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

4 responses to “The rules of persuasion

  1. Very interesting post! These are very helpful especially for those who need tips on public speaking.

    • thespeakerscollege

      Hi Sharon,

      Thank you for your kind comment. I find even seasoned professionals need reminding of the skills that are the artform we call public speaking. And, naturally, the biggest power of persuasion you have is when you learn to speak from the heart. This is one of the reasons I crafted my SPEAK UP! training course. Please keep in contact, keep up your good work at Coaching from Spirit and continue to spread the words and wisdom of The Speakers’ College.

  2. This is an interesting post, Bob. It made me wonder how, if someone isn’t likeable, they might develop that in themselves. Take Gordon Brown, for instance. Could someone teach Gordon Brown to be likeable? It struck me that that aspect of oneself is not just about the immediate impression you get from them, but also about what their off-stage actions say about them. What do you think?

    • thespeakerscollege

      Hi Christine,

      And thank you for what is simply a brilliant question. In my “The rules of persuasion” post the first rule is to be liked. And I noted that honesty plays a significant part in being liked. I don’t know Gordon Brown (your example) personally but I’ve seen him speak and he is very capable – note his address to The Labour Party conference last year entitled The mission of our times: the fair society (available on YouTube.) This is the speech which gave him the famous “Brown Bounce” in the opinion polls. At the outset of this speech he seems calmer, less tense, less taut than usual and begins by saying “I want to talk to you today about who I am, what I believe…..” In this instance he is talking to you and the world as a whole from deep within his heart – this is personal. And, of course, this is what I teach at The Speakers’ College for all great speech comes from the heart, it emerges when you are prepared to say your piece to an often sceptical and judgemental world. Some people are easier to like than others just as some people are more beautiful to look at than others but when you can learn to be yourself (to be “honest”) and to communicate your personal message to the world the world stands up and takes note. This is my rather long-winded way of saying that we can all be coached to be more authentic, centred and a peace with ourselves and in so doing we will be confident enough to find our own audience, our own unique supporters and followers. In this way “on” or “off” stage we can start the process of being liked. Keep up the good work at A Different Kind of Work, coach in your unique way, help others to sing their own song and I’ll continue to help men and women around the world speak from the heart.

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