Two Keys to a Successful Persuasion Speech

Persuasion is the art of convincing people to do what you think it best and making them like the idea. How do you do it without sounding like a huckster?

persuasionPersuasion isn’t just about how long or how much you can speak and wear down your listeners to finally give in– it’s about moving your audience to do something.

How does persuasion work?

How do you persuade someone?

We always expect something to come after the word “convince” or “persuade.” We want to convince someone to do something. We want to persuade someone to believe or act in a certain way.

There you have it.  That’s the difference between a public speaker  and a two-year old’s public tantrum.

Rhetoric – the art of persuasion – is undoubtedly as old as speaking. I’m sure that it wasn’t just the ancient Greeks who studied the methods of persuasion, but we tend to use their words in English to describe the ways we approach our audience to convince them – with facts, emotions, and logic.   Watch the Oxyclean commercial and see how it’s done.

How effective are facts alone? Facts are not persuasive by themselves. We lose the power of a fact when it’s not put into context. We have to relate the facts to the overall story.

Story may be the key to producing a persuasive speech.  People don’t remember facts, figures, or statistics.  They will remember a good story.

How to Pick a Topic for Persuasion

Persuasive speeches are hard to write. They take time to craft and practice. For the first time you give this project, I might suggest that you pick a topic that is fairly innocuous – not one that people are going to become offended by. A topic that they’re open to considering allows you to concentrate on the skills you’re working to develop, not so much on the arguments that you’ll have to answer. A humorous topic or something about your community might be a gentle place to start. You don’t have to go full bore and argue about legalizing this or criminalizing that. Go easy on yourself.

Three Rhetorical Techniques for Persuasion

A few rhetorical tricks that can help you be more persuasive.

  1. The classic “rhetorical question” opens a speech in a way that can draw your audience into your speech. When you ask a question that you don’t really expect a response to, you can create a sense of curiosity in your listeners. Don’t you think so?
  2. Another good rhetorical technique is the repeating things three times. Now, this shouldn’t be an exact repeat over and over. It’s more like starting a sentence the same way but changing the end. President Kennedy used the phrase “Let both sides” start three sentences in his inaugural address in 1961. It reinforces a message to the audience.
  3. Learn to use the long pause. If you were writing out your speech, you might put in an ellipsis or start a new paragraph… to show the audience how important what you said was, and the equal importance of what is to follow.  You don’t have to sound… like… William Shatner.  But pauses help you by letting your audience catch up, or take a moment to think about what you’ve just said.

If you want to see an amazing example of a persuasive presentation, take a look at this Youtube video.  This guy has amazing presentation skills!

The Take Away

What are the two keys to a successful persuasive speech?

  1. Make sure your call to action is clear, concise, simple and specific.
  2. Use a personal story that will hook your audience with strong emotions that directly links to the problem you address and the call to action you give.

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Project 3: What's Your Purpose?

What’s your Speech Purpose?speech purpose

There are 4 main reasons to give a speech:

  • to inform
  • to inspire
  • to entertain
  • to call to action.

By knowing your speech purpose, you’ll be able to limit your topic and exclude material that’s not specific to your speech.    Often, this will help you decide what to include and what to exclude from your presentation.  No matter how funny the joke you heard last night was, you have to decide if it fits into your speech.  As your audience is giving you the time (and time equals money) and attention, they expect value in return.  Your task is to honor them.

Stage Fright

Do you know how many times I had to rerecord “International Astronomical Union” for this podcast?*

This is the kind of thing that makes you get more nervous – repeating an error just drills the bad into your head instead of the good.  Practice the tough lines several times before you go onstage.  If you get it wrong, don’t make a big issue out of it, or make fun of yourself, or apologize.  Just keep moving along.  This minimizes your chances of getting more negative reinforcement.

Stage fright is what we call the negative symptoms our bodies respond with to stress.  These responses can be channeled into positive ways.  You can take that energy and put it into your voice or body movements to create more interest in your speech.  You can’t really ignore it, but you can learn to manage it.  The more opportunities you take to get on stage, the more you’ll gain control of your emotional physical reactions.

Competent Leadership Manual

When you join Toastmasters, you’ll be given two different manuals.  The first – the Competent Communicator Manual – covers the 10 speech projects you’ll do in the meetings.  The other book – the Competent Leadership Manual – will introduce you to the various roles in the Toastmasters meetings, including speaker, timer, grammarian and ah-counter (in many clubs, these roles are combined), evaluator, meeting toastmaster and general evaluator.

*For the record:  3.

iTunes linkMy Speech Purpose?  Your Call to Action:  Please review us on iTunes – use the button to go right to our podcast listing.


Our music is from
Cool Blast Kevin MacLeod (
Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License