Monthly Archives: August 2009

The rules of persuasion

Fellow Speaker,

For many, the most challenging aspect of public speaking is the skill of persuasion. This is when you are called upon to alter your audience’s opinion about a particular issue, belief, or decision.

The first rule of persuasion is to be liked. Some people are a natural at this e.g. former President Bill Clinton. He smiles and laughs readily and has natural warmth, empathy and enthusiasm for life, people his country and politics in particular. But as Bill found out the hard way “honesty” plays a significant part in being liked: honesty might not win the day immediately but it is always respected and is the beginning in persuading others of your ideas.

The second rule of persuasion is to arouse emotion. Did you know that 90% of your decision making is based on how you feel about things – the other 10% of the time you spend logically justifying the instinctive emotional decision you first reached? So if you want to persuade your audience you’d better get their emotions well and truly aroused.

The third rule of persuasion is called tipping-the-scales-in-your-favour. By arousing emotion you have created momentum now it is time to go for the jugular by limiting options, emphasising deadlines and giving incentives. TV adverts do it all the time but you probably don’t notice just how subtle they have become at their craft – make sure you pay attention next time!

And the final and fourth rule of persuasion is “reaching for higher ground.” This is applied when strongly entrenched views are held by your audience and the task in front of you is significant. For example, most people will tell you that they cannot kill another as it is against natural law – their religion and values will not permit it. Yet when you reach for higher ground by questioning if they could kill to save their own life or that of a loved one if attacked you will receive reluctant acceptance that taking action is acceptable. In so doing you have shifted the thought pattern and begun the process of persuasion.

If you had been a public speaker in ancient Greece you would have been schooled in rhetoric (the skill of oral persuasion) for they knew then 2,500 years ago that persuasion was the most challenging aspect of public speaking.

Bobby Livingston
The Speakers College



Filed under learning, public speaking