In 1991 I moved to Canada from my home country, Ireland. My wife and I settled in London, Ontario, where we would start a new chapter in our lives. I purchased an old Ford Tempo and I felt a sense of accomplishment because at that time in Ireland, a 1.6 liter car was considered a “big” car. It came with power steering, air conditioning, and plastic seats that made you feel like you were wearing cold, wet underwear!
After being in Canada just a short time, I was driving alone in the countryside, listening to loud bagpipe music. Then in my mirror, I saw a blue, flashing police car light. I pulled over and the police car pulled over about 30 feet behind me.
In Ireland, it is common to get out of your car, walk over to the police car, and spin some kind of story or excuse to persuade the officer to let you off with a warning or at least a reduced fine.
As I was walking towards the police car, I was gathering my thoughts together and thinking about what I might say with a friendly smile on my face. I was thinking of using a line I had used in Ireland: “You must have had a great hiding place, I didn’t see you until I saw your lights! Sorry I was speeding, I was listening to some really loud bagpipe music and I lost sight of my speed. Any chance you could let me off with a warning?”
That was the plan. However, when I got about half way to the police car, I noticed that the policewoman was standing behind her door with her gun drawn, shouting hysterically, “Get back in your car NOW!”
As I sat in my car, the police woman gave me hell. She told me to “shut off the awful music” and shouted, “What do you think you were doing? I could have shot you!” I explained to her that in Ireland the typical thing to do is to walk to the police car with the intent of getting there before the police man or woman has to get out of the car. We then try to persuade the police officer to be lenient and consider a warning rather than a fine. The police woman, still furious and obviously upset said, “You are not in Ireland now, never get out of your car when you are pulled over, and by the way, here’s your ticket.”
I thought about trying to persuade her to lower the fine, but I thought that it would only infuriate her more. I drove away having learned a lesson that I will never forget.
Persuasion is an art, but I think you will agree that I chose the “wrong audience”; what typically works with the Irish police “audience” failed with the Canadian officer.
Many sections in presentation skills books tie into success strategies for persuasion. Whether you are a keynote speaker, trainer, preacher, educator, business employee, leader, or executive, you are involved in convincing others to buy into your concepts and take action. The following are some key considerations when you need to change or reinforce opinions or beliefs:
Overview – How do you Persuade Audiences to Buy into your Concepts and Take Action?
• Get their attention
• Provide information in a format that they will comprehend
• Convince them by changing and/or reinforcing opinions or beliefs
• Provide information in a format that can be remembered and relayed to others
Successful Presenters can Persuade Effectively Because they Have:
• Credibility on the subject
• Preparation and practice
• Excellent presentation skills
Audience Analysis is Key to Successful Persuasion:
• What is the audience’s level of knowledge?
• What presentation types will be most effective?
• What supporting information will they best relate to (information sources, statistics, stories, analogies etc.)?
• What do they agree on now (it can be beneficial to start on common-ground)?
• What “hot buttons” should I stay away from?
• Should I visit some of the audience members one-on-one beforehand to build allies?
• Do I know the names of the attendees or should I provide name badges so I can call people by name (people like to hear their own names and this can help build positive rapport)?
• Is humor appropriate for the occasion and the audience (to illuminate points, reduce tension, keep people energized)?
• What emotional content can I incorporate to help persuade (i.e. stories or examples they can relate to)? Example: if I am trying to persuade people to join a public speaking club to enhance their presentation skills and build confidence, I could state, “Have you ever stood in front of an audience with so much anxiety that your heart thumps loudly and suddenly your mind goes blank? Can you visualize the audience cringing as you struggle to recover your train of thought? Do you want to be able to avoid this kind of train wreck?”
Choosing the Correct Presentation Modes Increases your Potential for Success
• Discussion without any audio visual tools
• PowerPoint type presentation
• Flip chart
Eliminate the Potential for the Audience to Become Confused
• Develop clear concise objectives – when developing your presentation you should have a crystal clear view of what you are going to persuade. I find it beneficial to take a business card size piece of paper and write on it: ‘As a result of this presentation, I want the audience to understand and/or do the following…’
• Roadmap your presentation so that the information is presented in a logical format and is supported by visuals such as a statistical chart, picture, diagram, video, analogy, etc. It can also help if the visuals can build on a relatable theme. For example, if I want to persuade people to take a presentation skills course, I could use golf as an analogy. The photo of a player teeing off and missing the ball could be used with a headline statement to drive home the point “Failure can get you noticed in a really bad way.” The photo of a grass divot could be a visual for “Expect setbacks, it takes practice. The golf ball falling in the hole could symbolize “Persistence and practice gets results.”
• The presentation should be developed so that the audience have a clear understanding within a short period of time what the objective is and what the specific outcomes are going to be.
• Develop your presentation taking into consideration the level of knowledge of the audience. For example, if you are delivering technical information to a non-technical audience, you may want to present information at a level they will understand, or give them the information piece by piece slowly bringing them into the details and complexity.
• Repeat, summarize, and emphasize your points to aid retention.
• Make sure your “call to action” is clear and achievable.
Build your Credibility and Likeability
• Analyze your audience so that you are incorporating information that they can best relate to. Illuminating your points with stories or statistics that they cannot perceive will lead to confusion.
• Do not turn up with an unpolished presentation; practice, practice, practice (out loud).
• Dress professionally and appropriately for the occasion and the audience. Consider dressing slightly better than your audience.
• If you are being introduced, spend time developing an introduction that will build your credibility on the subject. Practice the introduction with the person who is introducing you when possible. A bad introduction can sabotage your credibility and suck the energy level out of the room.
• Use credible facts and statistics that can help demonstrate you have taken the time to research your subject and that you are an expert. Identify the sources of information.