to include both logic and emotional appeal. Recognizing and engaging the emotions of your audience will always add to your argument. Anger, loyalty, sympathy, fear, optimism—almost anything that can be felt can be appealed to.

Ethos: the speaker.
Speaking is a personal means of communication. Your credibility as a speaker comes through in what you show about yourself—your knowledge, concern, integrity, character, even your ego.

This method of persuasion draws upon the speaker's credibility or character for its power. It's the power of a reputation, an eyewitness account, a lived experience, actions taken.

Look for ways to use ethos—presenting yourself, your position, your history and experience, as a means of persuasion. And as you rehearse, work to establish credibility through your body language—your voice, gestures, and stance.

To demonstrate knowledge of your subject, you can use information based on your personal experience. These can include examples, stories, anecdotes, or other devices.

But be careful not to display an excess of ego. Avoid, for example, statements such as, "I believe ... I think ... I feel ... I want ... I hope that ... I urge you ..." These are phrases that don't lean so much on the strength of your argument as on your own subjective view.

There are many tools and techniques available to help you craft a compelling argument. You need to make certain that you have a solid structure, the right claims and support, and deliver with the right feeling and presence, To be sure you're on track, you can get expert help to focus your efforts and make the most of your preparation time.


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You can get professional help! You can have a private coach work with you to develop and refine your argument. You can also attend a presentation skills seminar that includes techniques for crafting compelling arguments and builds on your capacity to deliver them. 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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