Not every kind of presentation requires you to persuade an audience of your viewpoint, however, many do. Whether you are pitching a new strategy or trying to secure investment, you are, to one extent or another, exercising the art of persuasion.
So there is an obvious question to ask of anyone, like me, who aims to arm you properly for those encounters: how do you take an audience with you?
In a number of very important respects, there’s no easy route to persuading your audience. Every post I ever write, and every tip I ever give, will be about improving your public speaking skills … and the better your skills the more persuasive you’ll be. So one answer to that crucial question above is simple: be a better speaker.
From calming your nerves to telling a good story, the techniques I teach will enable you to engage an audience so that they listen more attentively to what you are saying. Convincing an audience that they should listen to you is the first step toward persuading them that you’re right.
But short of working on every aspect of your speaking style – your voice, your body language, your speech-writing – there are a few things worth bearing in mind that specifically relate to the gentle art of persuasion.
Some of the key principles of persuasion are more than two thousand years old. It was Aristotle, in his On Rhetoric, who first proposed the trio of techniques he called ethos, logos and pathos. Broadly speaking, ethos is about the credibility of the speaker, logos the power of their reasoning and pathos the emotional impact of their arguments.
The most persuasive speakers use all three of these approaches in a single speech. But persuasive speaking is very much about first selling yourself and your reputation – do you know what you’re talking about? Establish that very early on in your presentation and your audience will listen further. That’s ethos.
Then comes logos: the facts and figures which you can use to demonstrate your case. Ground your arguments in a logic to which your audience can relate: concrete examples and clear statistics. Allied with the third pillar of persuasive speaking, pathos, you will then be able to land your message: individuals often operate on an emotional level, and, if you can appeal to them on that level too, then you will have gone a long way towards convincing them of your argument.
Of course, knowing your audience is key in all this: do not bore them with too much logos, or over-egg the pudding with too large a dollop of pathos. Again, deploying these techniques is all about having a strong foundation in a broader set of public speaking skills.
To understand how to take your audience with you, shouldn’t we be talking?