Six Steps to Becoming a Persuasive Speaker

The purpose of all presentations, especially in the business world, is persuading. Even if you are not looking to make a sale, gain a contract or change audience members’ minds, you are still attempting to persuade them to listen to you, and to accept your information.

Most books on public speaking or presentation skills suggest there are four types of presentation, aimed at either

  • Informing
  • Entertaining
  • Motivating and inspiring
  • Persuading

I disagree.

I believe the purpose of all presentations, especially in the business world, is persuading. Even if you are not looking to make a sale, gain a contract or change audience members’ minds, you are still attempting to persuade them to listen to you, and to accept your information.

These are the six steps to persuasion that I discuss in my training workshops:

  1. Develop a concrete objective
  2. Gain Audience Intelligence
  3. Demonstrate passion about your subject
  4. Structure backwards
  5. Conduct a Murder Board
  6. Conduct a Post-Presentation Analysis

Let’s look at each of these steps:

1. Develop a concrete objective

Your objective is not merely to deliver a good presentation. An oral presentation is the means to a specific end, and that end is what you want the audience to do with your information. If you are vague in your own mind about what action you want the audience to take, you will not have the focus and thematic unity required in an oral presentation.

A written document such as a memo can be poorly written and appear incoherent on first reading, but its obtuseness can finally be pierced on a second or third reading. The oral presentation must be understood immediately. There are no instant replays.

The goal of your presentation is to persuade audience members to buy your product, service, or project, or the information you are providing, because they see it as solving their problem.

Once you have decided on your objective, type it, print it, and paste it on your monitor. Refer to this objective as you progress in your draft. It becomes a compass heading to keep you on course. When you find you are going off on a tangent, redirect towards this objective.

Because you must solve the problems of your audience, you must know precisely what these problems are. That leads to the second step which is vital because it gets to the heart of persuasion – knowing your audience’s position on the subject, knowing what problems confront audience members, and their attitudes on the issue.

2. Gain Audience Intelligence

Members of your audience probably have a great deal on their mind, and you are competing with these preoccupations for attention. They have only limited time to listen to you. You must know what are the hot buttons to push, and which hot buttons to avoid touching, lest you distract your audience from the focus of your presentation.

Conduct research on the internet, talk to people who have spoken to this group before, know the idiosyncrasies of key members of the audience.

The more information you have about the concerns, problems and needs of audience members, the better prepared you will be. Keep in mind that persuasive communication takes place at the intersection of your objective and the needs of the audience. If you fail to reach this intersection, concentrating only on what you want, you will not persuade.

3. Demonstrate passion about your subject

You must have such a belief that your product or service can solve the problems of audience members that you have a sense of obligation to have them accept your message for their own benefit, not yours.

When you have this passion, it will show in your voice, in your gestures, in your facial expression. Even those predisposed to disagree will listen to you, for they know you are sincere, have grasped their problem, and really want to help.

Audience members who sense that a presenter “knows” them are more likely to invest the time and attention to listen to the presentation, and perhaps adopt the point of view being advocated by the presenter.

Passion provides the intensity that cuts through all the distractions and allows the speaker to connect with the audience. Perhaps the best definition of the linkage of factual, verifiable data delivered with verve and passion was made by a 19th Century minister, Lyman Beecher, who defined persuasion as “Logic on Fire.”

4. Structure backwards

From elementary school on, we have been taught to think in a 1-2-3 or A-B-C structure. This is logical, but counter-productive for time-sensitive oral presentations. An effective presenter seeking to persuade must adopt a counter-intuitive method: structuring backwards, not forward.

Initiate your draft with your concluding phrase, those words that spring from the intelligence you have gained on your audience that you believe will cause audience members to adopt as their own what you have established as your objective in step one.

In my coaching workshops, I refer to this as my 3-1-2 System, covered in Chapter 8. I consider system the foundation of my entire training program, and of this book.

5. Conduct a Murder Board

I have written about the Murder Board in previous articles I have posted, but here is a brief review.

The Murder Board, despite its macabre name, is indispensable for those times when you must make an important presentation.

I bring it to my executive training programs from my military background. It is a rigorous practice session in front of an audience role-playing the people to whom you will present. The Murder Board enables you to hone delivery skills, make mistakes when they don’t count, anticipate questions and objections, and, of course, develop crisp, precise answers.

Done right, it will build self-confidence, lessen the apprehension of speaking, and result in a more focused and audience-centered presentation. How to conduct such a simulation is the most important element I teach in my workshop, one that does so much to improve speaking skills.

The better you anticipate, the better you respond. The more “heat” you feel in practice, the better prepared you will be to face demanding audience members. Conversely, of course, the less effective you are in anticipating, the less effective you will be in delivering responsive answers to tough questions.

The Murder Board is the presenter’s equivalent to the actor’s dress rehearsal, the moot court preparation of lawyers, and the flight simulator that prepares pilots to deal with emergencies.

6. Conduct a post-presentation analysis

The previous five steps take place before and during the presentation, while this final step takes place after the presentation has been concluded – immediately after. Conducting such an after-action analysis is counter-intuitive, for our instinct after completing a challenging presentation, perhaps one for a lucrative contract, is to breath a sigh of relief. Failure to carry out this immediate post-presentation analysis, however, is to waste a golden opportunity.

You have prepared arduously for your presentation, and you should seek to gain from this experience, not let the lessons vanish in the mists of memory. Conducting an analysis of the presentation immediately will let you apply this hard-earned knowledge to the next presentation.

Can you delay this review until the next day? Absolutely not. The insights gained about your audience and your performance in the intense experience of the presentation will vanish, for short term memory is precisely that. Without a post presentation analysis, you will have to reinvent the presentation wheel the next time you must make a presentation. Why start from scratch when you can bottle the valuable information gained from the just completed presentation?

Follow these six steps and watch your ability to persuade others increase dramatically.

Copyright 2005 Larry Tracy

This article is excerpted from Larry Tracy’s book, The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations, available for purchase at his website. A retired Army colonel, he was called “an extraordinarily effective speaker” by President Ronald Reagan. He has been cited in various publications as one of the top presentations trainers in the US. Visit his website at

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