We are often called upon to speak persuasively in a work context: to recommend a report’s conclusions, or to advocate for a particular change. This can be a challenging task – sometimes more so than persuading a room full of strangers.
We have pre-existing relationships with our colleagues at work, which need to taken into consideration when delivering persuasive presentations in their presence.
This can be nerve-wracking, but it’s also an advantage: “know your audience” is the first advice I give to any speaker … and within the workplace you already know them well. Think about how you relate to your colleagues, how you work together – and incorporate this into your remarks and your delivery.
Use your colleagues’ names. Bring them into your presentation. Give them some ownership of the idea you’re trying to persuade them of. We co-operate at work; there’s no reason why, in speaking persuasively, we have to speak dictatorially.
This informed, consensual style will help with your next goal: to establish credibility with the audience. Once you’ve established a rapport with your colleagues, they’ll be listening. If you can also demonstrate your expertise – the reason you’re the one doing the persuading – they will be receptive, too.
From here, you can make use of the interest and attention you’ve achieved by framing your argument well. Make it clear what you’ll be speaking about and why – emphasise the benefits to your colleagues first of listening to you but most important of doing what you’re suggesting. Establish a clear problem you’re aiming to solve.
Once you’ve made it clear why they should care, you can move on to convincing them of your solution. Here, be compelling – and don’t be afraid of emotion. We are all emotionally invested in our work to one extent or another, so tell a story and make them laugh. The core of your argument should be about workplace benefits – but a little feeling can go a long way.
Crucially, when you conclude, remember, it’s not about you – make it about your audience, they will more easily be convinced when they see that it will help them as well as you.
This brings us back to drawing on your pre-existing relationships with your colleagues – and on treating them as equals, even as you take the lead. Persuasion is a soft art, not a hard skill … and that’s more true than usual at work.