There have been episodes in my life where I have been asked to speak in front of an audience. Although I don’t consider public speaking a favorite activity, I do tend to enjoy it, and the enjoyment factors are even better once I have had a chance to prepare for and reflect on the experience.
“Speaking to an audience can be fun. Some may not enjoy it, but it can be learned.”
Over the years, I learned that communication, patience, and emotional intelligence were important aspects in building a successful career. Persuasion, a communication trait, is the art of influencing others but there are differences between persuasion and influence. Persuading someone is more than having the ‘gift of gab.’ In my experience, when I am looking to influence another, I have to believe in what I am sharing. By being honest with myself tends to create trust with others. Trust building, to me, is central to my ethical and moral compass.
Having held leadership positions in different parts of my career, it wasn’t until I earned my MBA in Marketing where I came to appreciate three approaches to communication. With the benefit of hindsight, it is these three approaches which helped drive my success. Knowing which form to use often depends on the audience you are trying to reach. Here’s a brief synopsis:
Inform: consider tactics marketers use to compare two products, like Coke and Pepsi.
Remind: think Coke Cola commercials that show people having fun. Do you need to be persuaded or informed? No. These commercials are reminders to drink Coke.
Persuade: marketers will use language that promise happiness, create anxiety, or limit availability. Which works on you?
Influence is an action designed to change people’s perception on how they may view you or a product/service. For any of these opportunities, consider the words you speak in conversations or the images you show in presentations. To change people’s perceptions, we can draw on four approaches which generate action:
Get attention. Present information quickly that strikes at the heart of those in your audience. The emotion used in the story will keep a person’s attention. Do this by asking a thought question, point out a statistic and discuss the reason for it, etc.
Positive perception. Perceptions are closely related with judgement, a derivative of emotions. Consider evoking a positive emotion through your tone, the words you choose, or through an image you show, such as a graphic showing an increase in revenue. Then, tie the tone to the image.
Content sharing. Be deliberate in your communication. Inspire others through storytelling. Profiling people who have accomplished extraordinary feats work well. Bottom line: Emotional stories get shared.
Trigger words and actions. Emotions underline decision-making, and those emotions come from experiences. Thus, persuasion comes easily when communication evokes emotions from experiences people can easily understand and associate.
Now that we have established that persuasion is best delivered through engaging an audience’s emotional response, the question becomes which of these appeal to a given audience? The answer: It depends. Consider for instance:
Aww…. The emotional response you get when you see a cute little puppy. The puppy evokes the ‘awe’, but putting people in the story can create a desired emotional response.
Resentment over injustice. You’ve seen how emotions about saving this or that can hit a nerve or trigger an action. Natural disasters prompt responses of this kind.
Surprise. Showing or expressing happiness can be a very powerful narrative. Working hard on a project and gaining praise for a job well done can evoke powerful human emotions of happiness.
Fear/Anxiety. People tend to want to be clean. So when you tell stories about how poor reactions occur to things such as bad breath, dirty hair or clothes, an unkempt yard, etc. you tend to see the images these evoke in an emotional way.
Self. People like to feel important. Encourage this action through your words, images, and stories.
To be persuasive means to establish common ground with your audience, bring them into your world by shaping the story you are sharing. Storytelling is a great way to bring this journey alive in a public speaking engagement. Informing the audience with visual images and auditory key words builds trust and drives the experience for your audience through connecting with their affect. When you speak, be yourself. If you’re presenting, be different. Done together, combine the two communicative methods.
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Dr. Gregory Price is the Associate Dean in the School of Applied Leadership at City University of Seattle. Degrees in M.Ed in Instructional Design, M.Ed. in Educational Leadership, MS in Management and Leadership, and Doctor of Education in Organizational Leadership.