What strategies do master persuaders use to sway people to their point of view? How can you implement those strategies?
To change someone’s opinion, you must nudge them in your direction one small step at a time so that by the end, your argument is completely plausible in their minds. You should start by priming your audience, and by the end, they should be motivated to make a change. In the middle, you can employ strategies such as appealing to logic, discrediting the opposite stance, or guiding them to the conclusion through the process of elimination.
Here are five persuasive speaking strategies for success.
Strategy #1: Prime the Audience
Anderson says that a good persuasive speech begins with priming. To prime someone is to expose them to a certain image or thought to influence how they react to the next image or thought. For example, if your speech is about the benefits of art in elementary education, showing a photograph of children happily painting primes your audience to think positive thoughts about creative activities.
(Shortform note: Priming is a manipulation of the subconscious often used by salespeople and advertisers. For example: If you own a restaurant and want your customers to order Italian wine, you can prime them to desire it by playing Italian music in the background. According to the theory, the customer isn’t consciously thinking that they want Italian wine to go with the music, but their eye will go to that part of the menu because of it. However, after several studies failed to replicate earlier findings about the impact of priming, some psychologists believe that its effects are more limited than previously thought or altogether nonexistent.)
Strategy #2: Appeal to Logic
Anderson says that appeals to logic are the most commonly used techniques in persuasive speaking, and they include: citing evidence and expert opinions, using “if, then” statements to show cause and effect, displaying statistics, and using anecdotes. While these aren’t the most groundbreaking techniques, he says that every persuasive speech should employ at least some of these strategies.
(Shortform note: About 2,300 years ago, Aristotle determined that effective persuasive speaking has three components: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos is the credibility and trustworthiness of the speaker, pathos is the appeal to emotion, and logos is the appeal to reason. While many argue that appealing to emotion is more effective than appealing to reason, you should strive to do both.)
Strategy #3: Discredit the Opposite Stance
Anderson says an effective persuasive technique is to display the opposite viewpoint and show your audience why it won’t work, why it’s an inferior choice, or why it’s dangerous or immoral. For example, proponents of electric vehicles could show how fossil fuel pollution is damaging animal and human habitats (dangerous and immoral), discuss the rising cost of gasoline (an inferior choice), or present statistics that show why gasoline isn’t a sustainable resource (won’t work).
(Shortform note: This is a strategy often used in political debates. If you present your opponent’s viewpoint upfront and show why it’s not good, you leave little room for argument. However, rather than using the “straw man” technique (a fallacy in which you create a weakened version of someone’s argument and destroy it), it’s more effective to build a “steel man”—create the strongest version of your opponent’s argument that you can, and show why it won’t work.)
Strategy #4: Guide the Audience to Their Conclusion
Anderson says one of the most entertaining ways to engage your audience is to present a big question at the beginning of your talk that sparks curiosity. Then, take your audience through all of the possible answers, eliminating them as you go and arriving at the conclusion. People love to feel like they’re solving a mystery. (This is one reason why true crime documentaries are so popular.)
(Shortform note: When the audience “solves the mystery” themselves, they also have ownership of the conclusion. You’re more likely to persuade someone if they believe they arrived at the decision on their own.)
Strategy #5: Leave Them Motivated
Effective persuasive speeches leave the audience energized and motivated to make a change. Even if the audience agrees with you by the end of the speech, if they aren’t left motivated, they’ll quickly forget the whole experience. If this happens, you can’t say that you have actually changed this person’s view of the world. Anderson says that telling a personal and memorable story that humanizes the issue will move your audience and imprint your speech into their memory.
(Shortform note: Experts say that persuasive speeches should end with “attitude not platitude,” meaning that the finale of your talk should be exciting and not a lecturing statement. One suggestion for how to do this is to give your speech a provocative title, and then use that title in your final sentence. It provides lyrical symmetry to the speech, closes the loop, and helps your audience remember and reference your performance.)