For some people, the art of persuasion appears to come naturally, while many of us struggle. However, the principals of persuasive presentation can be learned by any one, and applied to gain consensus, sell an idea or generate support.
Top Tips for Persuasive Communication
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1) Do your research, know your audience
Analyse what is important to your addressees, and what will capture their attention. Research each audience member, pre-presentation, and consider their wants, needs, fears and pain points. If there is contention between different parties, you may have to explore different presenting styles and draw on multiple examples to evidence your point and appeal to differing perspectives. Don’t be afraid to stop to ask questions of the audience, or to clarify your point mid-pitch.
Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done, because he wants to do it. – Dwight Eisenhower
2) Put the audience at the centre of the pitch
Ensure your presentation is phrased in the audience’s language with meaningful benefit statements and real-life perspective. This is about them, not you. Make sure to avoid jargon and technical lingo as longwinded sentences can distract the audience and make you veer off track.
3) Be clear and structured in your approach
Use a basic essay or story structure to organise your presentation; ensuring you have a hook, an introduction, an argument or thesis statement, a body of evidence, and a conclusion that reinforces your argument. Repeat, recap, and reiterate just a handful of key points throughout your pitch or presentation. Don’t confuse them with mixed or multiple messages.
4) Provide a sound argument with clear call-to-action
The key for any persuasive communication is a sound argument (or thesis). The right argument will leave an audience believing the action you are recommending is compelling, and when executed well, indisputable. Furthermore, it can lead the audience to feel that the conclusion is so self-evident, they came to it themselves – “something you want done, because he wants to do it”.
How many presentations have you sat through thinking, “So what? Why are you telling me this? Why should I care?” An argument compels action, or at least debate that will lead to action. Without the right argument, you are only relaying facts and transmitting data. You will either bore your audience, or worse, leave them to draw their own conclusions.
5) Use examples
Evidence is critical – prove your expertise and prove the value of your ideas. Link your examples back to your argument and spell out the connection. Include analogies and case studies that produce emotion, create an impact and support your point. If you can’t find examples specific to the public sector, draw from others from other fields and industries which are facing similar challenges.
6) Deliver an Experience.
A level of interactivity will help maintain the interest of your audience and help manage your own nerves. Utilise questioning techniques and facilitation skills. Capture the attention of your audience by opening with a comment that is funny, startling or thought provoking. Your personal style is an important part of how you engage stakeholders; not just what you say, but how you say it, and the confidence you project.
Explore creative ways of presenting, utilising role plays, simulations, multi-media and storytelling methods. Be aware of your voice, eye contact, gestures, stance and movement, and use them to command attention and create distinctions. You might want to change your management style. Renowned screenwriter Robert McKee believes there are two ways to persuade people; “The first is by using conventional rhetoric… The other way to persuade people—and ultimately a much more powerful way—is by uniting an idea with an emotion. The best way to do that is by telling a compelling story…”
7) Plan and prepare for difficult questions
The Q&A period post presentation is an opportunity to get immediate feedback on your pitch as well as an opportunity to reinforce your message. Be ready for difficult situations and anticipate the queries likely to arise from your audience. It helps to practice your presentation in front a live audience to cover off any elements you may not have thought of. Ensure you paraphrase the question before jumping in and answering it, and take into account the motivation of the questioner. This will give you time to mentally evaluate the question and crystallise your thoughts.
8) Practice makes perfect
Skills around presenting with impact can be learned, and they improve with practice. Jump at every opportunity you have to present or facilitate in public, whether it is at team meetings, networking events, industry forums or conferences. There are many external organisations and networks you can tap into, such as Toastmasters International. This can provide the opportunity to build skills in a safe environment.
 Fryer, B., 2003, Storytelling That Moves People: A Conversation with Screenwriting Coach Robert McKee, Harvard Business Review.
Vanessa Gavan, Founder and Managing Director, Maximus International
For over 15 years, Vanessa has consulted to a range of leading Australian and international organisation to enhance business strategies, improve executive leadership capability, redesign organisation structures and deliver operational performance solutions.
As an entrepreneur and business leader, Vanessa has lived through every business lifecycle and has refined her abilities to inspire, deploy and motivate people to achieve great things.
Vanessa is wholly and personally committed to ensuring every Maximus solution is insightful, agile and delivers real financial return.