In the case of a good persuasive speech, the speaker’s argumentative skills matter. You may well have the best arguments in the world, but if you don’t know how to present them, they may not be particularly useful. To persuade the audience, you need thought-through and well-prepared arguments.
So, what is a persuasive speech? The main objective of a persuasive speech is to make your listeners do what you want them to do. For example, „buy my product“, „vote for me“, „believe what I’m talking about“, and so on.
However, as persuasion is direct influence in some way, there are components of persuasion in every public speech. For example, you are at a jubilee celebration of a grand-relative and you have to make a welcome speech in their honour. The question is, what are you trying to persuade the guests in? Obviously, that your relative is a good human being and that you’re being honest about it.
Therefore, in today’s blog post, I’ll write about arguments, persuasion and what you should keep in mind when making a persuasive speech.
1. Create correct and well-structured arguments
But what is an argument? An argument is a well-structured, reasoned, and logically correct opinion. If you fail to structure your speech and your argument is something like „I think it’s so…“ or „I’ve heard…“ or „I’ve read…“, congratulations! No-one will believe you. But if your argument has a good reasonable base, it’s a whole different story.
A reasonable and well-structured argument consists of four parts:
First, a statement is made. For example, the more comprehensive your website content, the greater the likelihood that Google will rank you higher than other related websites.
Then, the statement is explained. For example, Google aims to show the best and most comprehensive match to a search query. As a result, the results are ranked according to what might be the best and most comprehensive answer to the search query.
It’s now time to support your argument with evidence. For example, AvalikEsinemine.net is Estonia’s largest and most comprehensive website for content on public speaking. It offers about 140 long articles and blog posts on public speaking and persuasive speech. There are no other Estonian websites that would handle public speaking in such detail.
Lastly, a clear conclusion must be made. For example, the more comprehensive your website content, the greater the likelihood that Google will rank you higher than other related websites.
Note that your argument and conclusion must be related. Otherwise, your argument is incorrect. Based on the example above, it would be unreasonable to conclude that „AvalikEsinemine.net is the best website for public speaking content in Estonian“. In this case, my argument and conclusion wouldn’t be in line, that is, the argument is incorrect.
2. A persuasive speech needs well-documented arguments
It can easily happen that your argument is true, but if you fail to justify it or prove it properly, people may not understand or believe you.
Use the following evidence to justify your arguments:
„Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.“ – Mark Twain
Statistics is something reliable. Despite the fact that statistics can be twisted here and there, it’s a good evidence to use occasionally.
Example #1: A study conducted at Stanford University in 2016 shows that 82% of people believe everything you tell them if the words „study“ and „percentage“ are included in your statement. It was a large study involving ca. 8,400 people.
Example #2: A study conducted at the University of Oxford in 2017 says that if you want to use the magic words „study“ and „percent“ to confirm your statement, don’t use even numbers. For example, 76% is a much more believable thing to say than 75%. Ca. 4,500 people participated in the study.
Example #3: A study carried out by me very recently shows that 98% of people who use the magic words „study“ and „percent“ to justify their statement make them up. I was the only participant in the study.
If you didn’t realise, all of „studies“ listed in the examples above are fake.
References to expert opinion
If there’s an expert in your area of activity you can refer to (studies, quotes, etc.), do it with confidence. This shows that you’re not the only one who thinks so – there’re many recognised experts who believe the same.
At this point, you have to remember that experts are not the ultimate reference for all people alike.
Standards or applicable laws
For example, if someone crashes into your car from under the Stop sign and tries to accuse you, you can immediately refer your statement („I’m not guilty!“) to the traffic law stating that the Stop sign requires all road users to stop before the sign, regardless of how fast you’re driving on the main road or if there’s anyone driving at all.
„A precise quote is like a lamp that illuminates the whole sentence.“ – Letitia Elizabeth Landon
Quotes are therefore excellent to use to prove your argument. If you share your own wisdom, there are always a number of people who don’t take it seriously. However, if you share someone else’s wisdom and hypocrisy (possibly of a famous person), this would be much more acceptable to many.
Experiments or tests
If any in-depth tests or studies have been done in your area, you can also use them to prove your argument. The more relevant and thorough they are, the better.
Personal experience and/or story
When talking about making a persuasive speech, don’t forget your personal experience. Also, think in advance what personal examples and stories you can bring to prove your argument. The more relevant they are, the better. For example, a personal story is always better than something like „So this happened to a friend of mine…“
3. If possible, use unilateral arguments
Keep in mind that a persuasive speech is not impartial. On the contrary, your goal is to persuade the listeners to do what you want them to do.
During my training sessions, I always ask the listeners a question: „Which approach do you think is more effective – the one in which you present your product or service impartially, revealing the pros and cons? Or is it an approach, in which you only talk about your product’s strengths?“
Strangely, the listeners think that the first one is more effective because „The listeners can see that the salesperson is impartial, talking about the cons of the product, which makes the whole story much more believable.“
I always say that: „As a potential client, obviously, I want to know everything, but will I actually buy anything that the salesman describes in a negative way? Hardly!“
Salespeople mostly use unilateral arguments and just the ones that support their opinion.
When to use two-sided arguments during your speech?
When making a persuasive speech, one-sided arguments are used when the listeners are supportive of your opinion or the subject of the matter. Also, if your position is unambiguous.
At the same time, it’s worth thinking about the „truth, truth – but not the whole truth“ approach. Whether everything you left unsaid is perceived as a lie depends on how important the things are. Obviously, the more important they not to leave them out, the greater the likelihood doing so will be considered lying.
So, use two-sided arguments when the listeners know your topic and if they don’t agree with you immediately. To the extent that they know the topic, if you use one-sided arguments, you can qualify as a „liar“ or „concealer“.
When dealing with two-sided arguments, use the „sandwich method“, i.e., first of all, the pro and then the opposing arguments and, finally, the pro arguments again.
4. Persuasive speech is like a first date
Recall your first dates and think about whether you talked about your good qualities or also bad ones? Also think about what your date told you. Remember exactly how many times on your first date someone introduced themselves in one of the following ways:
Man: „Well, I generally like to occasionally beat women.“
Woman: „I am sick with jealousy. Again!“
The man: „I like to drink hard and disappear from home for three days…“
Woman: „I also like to f..k around.“
Obviously, no-one ever. Therefore, I argue that persuasive speech is like a first date, where you only talk about things that support your views. You have only one chance to make a good impression… why on earth would you voluntarily focus on your negative qualities (product, service, etc.)?
For example, have you heard politicians saying „We are honest in taking into account the interests of our voters. We do our best in representing their interests. But we are also only human, so it may happen that we may be filling our pockets with state money at the same time. For example, during the last government period, we set only $320 million aside, which is not much compared to other parties. Choose us, we steal the least!“
5. Predict counter-arguments
If you know the topic or have argued with someone on the topic, you already know a lot of counter-arguments. In this case, consider whether to mention them straight away in your speech, address them, or, maybe, disregard them. This way, you’ll disarm the audience straight away. Another option is to prepare answers to counter-arguments, which means almost no surprises.
Here are some good tips how to prepare for counter-arguments:
- Think about what you might say about your arguments. Now think about how you could respond to these arguments. This assumes that you know your topic very well and can view it from multiple angles.
- Introduce your arguments to a friend or acquaintance. Then ask them to provide as many counter-arguments as they can. They can even be absurd or demagogic, and you must be prepared to hear them.
- Google articles related to your topic. You will see what experts have used to clarify or reject one or another argument.
- Read article reviews. You can also get good ideas about what people think about the topic. It may be that these comments qualify as absurd and/or demagogic counter-arguments.
- Make a post about your topic on some social media page (Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, etc.). Now check the replies as you’ll probably find the counter-arguments you might hear during your presentation.
- Be ready to find your weakest argument. This means that you have to understand before making a speech, which is your weakest argument, and think how you can improve it.
6. Use arguments from different angles
Arguments and examples that mean something to one person may not say a thing to another. If you see that despite your best arguments the opposing party is still not able to understand your point, think about whether you can explain it with some different statements or examples.
Thus, use different techniques when making a persuasive speech. Since people perceive information differently, when speaking, use all the senses of the listeners. Don’t think you’ll reach far with mere words – bring different examples, use illustration tools, tell stories – you name it. See the Proof section mentioned above to find some good ideas.
7. Don’t overload the listeners with arguments
I’ve met people who were very satisfied after making a speech, „Did I kill them with my story!“ I’ve never understood what they are so proud of… because it’s easy to bore people to death just speaking. It’s much more complicated to present your arguments in a simple way.
Keep in mind that 3-4 good, strong, and multi-angle arguments always impact the listeners much more than a kilometre of general story. Remember that if the listeners cannot clearly understand what you are talking about in your persuasive speech, they won’t do want you want them to.
8. Point out the benefits of your version
One of the main mistakes salespeople make in their persuasive speeches is that they talk about the characteristics of their product, not mentioning the benefits. If you assume that everyone will be able to clearly understand the benefits based on the general characteristics of your message (solution, product, etc.), you are wrong.
Your point as a speaker is to clearly highlight and illustrate the benefits.
Don’t generalise saying „My solution will make you profit“ but just say what amount is. Let the listener’s imagination go wild mentioning what you can do with the benefits.
For example, instead of saying „With our solution, you’ll win $3,000“ say „Our solution allows you to earn $3,000. By the way, me and my wife went to Paris for a two-week trip this summer, with a total cost of about three thousand dollars.“
9. Don’t exaggerate when making a your speech
Let’s be honest, we all tend to exaggerate from time to time. Sometimes, for example, a little exaggeration adds colour to the story. However, please understand that exaggeration is a form of lying.
Remember a classic fisherman’s story: „The fish was 1.5 m long, and the eye diameter was 30 cm!“ If the listeners realise how much you’re exaggerating at the moment (i.e., lie), they’ll begin to doubt the entire story that preceded it, and everything that follows.
10. Show with all your nature that you believe what you’re talking about
Your story may be the best, and you may use the best arguments in the world, but if you hesitate, nobody will believe you. For example, think about crooks: they know they’re talking nonsense, but as they do it very confidently, they are more likely to be believed than any of the hesitating speakers.
Therefore, keep in mind that if your words and body language don’t match, the listeners tend to believe your body language.
11. Avoid demagoguery
Demagoguery is misrepresentation, distortion of the truth, as well as targeted and dishonest influence on the listener. Demagoguery is also persuasion without convincing arguments. The more you twist the truth and the less you use decent arguments, the more demagoguery you create.
The main demagoguery methods used:
Argumentum ad hominem („to the person“)
Here, you show yourself in the best possible light, while labelling and ridiculing the opponent. For example, „Look what you’re wearing“, „Well, what can you expect from a salesperson like you…“
Argumentum ad populum („argument to the people“)
This is a technique, in which a person’s opinion is presented as a massive argument without using any other arguments or explanations, but putting on a self-confident face. For example: „Everyone knows that!“ or „It’s always been done this way!“
This technique must be the most reprehensible ethically as it appeals to compassion („…or else I die“). At the same time, emotional influence is also intimidating, praising, and luring the audience.
Changing the subject (the so-called „red herring“):
Your thoughts divert the audience’s attention from the main subject and, if possible, someone else is being blamed. For example: „Why do you ask us where our political party gets money from? Why don’t you ask the other party about where they get their money from. In our country, the forces are subject to bias…“
The cause and effect are not related.
Question: „Mr Minister! What’s your comment on the fact that there’s no butter in warehouses?“ Answer: „We checked how much milk there is in the warehouses. As butter is made of milk, we shouldn’t have problems with butter.“
You single out a part (for example, the linguistic value) of an otherwise correct argument and focus on it.
Compare incomparable things
For example, compare apples to oranges and make some odd conclusions.
This is a classic intimidation and exaggeration („If we accept refugees, our jobs will be taken away“)
That is, proving evidence with one’s own help. Here, a statement is made and justified with basically the same thing. For example, „I need 45 copies quickly, because I need them.“
Persuasive speech needs a strong structure
For the listeners not to blame you for demagoguering, you need to justify your arguments properly. We’ve already spoken about what a good argument is (Statement >> Explanation >> Proof >> Conclusion) as well as the use of evidentiary material.
Final thoughts: How to make a persuasive speech?
Keep in mind that elements of persuasion are found in almost every type of speech (including funeral speeches). The objective of a classic persuasive speech, however, is to make listeners do what you want them to do. However, to do it in the most effective way possible, you should use reasonable and structured arguments, based on good evidence.
The weaker your arguments and the less convincing you sound (e.g., demagogy or unclear body language), the greater the probability that no-one will be listening.
What is an impromptu speech? An impromptu speech is a speech which given without any thorough preparation. It is five- to eight-minute speech with a characteristically short preparation time of couple of minutes. (full article here)
What is elevator pitch? An elevator pitch is a well-thought, meaningful, and repeatedly practisced brief (about 30-60 seconds long) overview of who you are, what you offer, and how your partner can benefit from it (full article here).
What is audience analysis? Audience analysis gives you the opportunity to get as much information about the background of your listeners as possible. Using this information, you can prepare your message so that it builds on the interests, needs, and expectations of your listeners. (full article here).