In almost every presentation we give, we are trying to move the audience to act or think in a different manner. Perhaps it is something as overt as, “I want you to buy this product.” or something as subtle as, “Perhaps we should rethink the direction of this product roll-out?” Even if we choose not to announce our intention to the audience (a good strategy), we can and should use strategic persuasive techniques to increase our chances of success.

Manipulation Not Allowed

Before we move on, we should make a distinction between persuading and manipulating. For those of us who don’t always understand the subtlety of these two concepts, it has to do with intent. When we manipulate people, we are being duplicitous or selfish; when we persuade people, it should be above board and of benefit to both parties. So what are some of the tactics that lead us towards manipulation?

–          LyingCarrot and Stick

–          Intimidating

–          Playing on feelings of guilt

–          Nagging

–          Claiming victim hood

Persuasive Techniques

So instead of manipulating your audience, here are some ways that you can move them in a mutually beneficial direction:

1. Understand the audience and their needs. If we can understand and relate to the other parties and what they want out of the situation, it is easier to work cooperatively. Quite often we will find that our goals and their goals are the same, but we have different ideas on how to attain them. It is easier if you can get in tune with your audience’s goals and then show them how you can help them to reach them. For example, I like the story of the two sisters who were fighting over the last orange in the house, both insisting that they needed it and the other one couldn’t have it. Finally, the mother stepped in and asked them how they planned to use the orange. One sister wanted to squeeze the orange for juice and the other wanted to scrape the rind to flavor the frosting she was making! By intervening, mother was able to determine that they could both get what they wanted, and without compromise.

2. Build a relationship. People buy from people they like. I realize it’s an old adage, but this one has been proven through countless studies. When we feel favorable toward someone, when we feel a connection with them, we are more apt to agree with their point of view. How we teach people to make this happen in a presentation is to talk with the audience, not to them. For example, you might start by asking questions of the group and getting their ideas and opinions on the topic at hand. Or you could meet some of them before the presentation and then refer to them during your talk. In these and other ways you build a favorable relationship with the audience that makes them more open to your ideas.

3. Support your points with evidence. While your audience may consider your background and expertise as supportive of your points, they also have a desire that asks, “Who says so besides you?” This means that we need to bring in good evidence to provide further support for our supposition. Some forms of evidence that are valued by an audience:

The opinion of an expert
Statistics or data
Surveys or polls
Expert opinions from talks, white papers and industry journals

The use of this supporting evidence will speak volumes to those for whom a logical argument is necessary.

4. Use stories and analogies to dramatize your opinion. As good as evidence is in persuading an audience, studies show that stories and analogies work even better. This is because most people are more influenced by their emotions than by their intellect. We need only look to any congressional hearing to see that out of the many experts that are brought in to discuss “logical” solutions, broadcast media shows us the mother who is worried about her children and gives us the “emotional” appeal. Through the use of stories you can also appeal to the emotions of your audience and help make your presentation more memorable.

5. Acknowledge the alternate position. Another value that your audience looks for is one that communicates that you are “fair” and have considered both sides of the argument. So it would benefit your position to mention some of the strengths of the other point of view. This will allow you to overcome these issues as well as taking away some of the power of the argument should members of your audience wish to engage you on them.

6. Make your presentation with energy. I recently watched a video study that was done for a dating site. They had a young man make two dating videos. They both used the same dialogue, but in one he was upbeat and in the other he was negative. Then they showed this to groups of single women. Those that watched the cheerful video found the man interesting and fun and were able to overlook some of the negative dialogue. But those that watched the more gloomy presentation thought the man was untrustworthy and used the negative comments as proof of their opinion. So our advice is to be enthusiastic as you present and don’t use a sullen approach to appear more serious or professional.

7. Have a solid call to action. Finally, you have to end your presentation by giving the audience a strong direction to take as a result of the talk. What are the key takeaways that you want them to have? How can they help to achieve the goals that you’ve outlined? Is there a document or information that you can provide so they can learn or do more in the future? Too many speakers leave all this to chance. We recommend that you have a good plan for what will happen after the presentation.

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