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5 ways to build a powerful, persuasive speech

When you’re tasked with a business presentation, there’s more on the line than making yourself understood. Your goals are bigger: winning new business, shifting the direction of your business, or adopting new tactics, to name just a few.

To achieve the results you’re after, you must move your audience to take action. Doing that requires a different skill set than simply conveying information. How can you step up your presentation game accordingly?

Best practices for persuading people is a topic people have been debating for nearly two millennia, ever since Aristotle first coined his three principles of persuasive communication: logos (presenting a clear and rational argument), pathos (using emotion) and ethos (establishing credibility).

In 2017, Aristotle’s advice is still valid. However, 21st century communication is more complex than ever, and today’s business climate demands more. Here’s a modern take on Aristotle’s three pillars, with two additional strategies essential for influencing others and driving business results.

1. Build a clear and compelling argument.

Today’s business decisions are increasingly data-driven. However, with so much information instantly available to anyone at any given time, interpreting data is essential to making an impact on your audience. Simply listing facts and figures as supporting evidence for your proposal may not be enough to convince your listeners. Make your evidence more compelling by relating it to your own experience, and—even more essential—to what’s important to your audience.

2. Make an emotional connection.

While we all expect and value a logical argument, people tend to make decisions based on emotions. When your goal is to gain buy-in for your ideas and inspire action, building a rapport with your audience with a smile and eye contact is a great way to start. You can strengthen that connection by relating your argument to their views or experiences. Use language, images, video, personal stories and anecdotes to evoke feelings and help your audience connect with your message on a personal level.

Another way to build in emotional support is to make the effort to understand your audience’s level of comfort with change. Be sure that what you’re proposing is familiar enough that they feel safe,yet new enough that they recognize the need to do something differently.

3. Be believable.

Don’t underestimate the importance of your own credibility to the audience. How likely are they to trust you? Are you considered an authority on the subject? Do listeners believe that you are “on the same page,” or are your interests conflicting? To gain their trust, it’s vital that you find and address the common ground you share with your listeners. Remind them about common experiences and goals you share. Show them you understand their point of view by addressing their questions and concerns.

You also gain trust when you are transparent about the source of information you provide. It’s easy to fall into the habit of misrepresenting your own opinions or conclusions as facts. It’s so common that one of my clients has an acronym for this practice: MSU (making stuff up). In some cases (such as the “fake news” we’ve been hearing so much about lately) it’s even done intentionally. While it may be effective click bait, misleading people is unlikely to make them trust you.

4. Collaborate and listen.

There’s a good reason why collaboration has become such a valued business strategy in recent years: Working together produces more and better ideas. When you collaborate with others and seek out differing viewpoints, you become better prepared to present a winning persuasive proposal. Even when you disagree, careful listening makes you better informed about how others see the issue at hand. At the very least, you understand what you’re up against and others feel included when you ask for their opinion. In the best case, it may help you devise new strategies that you may not have considered otherwise.

5. Persuade even before you present.

Sales professionals know that buyers often make their purchase decision before they ever speak to a sales rep. That’s increasingly true in other areas of business: The decision is made before the meeting. That means you’ll need to gain commitment from stakeholders in advance of your presentation. It’s essential to know who the important stakeholders and influencers are, and where they stand with regard to your ideas and proposed action. Seek out those people proactively to gain their buy-in.

Is your presentation capable of getting others to consider new ideas or points of view—and getting them to act accordingly? Try these five strategies to present your case in a way that resonates with your audience and produces a successful outcome for you and for your business.

Stephanie Scotti is a strategic communication advisor specializing in high stakes presentations. She has 25+ years of coaching experience and eight years of experience teaching presentation skills for Duke University. She has coached more than 3,000 individuals in professional practices, Fortune 500 companies and high levels of government. Learn more at and A version of this article originally appeared on SmartBrief.


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