Many speakers become skilled at giving a talk to inform an audience, and of course they learn to entertain their listeners along the way. But when you are faced with the task of persuading a group to see things in a new light, or to do something you want them to do, then the job becomes a little tougher and you need additional skills.
In this article, I'm going to share three of the most powerful techniques for persuading your audience. Each technique can be used for any of the following three primary types of persuasion:
Often, in an effort to come across as honest as opposed to manipulative, speakers attempting to persuade an audience might say something like this:
"I'm not going to give you a sales pitch. I'm simply going to ask you to cut back on newspaper and Yellow Pages advertising by 85 percent, and start using the Internet instead. Now let me tell you about the program."
High marks for honesty! But very low marks for effectiveness. Let's consider an alternative approach for the very same point of persuasion. But first, allow me to review why the "bare honesty" approach is not only ineffective, but actually quite selfish and inconsiderate of your listeners.
As you know, we have essentially two minds: One is the reasoning, logical, rational mind - popularly known as "the left brain." The second is the imaginative, emotional mind - known as "the right brain."
The point of importance for a persuasive speaker is that you must appeal to the imaginative, emotional mind first - because the decision process (especially when it's a decision to make a change) - relies primarily on emotions; logic is secondary.
The "honest" speaker disregards all that and just blurts out his or her idea. One problem with this approach is that it is very comfortable to the speaker, because he or she has already come to the conclusion he or she wants to lead the audience to. But it is jarring to anyone in the audience who doesn't already agree with the speaker. The second problem is that most listeners are far more receptive to a slow, gradual approach than an all-at-once proposition (see sidebar).
While your audience does want to hear the truth, they first need to be prepared to hear it. So what can you do to prepare them, without coming across like a high-pressure salesperson? That's what the rest of this article is about.
1. Paint a picture of the future. With this technique, you create a word-picture of a future situation and bring your audience there with you. Then your listeners will want to know how they can get there and are ready to hear your idea.
Suppose you were a marketing executive at the head-quarters of a national chain of piano stores, and you had some very exciting test results of a new program. You want to get approval from senior executives and staff members to expand the program company-wide.
Your presentation starts like this:
"Let's imagine for just a moment it's a year from now. Over the past year, we've had a 25 percent increase in all sales. Profits by store are up, ranging from 15 percent to 75 percent, depending on location.
"But the best news is that our marketing costs have gone down by 85 percent. All the increases in sales can be traced to using the Internet to get pre-educated, highly motivated customers to walk into the store."
Then you continue, "This is a proven system that we've already implemented and measured at our Raleigh store. That's right, in Raleigh marketing expenses are down by 85 percent and sales are up by 25 percent. I guess you could say that everybody in Raleigh is happy, except the people we're no longer advertising with!"
It's at this point that you go on to explain the factual details of the program.
Instead of facing a skeptical audience who's resisting your every word, suddenly you would be in the position of finding your listeners fighting to see who can take credit for your brilliant idea... and all the hard work you have done piloting this program! And that's an enviable position to be in.
2. Use Hypnotic Language. By this, I'm not talking about hypnotism, but the use of hypnotic stems... phrases skilled hypnotists use to unobtrusively plant suggestions in the minds of their clients.
Hypnotic stems (in italics in the following example) sound like ordinary speech. In fact, they are parts of ordinary speech. But each one has been found to be very effective in bypassing the logical, rational mind and communicating directly with the imaginative, emotional mind. You can use these phrases to do the same thing in a speech.
Let's say you've written a book on public speaking and it's a big hit - all the clubs in your district, and some others as well, are standing in line waiting to get you to speak about it. You begin your talk:
"Have you ever wanted to get better at something you really enjoy doing, and the only thing standing in your way is a lack of knowledge of what to do and how to do it? Think of a time when you suddenly found the answer you were looking for, and the difference it made in your life!
"Maybe you wanted to get better at public speaking. So you joined Toastmasters, and sure enough, look at how much more confident and skilled you are today.
Imagine what it would be like if you could make even greater gains simply by learning a few special techniques and ideas that would take you to the next level as a presenter. I'll bet that feels pretty good, doesn't it?
"Today you're going to learn some of those techniques, because I have discovered them through research and experience, and it is my pleasure to share them with you..."
From there, you would share some of the ideas and techniques from your book and invite people to get more detail on those techniques - as well as additional ideas and techniques - by buying a copy of your book after the presentation.
Here, make a list of your audience's needs, and the benefits they will enjoy by owning your book - or whatever it is that you want to sell.
The next step is to put that list in a logical, chronological order that mirrors the audience's experience. First, there's a desire (wanting to get better at something), then there's a frustration blocking attainment of that desire (not having the knowledge of what to do and how to do it) and finally, there's the solution. (You found the answer; it made a difference; you could make even greater gains.)
The last step is to use hypnotic stems at the front of your sentences. Here are some you can use:
3. Use A Metaphor. One of my clients provides credit-card processing services to businesses. His company's marketing message is: "Unlike with other processors, you don't get locked-in contracts. We give you free, state-of-the-art equipment. And there are no hidden fees."
That's a powerful message, but starting like that in a speech would be far too blatant. However, if my client were speaking to a group of merchants, he could start like this:
"I used to travel in upstate New York. As you know, there's a New York Thruway, and from time to time I used this toll road. The convenience made up for the fees.
"When I started examining the business practices of my own industry, I realized that many of you, as merchants, are in a position I would never want to be in. What if I had to use the Thruway and pay the toll, by law, every month, even if I had other options? And further, suppose I had to pay extra tolls besides the ones that were listed on the signs?
"To make matters worse, what if I found that I would be given a huge fine by the state of New York if I decided to stop using the Thruway for any reason - even if I moved to another state?
"The scenario I described may sound preposterous to you, but unfortunately it describes exactly the situation many of you are currently in with your merchant account provider. It's outrageous, isn't it? I was so outraged that I founded a new company based on one promise: I would never do to merchants what almost everyone else has been doing to them for as long as anyone can remember."
Believe me, that opening to a speech would get the listeners' attention and put them in a very receptive frame of mind to hear more about his company and what he has to offer.
Certainly he could start his talk with a more direct recitation of the facts, as he sees them: "You're being overcharged on your merchant account. You're being treated unfairly. I have a better way." But it would not be nearly as effective. Why? Because using the metaphor of the New York Thruway engages the imagination.
To create an effective persuasive metaphor, start by making a list of the key points of your marketing message (forced fees, hidden fees, huge fine charged by competitors). Then, create a story about a seemingly unrelated subject (driving on the New York Thruway). Finally, relate the points in your story to the key elements of your marketing message (no hidden fees, no locked-in contract).
I selected the three techniques in this article from dozens that are effective, because these three are among the most "user-friendly" - you can use them for almost any persuasion result.
A wise veteran of spoken-word wars once told me that the best persuasion is when you let others "have your way." That is, give people everything they need to own the idea you want to sell them, and then show them how to achieve that idea. Ultimately, your persuasion efforts will be most successful when people believe your suggestions are in their best interest. Best of luck in winning them over and reaching your goals!
A Master Secret of Persuasion
Persuasion and negotiation are cousins in the real world. Best-selling author Herb Cohn writes these timeless words of wisdom that persuaders can live by in You Can Negotiate Anything (Bantam, 1982):
"Remember that change and new ideas are acceptable only when presented slowly in bite-size fragments. Keep that in mind when trying to alter someone's viewpoint, thinking perceptions and expectations. For most people, it's easier and more comfortable to stay in the groove. The fact that the difference between a rut and a groove is just a matter of degree doesn't seem to bother them. Only through perseverance can you hope to change them and implement your goal."
I call this The Theory of Small Steps. Keep it in mind as you progress on your path as a skilled persuader.