Interesting Point – how do we persuade others to our point of view?

When we need to persuade someone it indicates that they may be unwilling to believe us. There is a great deal of difference between ‘informing’ your audience on the history of climate change; and ‘persuading’ them that the change is caused by human interaction.
When we set out to ‘persuade’ we often make the mistake of believing that our passion for the topic will shine through and we can persuade merely by our energy and enthusiasm.  But this approach does not consider the speech from the audience’s point of view, and if ever a speech needs to address the audience’s point of view it is the persuasive speech.

We know that whenever we stand up to address our audience they will all hold vastly different points of view.  Normally if we seeking to inform this will not matter – the facts are the facts, and we are only conveying the information; the audience can accept or reject as they choose.  But if we are hoping to change their minds about something they hold dear; or if we are seeking to spark some action then we certainly need to understand the challenge facing a ‘persuasive speaker’.

Creating a persuasive speech is far more complex and can be far more demanding than merely speaking to inform your audience. Often we seek to persuade people on topics that touch on their most basic values, attitudes or beliefs. These are their core values, and will be like a sore toe; we do not like them trodden on! 

Many of us have come to our opinions after some degree of soul searching, and having to justify them to ourselves in the light of a persuasive speaker can set up strong resistance.  

So if you are creating a persuasive speech about capital punishment for instance, (whether you wish to reinstate it or see it outlawed worldwide); you will certainly have to contend with your audience’s existing knowledge about capital punishment –what exactly do they know about it?

But there are also peripheral topics that you must address before you can persuade them to your point of view: what is their attitude towards crime and punishment? How many might believe that capital punishment is a deterrent and what are their views on the sanctity of human life? The way they feel about these issues will affect their attitude towards your topic.

In addition you will have to accept that there is a limit to what you can realistically accomplish.  You are never going to persuade lovers of a big barbecued steak to adopt a vegetarian lifestyle.  You may, if you are really persuasive, give them pause to think about the value of a Meat Free Monday though.

When you are tackling a really controversial topic there will be a multitude of attitudes within any one audience.  There will be those that agree with you, and will not need persuading; there will be those vehemently opposed to your point of view and these may never admit to the validity of your arguments; and then there will be those with little understanding or interest in the subject; or those who are ambivalent about it.

So who do you think might be your target audience?  Surely, it would be best to focus on the largest percentage that might be willing to be persuaded if they only had a little more information or some valid reasons to change.

If we are to focus on these then we really need to put ourselves in their shoes.  If they want more information then we must give it them.  If they need reasons to believe then we must supply them; and if they have doubts, criticisms and objections then we must answer them.

By addressing these issues we will reinforce those that already are onside; we can address the issues that interest the ambivalent – and we just might give our opponents something to think about.

If you are a speaker for a specific cause giving several speeches, you will need to assess the make-up of your audience at each event. 

How many are going to be vehement against the issue here?  Then you may have to spend more time addressing the opposing point of view and answering it; again be realistic about what you can achieve.  And never fall into the trap of abusing those that believe differently to you, that is intolerance, and intolerance never persuades anyone to anything worthwhile.

If you are addressing a crowd of the uninterested, your persuasive task is to show them why they should be interested; how the issues are affecting them and how your solution may benefit them.  What’s in it for me is still a powerful persuader.

And if your audience are already convinced, your task may simply be to reinforce their understanding of the issues and to enthuse them to continue in the cause.

So persuasive speaking needs a slightly different approach to merely speaking to inform or instruct.  Here we need to be totally convincing; and we can only convince if we understand not only the topic from our point of view, but from others too.  Only then can we directly address those things that impact on our listeners.

Realistically you cannot change people’s minds with just one speech.  You need to identify your target audience and address their issues; answer their probable questions and queries and then you will have a good chance of persuading at least a few of them to your point of view.  And we cannot ask for much more than that.

I do trust I have persuaded you of that fact.
Michele @ Trischel. 

Persuasive Speaking needs to be built on a strong foundation.
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