How to be a More Persuasive Speaker:
Ten Tips from the Real World
by Larry Tracy
Tracy Presentation Skills
Busy executives do not have the time to learn the intricate delivery skills and *glitz* of the professional public
What they need is a *shortcut system* that enables the
presenter to package his or her substantive knowledge so it can be delivered in an interesting, engaging manner.
An effective and persuasive presentation must be focused on satisfying the needs of the audience, so that these people
conclude that what is being proposed is in their best interest.
The Ten Tips outlined in this article are not classroom theory, but instead evolve from the real world lessons I have learned
speaking to demanding audiences.
1. Have a specific objective
If you don't know what you wish to accomplish with your
presentation, your audience certainly won't know either.
Giving a great speech is not an objective in itself - it is
a means to an end, and that end is what you want your
audience to do with the information presented.
Be quite specific, and spell out your objective in no more
than a sentence or two. Print it out and tape it to your
computer monitor. This will keep your preparation focused
and on target.
2. Know your audience's problems, needs and concerns
To be successful and persuasive, presentations must be
audience-centered. You must know the problems of your
audience because your objective is to offer them a solution. This requires in-depth-research about your audience.
Keep in mind that the prime motivation for people to listen to you is their perception that your presentation will
benefit them. *What's in it for me?* is the classic question of all audiences.
3. Structure backwards
We have learned to write and speak in a 1-2-3 structure: (1) Introduction- (2) Body - (3) Conclusion. For oral
presentations, this is counterproductive: In contrast to
reading a memo, we do not have the luxury of going back and reading again what we missed the first time.
When you initiate your draft with your conclusion, then your
presentation will be focused on merging your objective with your audience's problems, interests and concerns.
Place your conclusion on a card marked (3), then develop an introduction that signals the audience that you know its
problems and will be offering a solution. Place this on a
card marked (1).
Finally, place your supporting arguments on a series of
cards marked (2A), (2B), etc. This 3-1-2 System
provides focus, structure, and thematic unity.
4. Practice solo with tape-recorder or video-camera
After completing the presentation draft, practice by
yourself with a tape-recorder or video-camera. You will be at your weakest in this initial practice, hence the advice
to have nobody present whose comments could seriously hurt your confidence.
Listen to your presentation, note the rhythm and cadence, the *uh's*, *y'knows*, and check your mastery of the
If videotaping, note your mannerisms and body language, and coordinate your gestures with your vocal inflection.
5. Practice with colleague, friend or spouse
After completing the solo practice session, you are ready to practice in front of another person. Choose this person
carefully, as you do not want a hyper critic who will find
excessive faults with your presenting style. Neither,
however, do you want the obsequies person who finds no
faults whatsoever, and praises you to the skies. You need honest and constructive criticism aimed at *tweaking* your
6. Convene a *Murder Board* practice session
The *Murder Board* is a rigorous practice session, similar
to a flight simulator used for training pilots how to deal
with in-flight emergencies.
Select no more than four people to be your simulated
audience, and share with them all the intelligence
you have gained on your prospective audience. These four people will then role play your audience.
Their comments, questions and criticism help you correct
your style of delivery, find the gaps in your knowledge, and anticipate questions and objections.
7. Arrive early to meet and greet
Personal contact and interpersonal skills are important for
the success of any presentation, but they are absolutely
vital when you attempt to persuade people to adopt your
opinion, agree with you on an issue, or buy the product you are selling. We tend to accept information from people we
like, but reject it from people we don't like.
When you arrive early, you can get to know members of the audience and let them relate to you as a human being. If
appropriate, mention names during your presentation of people you have had the occasion to meet prior to the
8. Use visuals to support, not to impress
Visual aids, including the ubiquitous PowerPoint, can make
or break a presentation. The advantage of using them is that most people are visual and can more readily absorb
information that is graphically presented.
The disadvantage, especially with PowerPoint, is that the
slides can become a crutch, and excessive use of these slides, with all the bells and whistles, can be distracting and
The bottom line is to not have the wonders of PowerPoint
remembered, but the substance of your presentation
9. Employ rhetorical devices
Repetition of key concepts, the careful use of the strategic pause, and parallel construction are just a few of the
devices you can use to add spice and cadence to your presentation.
Two examples of such techniques will illustrate this
important tactic. Winston Churchill, instead of saying *We in Britain owe a great debt to the pilots of the Royal Air
Force,* expressed this thought with the memorable words *Never in the field of human conflict have so many owed so
much to so few.*
President John F. Kennedy used a classic device when he
said, *We must never negotiate out of fear, but we must
never fear to negotiate.*
Use your imagination to see how you can arrange words to create such cadence and rhythm.
10. Conduct immediate post-presentation analysis
Our instinct after completing a challenging presentation is
to breath a sigh of relief and relax. Big mistake. Within
minutes, sit down with a note pad or tape recorder and
record the questions asked, the reaction of the audience to your presentation, your impression of your own performance,
Don't wait until the next day. Short term memory is
precisely that, and you will remember only generalities.
The immediate analysis will provide specifics.
Follow this advice, and you’ll increase the odds that your
audience, whether one or many, will buy into what you
Larry Tracy, author of The Shortcut to Persuasive Presentations, (Amazon.com), is a retired Army colonel described by President
Ronald Reagan as *an extraordinarily effective speaker.* He now conducts executive presentation skills workshops. Contact him
at (703) 360-3222, firstname.lastname@example.org. For free tips and
articles on presentation skills, visit www.tracy-presentation.com.
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