By Gina Barrett
You’re staring at the charts and graphs littering your PowerPoint presentation. You’ve got the data. You know what you want to tell the audience. You know what you want the audience to do. Now how do you get them to do it?
There are three main elements that influence your ability to influence. Those elements are credibility, content, and connection. (Or as Aristotle called them over two millennia ago: ethos, logos and pathos.)
We are more likely to adopt ideas from people we deem credible – people we trust. Who do we trust? Those who demonstrate good will towards us – who aren’t merely using us to get what they want. Those who demonstrate knowledge, experience and good judgment.
In this respect, your presentation starts before your presentation starts. Laying the groundwork for influence should be a regular part of your routine, through acting with integrity, building relationships, demonstrating expertise.
Anything you can do to establish your credibility before the presentation will help put you on firm footing. If possible, meet one-on-one with key decision-makers before the meeting. This gives you the opportunity to show interest in their views, lay the groundwork for your message and know how to better tailor it to meet their needs.
Otherwise, seek to establish credibility at the beginning of your presentation. If it’s a forum where speaker introductions are appropriate, have a respected individual give an introduction that establishes your good will and expertise. They will be lending you some of their own credibility, and your credentials won’t sound self-serving coming from them as it would coming from you.
If that isn’t possible, begin by saying a few words about yourself to establish your credibility, and be conscious of weaving examples of it into your presentation if applicable.
When teaching presentation skills to MBA students, I illustrated one concept by talking about a situation that occurred when I was a communication coach for the rising CEO of a software company. The primary purpose of the story was to illustrate the concept. The secondary purpose, however, was to establish my credibility as an expert with this group of future CEOs, so that they would more readily accept the information I was giving them.
The backbone of a persuasive presentation is the content.
It’s said that everyone is tuned to station WII FM – “What’s In It For Me?”
So as you assemble the content, put yourself in their mindset and ask yourself – what’s in it for them? Why should they care? Why should they want to believe/do this? Then focus the presentation on how what you propose can benefit them.
Your opening statement should entice the audience to listen. Tell a pertinent story, ask a question or make startling statement. Then briefly orient the audience to the purpose of your presentation and give them a bare-bones outline to serve as a guide to what you’re going to talk about.
From there, develop a logical argument for your case. Use data to support your argument. Explain how adopting your ideas or following your proposed course of action will benefit them.
Anticipate major questions, counterarguments, or reservations the audience may have. Then raise them yourself and answer them in the presentation. For example, “You may be thinking that we can’t afford this. That’s a legitimate concern. Let me show you how we actually can fit this into the budget….” In communication lingo, this is called “inoculation against counter-persuasion.” Being proactive gives you the opportunity to control the dialogue and frame the information to your advantage.
At the end of your presentation, summarize your key ideas and give them specifics on how they can do what you are asking them to do. If appropriate, drive home your main idea using a quotation, story, or other vivid device.
Finally, in order to persuade an audience, we need to be able to detect the audience’s feelings and connect with them on an emotional level.
Sounds odd for business or scientific presentations, doesn’t it? We’d like to think that decisions we make are made based entirely on cool, rational logic.
Yet think about this: a beverage company trying to improve sales invented an improved version of their product. They spent $4 million in taste-tests with over 200,000 consumers, which determined that consumers preferred the new formula better than the old. Yet when they introduced the new formula, numerous people expressed outrage and the company eventually reverted back to the old formula.
In the wake of the failed initiative, Coca-Cola president Donald Keough stated:
”All of the time and money and skill poured into consumer research on the new Coca-Cola could not measure or reveal the deep and abiding emotional attachment to original Coca-Cola,” 1
So how does this underlying emotional influence on decision-making play out in a presentation?
“Good persuaders,” wrote Jay A. Gonger in the Harvard Business Review “show their own emotional commitment to the position they are advocating….have a strong and accurate sense of their audience’s emotional state, and…adjust the tone of their arguments accordingly.” 2
Come alongside the audience and establish common ground – remind them of what ideas and goals you do have in common. Then introduce your ideas, always asking yourself how the audience will feel about them, and calibrate your approach accordingly.
An important way of getting the audience to buy-in to your ideas on a gut level is to make them vivid, concrete and compelling through the use of demonstrations, stories, similes, metaphors and quotations that have meaning to the audience.
A recent example is from legendary corporate communicator Steve Jobs when he introduced the i-Phone to an audience of thousands. He could have tried to persuade his audience of the value of an i-Phone by listing the technical features of the phone. Instead, he demonstrated its usefulness by mapping and calling a Starbucks…and ordering four thousand lattes. (Click HERE to see the clip.) Jobs made the abstract features of the phone come alive for the audience. He demonstrated how it could benefit them. And using a style of humor his predominately young audience would appreciate, he warmed them up to him (and his cause).
So while those graphs and charts on your PowerPoint slides can help bolster your arguments, that’s not all you need. To get the results you want, develop the elements of credibility, content, and connection.
A number of years ago the pharmaceutical industry was going through some dramatic changes. Speaking to an industry group, the CEO of a pharmaceutical company sought to persuade his audience of the importance of adapting to those changes. After sharing facts and figures, he ended by quoting I Ching: “Resisting change is like holding your breath – if you persist, you die.”
He made his point.
1 Anne B. Fisher, Wilton Woods and Robert Steyer. “Coke’s Brand Loyalty Lesson,” Fortune Magazine, August 5, 1985. http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/fortune_archive/1985/08/05/66245/index.htm
2 Jay A. Gonger, “The Necessary Art of Persuasion,” Harvard Business Review, May-June 1998.