The Power of persuasion

Cardinals Masterclass Poster

Last night I attended a workshop called “The Power of Persuasion” led by Simon Bucknall, twice winner of the Toastmasters Great Britain and all Ireland public speaking championships. The course contained lots of insightful advice about persuasion in public speaking.  Furthermore there were two prepared speeches (both number nine in the Toastmasters CC manual: “Persuade with Power”) followed by group discussions to analyse what worked and what didn’t.  Overall it was a fantastic workshop and I extend my thanks to everyone involved in the organisation.

I took lots of notes during the workshop.  To further familiarise myself with the content, and for the benefit of anyone who’s interested, I’ve typed up some of the key points that were made.

First Half: Audience Buy-in

Passion – Simon asserted that that passion for what you are selling is the most important aspect of persuading effectively.  He described how, in previous jobs, he found his ability to sell was hindered by his lack of enthusiasm for the products.

Emotional Response – If you win the heart then the mind will follow.  The most powerfully persuasive speeches illicit an emotional response.  A previous international speech winner’s method for creating passionate speeches: take your inspiration from books/films/media and think about your emotional response to it – then try and recreate that emotional response within the audience.

Audience Buy-in – The audience should have a reason for listening to you – a “buy-in” for your speech.  He suggested using the following three steps:

  1. Establish the mindset of the audience. Identify the emotional state of the audience by doing research or asking directly.  Are they already sympathetic to the cause? Are the bored and don’t want to be here? Many people are too keen to focus on the end result or make assumptions about the audience’s situation.
  2. Reference/address what that might be. Empathise with the audience situation “Who doesn’t want to be here?”.  This will help to make a speech a “shared journey” rather than one person ordering the other.
  3. Setup and incentive. Why they should listen to you?  Why they should join you on this journey? What they can get out of it?

Use of the stage - Use different parts of the stage to make the story a physical journey.  An area of the stage may represent a goal; you can point towards it when you refer to it then move into it when you describe achieving it.

How to avoid inviting a response to a question – The first prepared speaker proposed a question to the audience and an answer was shouted out that did not support his point.  It was suggested that rhetorical questions should be open question that invites the audience to reflect on a topic rather than prompting them for an answer. “What gives you the right to …?”

Leading a debate – At one stage Simon was asked “What is the difference between persuasion and selling?”, rather then attempting to answer he asked for a show of hands for “they’re the same” and “they’re different” then asked members of each group for their thoughts before inviting the original questioner to comment. What an excellent technique for answering questions that you don’t know the answer to, or tackling a question with a subjective or non-existent answer.

Second Half: Demonstrate your points effectively

Stories - Simon reminded us that Stories are an effective way of making points.  He suggested that powerful stories “place our audience in the scene”, meaning that the audience should imagine themselves in the situation you’re describing.  He describe some points for doing this effectively:

  • Use the word “you” - A reactive word that causes the audience to take note
  • Give your characters dialogue - You can be a lot more forceful or critical when you are “repeating” what someone else has said.

Branding your idea - Can your point be distilled into a single sentence of less than ten words?  Can you repeat this phrase three or more times during the speech? Like Obama’s “Yes we can”.

At the end of the presentation Simon asked two questions: “Which ONE of the points discussed tonight will you incorporate into future speeches?” “What would be the result of not taking notice of any of the points?” Those two questions were very persuasive in their own right and I would invite you to reflect on them now.

Update (07/03/09):

The Art Of ConnectionSimon has a coaching and training business called The Art Of Connection.  Further courses are being held in London so I highly recommend booking yourself in.  Check their website or the eventbright page for details.

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