Do you want to be a better speaker?
Speaking in public is often listed as one of the biggest fears people have. And many people never learn the art of speaking to others in a way that persuades them.
But persuasion and public speaking are key to success in so many different walks of life, from politics to sales to academic pursuits.
“Communicating your ideas clearly and presenting them openly in a public forum is an essential component of success across several domains of life,” writes neuropsychologist, speaker, and author Theo Tsaousides.
“It can help you promote ideas and move people to action on issues that affect them directly and society at large.”
When you’re watching a great public speaker, it can seem so natural that it’s easy to believe that some people are just born that way.
And while that may be true, it’s also true that you can work on your ability both to speak persuasively in public and to persuade people within your social circle.
Here are some traits you’ll often find in people who are great at persuading others. And by adopting some of these traits yourself, you can improve your ability to convince people.
Let’s start with what may be the most important trait of all for persuasive speech: confidence.
The thing is, no one is going to believe you if you don’t seem to believe in yourself. Presenting your arguments with confidence is half the battle when it comes to being a persuasive speaker.
Look at politicians who speak in public for a living, for example. When do they ever seem unsure of themselves? Even if they don’t know the answer to a question, they will reply with confidence and self-belief that makes people want to agree with them.
There are lots of little tricks to master to make yourself seem more confident. Strong eye contact, good body language, clear speech without verbal fillers, and a lack of fidgeting can all make you appear more confident and in control.
And when you do that, people can’t help but be persuaded by you.
But as well as the way you present what you are saying, the way you speak has a major impact on your ability to persuade.
Clarity means getting to the point and explaining your argument in a way that is easy to grasp for others. Leadership communications company Ginger point to the following components of clarity:
- Know where you are going with the things you say
- Pronounce words clearly
- Avoid filler words such as ‘um’ and ‘err’
- Avoid words such as ‘like’ that don’t add any anything to what you’re saying
Being clear in what you are saying makes your speech both easy to understand and more memorable. If you want people to focus on what you are saying, make it easy for them by being as clear as possible.
Many people make the mistake of thinking that persuasive speech is a kind of performance, and that it is essentially one way, from the speaker to the listener.
Actually, this isn’t true at all.
Empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine their emotions. And it’s key to public speaking because it allows you to connect with an audience by speaking directly to their hopes, desires, and fears.
The better you understand the people you are speaking to, the easier it is to persuade them.
Many people make the mistake of over-preparing what they want to say, especially when called to speak in public.
And while it’s a good idea to be prepared, it’s also important to stay flexible.
You may receive questions from the audience. Or you may sense their attention waning if you speak too long or too technically.
Maintaining a certain level of flexibility in the things you want to say allows you to connect on a much more emotional level with your audience. This will make your speech far more persuasive.
5) Good body language
We already touched on confidence. But having good body language is how you express your confidence both in yourself and in your message.
Ultimately, this makes you far more credible and persuasive.
Public speaking coach Gary Genard recommends focusing on the following aspects of body language:
- Using strong, natural hand gestures
- Commanding the space around you with movement
- Using technology to emphasize what you are saying
- Embracing facial expressions
- Working on your voice to make it more powerful and persuasive
- Using power poses to demonstrate authority
When it comes to persuading others, how you say things is every bit as important as what you say. And body language is one of the main ways you can convey your expertise without saying a word.
6) Storytelling ability
Humans are addicted to story.
Every advertising brand out there knows that if they want to move more product, they need to create a compelling story that people can relate to.
After all, we can’t help but be drawn in by a good story.
People who are great at persuading others know how to harness the power of story. Whether this story is about themselves, their brand, or about the audience themselves, great speakers use the power of story to connect with an audience.
7) Active listening
Great speakers also know how to listen.
Whether you’re holding a meeting, making a presentation, or just talking to people in a less formal setting, there’s a time when you need to stop speaking and start listening.
After all, you can’t persuade other people of anything if you don’t understand their needs and wants.
Active listening allows you to more fully understand your audience. And when you understand them, it’s much easier to connect with them and persuade them of your point.
No one listens to someone who seems like they don’t know what they’re talking about.
On the other hand, someone with a thorough grasp of a subject can make for an extremely compelling speaker.
This is where it’s important to do your homework. If you want to persuade others of your point, you need to thoroughly understand your subject and demonstrate your expertise.
Having facts and figures at your disposal can help. So can having opinions of other experts, like I do in this article.
Ultimately, persuading other people of your point of view begins with persuading them that you know what you are talking about. So make sure you’ve done your homework before you open your mouth.
Still, humans are emotional creatures. All the facts and figures in the world won’t connect if you don’t speak with passion.
“You’ve got to show up and be present in order to reach people through communication, and that takes passion,” says public speaking expert Nick Morgan. “We don’t fully trust people until we’ve seen them get emotional — angry, sad, ecstatic — because these moments allow us to take the measure of their values.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean screaming red-faced at your audience. But it does mean convincing them you care about what you are saying.
That kind of passion can be difficult to fake, which is why you should stick to speaking on subjects you actually care about.
Do that, and your passion will be unmistakable – and persuasive.
There’s one more piece to the puzzle of persuasive speaking, and it comes down to timing.
Like music, speech has a flow and a rhythm that people can’t help but respond to. But when you chatter on in a monotone voice and pay no attention to your timing or pacing, you are practically asking people to lose interest in what you are saying.
Any type of public speaking should have a rhythm to it. You should vary the length of your sentences, and use sentence length and word choice to build your speech toward a crescendo, just like a piece of music.
Effectively using timing in public speaking can take a lot of practice to master. But when you do, you’ll find it much easier to persuade people with what you’re saying.
The secrets of persuasive speakers
Persuading others through speech is as much an art as it is a science. And it requires a variety of traits that help you connect with other people.
But even if you’re not a naturally great speaker, you can improve your ability to persuade others by adopting these traits.
Before you know it, you’ll have the audience eating out of your hand.
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