Persuasive presentations are your route to stardom. Lesser mortals, presenting routine updates, enjoy an easier stroll through familiar ground. Persuasive presentations, however, often push against prevailing opinions. It takes skill, tenacity and conviction to win people round to your way of thinking. Here are a few tips on how to get started.
What is a persuasive presentation?
Whether delivered virtually or in-person, a persuasive presentation aims to convince an audience of the need for action. You’re not simply presenting an update, which people can react to in their own way. You’re deliberately seeking to shape their reaction, by guiding them towards a conclusion that you want them to accept.
Shift opinions, and win support, by holding the audience’s hand and leading them gently but decisively towards the conclusions you want them to buy into. In a process that relies on structure, self-belief, and empathy, you’re giving the audience hard-edged clarity, gloved in a soft layer of human connection.
Examples of persuasive presentation
Persuasive presentations can take different forms but all share one thing in common. Whether you’re asking your audience to accept a concept (such as renewable energy), or the prospect of change (perhaps in staffing, or location), your central idea matters far more than your deck, graphics or choice of words. People expect to see a polished performance, but the thing that wins hearts and minds is your centre-piece argument.
Authentic conviction and clarity
One of the most famous speeches of all time was delivered in 17 minutes, without a deck, to an audience of a quarter of a million people, in the open air, with the intention of persuading a nation of the need for systematic change. Martin Luther King Jr’s speech of August 28, 1963, is one of the most iconic moments in American history.
King sought to move people with a powerful sense of hope that breathed life into a political vision, a dream of better days ahead. His authentic perception of a different future paved the way towards refocusing America’s political agenda. Your own idea might be less ambitious, nevertheless authentic conviction will still be your first step in achieving change.
Just as important as self-belief is clarity, the essential ingredient that determines whether or not your audience understand you. A funny thing about clarity is that it can work better with metaphor, than fact. How would ‘I have a perception of equality’ have been received, compared to “I have a dream”? Vision and emotion have the power to move people.
Similarly, elsewhere, authentic conviction and clarity are just as essential, for example in landing multimillion-dollar movie deals. Pitching a sci-fi film as ‘a hostile alien created through special effects’ might be factually accurate, but would it have got the message across? The writers of the 1979 film Alien presented it in just three words: ‘jaws in space’, which is about as much clarity as you could ask for.
There was a similar moment of persuasive clarity from Nobel-winning physicist Richard Feynman. In 1986, Feynman was part of a panel investing the explosion that destroyed the space shuttle Challenger. Arguments centred on whether a rubber component had failed after becoming too hard and immobile in freezing temperatures before the launch.
Feynman nailed his point by taking a similar piece of rubber, clamping it and dunking it in ice-water, live on television. When he pulled it out and released the clamp, the rubber failed to return to its shape. In a flash, he removed doubts in many people’s minds about a key cause of the accident.
How to structure a persuasive presentation
1. Preparation – know your outcome
For tips from our expert trainers on preparing for your presentation, take a look here. Start by thinking about the story you’re looking to present. Effective stories have a beginning, middle and end. Focus on your outcome, the result you’re trying to achieve. In a persuasive presentation, you’re not settling for business as normal. You’re looking for change. This is what your ending must focus on.
To get there, lay out the case for change. Your story should start with the challenges you face, and the options that are open to you. In your introduction, think about what you want to say, and include the benefits that your audience will gain from your proposal. Perhaps too include a key ‘headline’ message within the first 30 seconds, something that grabs attention and which sets the tone of your talk.
Whether your audience knows the subject as well as you do or not, they are unlikely to know your particular take on it. Even if they know the issues as well as you, a clear introduction will ease them into your own line of thought. From there, make the case for your chosen course of action.
2. Delivery – connect with your audience
To bring about change, you may need to build the support of other people – which is perhaps the purpose of your presentation. Think of the audience as your potential allies. This approach will help you build a connection from the beginning.
A presentation delivered in a monologue by someone looking down at their notes or across at their slides isn’t going to resonate with people. Better instead to develop empathy for your audience. Here, speaking with a sense of ‘linguistic mirroring’ can help. Be aware of your audience’s concerns and expectations. To build trust, use lots of eye contact, warmth, and a confident tone of voice that says ‘I know my stuff – I’m worth listening to’. Vagueness is hard to trust, and never persuasive.
The purpose of your presentation is to take your audience on a narrative journey, decisively leading them towards your conclusion. When speaking of numbers, you could describe them as red hot or stone cold, as tumbling or towering, and so on. This allows the numbers to be more than mere dry shapes on a page; it gives them meaning and character. Concepts expressed in this way become more sweet, sharp, pungent, shrill, or kaleidoscopic. In short, they go beyond abstract references. They become things, that become real.
3. Make it memorable – finish with a call to action
Show your audience the direction you’re going in by giving them a sense of emotion. Granted, you’re not portraying a heart-wrenching scene from Titanic, nevertheless think about whether you’re trying to convey hope, boldness, or perhaps resilience. Emotion will shape your choice of language – both your words and your body language.
After your presentation, you may want your audience to act on what they’ve heard, emotion will help them remember to do so. In your conclusion, spell out the action you want them to take. The ending to your story is an emphatic explanation of what you want your audience to do. You might want them to take decisions or prepare for change.
Types of persuasive presentation
Our course on persuasive presentations gives trainees the skill to create a presentation that meets their objectives. Whether your presentation is uplifting or stoic, a call for reactions or resolve, the benefits of presentation skills will help you deliver a decisive message.
Audiences respond to a human touch. Humour, metaphors and images are all easier to grasp than a graph, though they’re best used sparingly. Humour can be difficult in a presentation and can even be counter-productive. A simple smile, and a pause here and there, are easier to pull off.
Most presentations are followed by a Q&A session. This is something you can prepare for in advance. Think of the likely questions that are going to come up. Prepare answers that aren’t just factual replies, but which support your conclusion.
The secret ingredient in all of this is to be yourself. Stay ‘present in the moment’ – clearing the noise from your own mind, the internal dialogue, so that you can pay full attention to everything that’s going on around you, concentrating entirely on the presentation and delivering it persuasively. By connecting with people, thinking on your feet, staying focused, and giving a decisive message, your presentation will be a memorable step in the direction you want to take.