Is Your Presentation Persuasive?

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A legend exists regarding an encounter between french poet Jacques Prévert and a blind beggar. As the story goes, Jacques passed a beggar on the street holding a sign which read “Blind man without a pension”. Jacques asked the man if he had made much money from begging that day, to which the man replied “Some people give, but not a lot. Most just keep walking.” The poet asked the beggar if he could borrow his sign. Jacques turned the sign over and wrote a new message on the other side.

The next day, Jacques went to see the blind beggar again and asked him how he was making out. “Incredible!”, the beggar replied, “I’ve never made so much money!”

On the opposite side of the sign, Jacques had written:

“Spring is coming, but I won’t see it.”

Everyone has something to say. Most people have no clue how to say it effectively. Your message may be important, it may be useful, but, unless you can use it to persuade and compel, it’s just a lot of words.

I’ve been speaking publicly for almost 15 years, and I can recall, early on, the frustration of having what I believed to be powerful information without the skill to present it persuasively. I was passionate about my topic, I was knowledgable about my subject, but I often failed to connect with my audience. All the planning and study in the world cannot makeup for a poor presentation.

Whether you’re a beggar, a pastor, or a business consultant, you have something to say, and how people receive what you have to say depends on how you deliver it. Here are a few crucial truths I’ve discovered about presenting which I believe can save you from wasting a grand opportunity to communicate well.

Be Memorable

Nancy Duarte, in her book Resonate, says “The enemy of persuasion is obscurity.” A forgettable presentation is a failure, however well you might have followed your outline. Dress distinctly, act distinctly, speak distinctly–when you command attention, your message is more likely to be heard and remembered. From the stories you use, to the color of your presentation material, be memorable. A shout, a whisper; both have the power to cement a word in the mind of the listener. Use them wisely.

Determine The Action/Outcome

I love to learn and study, but information dumps are not compelling. If you are going to go to the trouble to present an idea, you need to know what you hope to accomplish. What action can people take based on your information? What is your desired outcome? How will what you say change the world and motivate your listeners? Zero in on that, and frame everything around giving people actionable information.

Education? Entertainment? Inspiration?

Along with determining the outcome, determine the style of the talk. There is overlap between these styles, but you can narrow most presentations down to primarily being either educational, entertaining, or inspirational. Educational presentations seek to deliver vital knowledge that people can use in practical ways. Entertaining presentations seek to remove from the audience the burden of having to think. It is amusing, which literally means to suspend their need for deep thought and allow them to be fascinated. Inspirational presentations should stir an audience to go forth and pursue their ambitions, empowering them with hope. Sometimes your personality or the nature of your topic tends naturally toward one of these three styles, but be clear in your preparation, and aim for achieving one of them well.

If You Have To, Use Statistics

I don’t know how many times I have seen presenters rattle off statistics to back up their point of view while we, the audience, yawned and checked our phones. Statistics can be useful, but they can also be a crutch, and they suffer from being sorely unemotional things. Just because you found a study that backs up your idea, doesn’t mean we think it’s interesting. People much prefer to be swayed emotionally than to be inundated with data. If you use statistics, make them emotionally compelling and practically relevant. Couple them with a real-life story to help people understand how the data works in a practical sense. Never, never, douse people with buckets of cold statistics in hopes of provoking a warm reaction.

Appeal to Emotion

People give more weight to first-hand experience and emotional perception than they do to fact. Sometimes, for facts to become important, you need to attach them to emotion and experience. If you can generate an emotional experience that can be shared with your audience, you have gone miles beyond what any chart or graph can do to persuade. Use personal stories. Strategically draw out emotion at various points in your presentation. The wider range of emotions, the better. The best presentations are not so much heard as they are felt. If your audience cries, laughs, gasps, or jumps, they are far more likely to remember what you had to say.

Bow To The Hero

We are all the hero of our own stories, but when you present to an audience, suspend your own desire to be the hero and acknowledge the fact that you are there for them–the listeners. They, not you, are the hero. They came to you, and in many cases they might even be spending money to hear you. They are paying you to perform, and they don’t want it to be all about you. They want it to be all about them, which is as it should be. If they aren’t connecting, it doesn’t matter what the next bullet point says, you need to get your audience back. If they go away feeling like a hero after your speech, you win. If you go away feeling like a hero, chances are they went away feeling non-plussed, thinking you are a bit of a egotist. Humble yourself. Let them be the most important thing.

Give Them What They Need

People crave belonging, hope, meaning, and affirmation. Give them what they need. As I mentioned above, they didn’t gather to feed your ego, but they did gather to receive something from you. If you can fill one of these deep needs, you will win the trust and affection of your audience. Weave these themes into your presentation. Reach into their chests and touch these powerful desires. Show them that you understand them. I never present with the intent of merely giving information. I want to give people paths toward hope, meaning, belonging, and affirmation.


In order to achieve much of the above, you’re going to have to get past reciting legal jargon and plowing through bulletted lists. Embellish your talk with language that appeals to the senses. Include vivid details. A good presenter can make a mundane walk to the mailbox seem like a fascinating adventure. With a little imagination, Chicago becomes “The windy city”, New York becomes “The city that never sleeps”, and Norma Jean becomes Marylin Monroe. Change the way you explain it, and you change how people perceive it.

You have an idea worth sharing. Share it in a compelling way. Your message is too important to be smothered under a mountain of power point slides and stuff statistics. Tell a good story. Invite us to imagine with you. Do these things, and you will be remembered.

Or you could just fall off the stage. They will remember that, too.



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