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Chapter 14: How to Persuade Through a Talk


Jack Welch, the former chairman of General Electric, in his book, Straight From the Gut, writes about never wanting to see a planning book before someone presented it. He said, “To me the value of these sessions wasn’t in the book . . . I needed to see the business leaders’ body language and the passion they poured into their arguments.”

He went on to say, “Making initiatives successful is all about focus and passionate commitment.”

Toward the end of the book, he discusses passion specifically: “Whenever I go to Crotonville and ask a class what qualities define an ‘A’ player, it always made me happiest to see the first hand go up and say, ‘Passion.’ For me intensity covers a lot of sins. If there is one characteristic all winners share, it’s that they care more than anyone else.”

Winners show they care; they don’t hold back. We gravitate to these leaders because they appear so committed to their beliefs. Their commitment makes it easier for us to follow their lead, to “jump on board” their ship.

A Leap of Faith

This jump is a leap of faith. We usually don’t “leap” unless the leader leaps first. Our leader has to show us that he or she is assuming risk and that the cause is worth it. The leader has to passionately want us to join in or join up, to be with him or her “on the other side.”

How does that apply to you if you want to persuade through a talk? You’ll probably not be successful through intellectual argument alone. You’ll have to show that you believe, that you care, that you’re totally committed. You must share feelings, emotions, beliefs, and convictions.

Comments You Like to Hear

Consider for a moment what kind of comments you like to hear after you make a presentation. You would probably be pleased to hear statements like these:

“Your argument was tightly focused.”

Or, “You really had that one buttoned up.”

Or, “Your presentation was tight, well prepared.”

Or, “You really nailed that presentation.”

Or, “You sure put forth a disciplined argument.”

Those comments are businesslike. They feel OK.

You might be less comfortable with these:

“You sure put a lot of feeling into that presentation.”

Or, “You took your listeners on an emotional roller coaster with that presentation.”

These comments sound emotional. In business, most of us don’t like to be thought of as emotional. Yet, if you are going to be successful in persuading an audience, you must expose your heart as well as your mind. That’s hard for most of us to do. We feel vulnerable. And, indeed, we are.

Risks Involved

There are some risks involved here. If our goal is to persuade, we have to commit ourselves to a new world. It’s a world where feelings come to the forefront. To be successful in persuading or motivating an audience, you must believe. And you must show that you believe. You need to be committed to the subject, committed to the audience, committed to the result. No trap door. No exit strategy. You are moving forward, and you want your listeners to get swept up by your enthusiasm for the subject or the project: “If you feel so strongly, it must be a good idea.”

If You Do It Well

If you communicate your passion well, the audience will tune in to you. They won’t look at you as just another speaker up there. They will identify with you in an almost evangelical way. They will even allow you a minor imperfection in your argument so long as you are perfect in your belief. They will overlook an occasional garbled syntax or even a grammatical mistake. But if your talk is void of emotion, it will miss its mark. The audience will sense a lost chord. They will see that your heart is not in it. They will feel hollowness, and all will be lost.

If that is not daunting enough, there is another thing the audience will be assessing as you speak—and that is your character. Here is a beautiful statement by Ralph Waldo Emerson, one of the great minds our country has produced:

What you are thunders so

  that I cannot hear

    what you say.

We should keep that in mind whenever we speak to an audience, but especially when our purpose is to motivate. Dale Carnegie once said, “Don’t be worried about getting hold of the subject; just be sure the subject gets hold of you.”

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