Speeches can be incredibly exhilarating, or mind numbingly boring. The difference between the two lies in writing a captivating speech and presenting it in a powerful way. Both of these criteria must be met, or you run the risk of putting the audience to sleep. By following the below five elements of a persuasive speech, you can ensure your audience stays attentive and hanging on your every word.
Craft a Persuasive Speech
Writing a speech is different from every other style of writing. The audience doesn’t want to hear someone simply read a report or a prepared essay. They want to be on the edge of their seat, unaware of the time, completely attentive. The Public Affairs Council (PAC), an independent organization and authority on public affairs and speech writing, suggests that every speech has one out of three possible goals: educate, persuade or entertain. Before you begin writing, decide what the goal of your speech is. Do you want the audience to purchase a product after you’re done? Are you going strictly for laughs? Should they leave with a solid grasp of new information?
- Use a Simple Structure – Have a clear beginning, middle and end to your speech. Do not use an overcomplicated structure. Scholastic.com, a website devoted to reading and writing, states that the opening of your speech can make or break the rest of the presentation. They have found that audience members will decide within the first few sentences if your speech is worth their time. Spend quality time creating an opening that intrigues the audience.
After your powerful opening, immediately tell them what you’re going to talk about. Plant a seed that will grow throughout the speech. Once the overall theme is directly stated, continue with the main points that water the seed you planted. Grow the overall theme of your speech in their minds by providing compelling evidence and resources about your topic. End your speech in a way that concludes your overall point, conveys your message and gives the audience a fully matured plant they can take with them.
- Know Your Audience – The most important aspect of creating a powerful speech is addressing who will be hearing it, according to PAC. Ask a few questions about the event: How big is the audience? Why have they been brought together? What are they expecting, and what do they already know? By considering the types of people who will comprise your audience, you can craft the information in your speech to appeal directly to them. Focus on conveying a message that is relevant to your audience.
- Use Creative, Visual Language – PAC suggests that effective speeches use as few words as possible. Shorter sentences with a varying sentence structure will keep the audience’s attention. Use rhetorical questions that will intrigue the audience. Use language that will excite them. Choose words that help them paint an image in their mind, or transport them directly into the theme or message you are conveying.
Create a Powerful Presentation
You’ve written a powerful speech, practiced it and know exactly how to deliver it. Once the writing is done, it’s time to consider how it will be presented. There are two primary elements of presentation: visual aids and venue selection/preparation.
- Use PowerPoint Wisely – Visual aids come in many forms. PowerPoint is the most common visual aide. Consider if a PowerPoint presentation is really required. Will it add to your presentation, or detract? Will a captivating video or physical aide convey your point more directly? If PowerPoint is still your visual aide of choice, craft your presentation wisely. Consider how it will be displayed: on a television or a projection screen. Use big, readable fonts and contrasting colors. Avoid complicated transitions, a simple wipe or dissolve is more powerful than a distracting transition. Fonts should only be in bullet point format. If applicable, use charts and diagrams that help convey your overall message.
- Prepare the Venue – Perhaps the most important element of creating a persuasive speech is having a properly prepared venue. Regardless of the size of your venue, everyone must be able to read any visual presentations and hear crisp, enjoyable sound. While these two aspects seem simple, they can be surprisingly complicated. It is worth considering hiring a production company to prepare the venue for you. The Leading Authority Speaker’s Bureau is a production company that specializes in creating an environment to help convey your persuasive speech. Visit their website to determine if they can help you create a compelling event.
- Know Your Emotions – When it comes to delivering a speech, never underestimate the influence of your emotional state. If you enter into your speech nervous, then odds are this will reflect poorly on you. Your audience will pick up on your feelings and they, in turn, will become uncomfortable. However, if you enter into your speech poised and calm, the audience will react in your favor. In order to master your emotions before giving the speech, make sure to practice so you can increase your own comfort level.
Write, Prepare, Perform
A persuasive speech begins by writing a carefully crafted outline that directly addresses your audience and keeps their attention. Visual aids must be prepared to help emphasize your main point. Preparing the event venue is crucial to ensuring your speech is easily heard and absorbed by the audience. And remember: you control your emotions, they don’t control you. Keep these factors in mind and a truly persuasive speech is well within your reach.
As content writers, we’re trying to persuade others to see our point of view – to agree with us. Regardless of whether it’s to click on a link or to purchase a product, we want our writing to influence others in a positive manner.
To write in an engaging and persuasive way is an art form – it’s elegant, refined and exercises discernment. And it’s worlds apart from the distasteful, strong-arm tactics employed by spam marketers.
Crafting content that influences isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take a bit of practice. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at five key elements that contribute to successful and persuasive content writing.
1: Be an Expert
Few things are more influential than the opinion of an expert. Why? Because true experts know what they’re talking about. It’s clear in their authenticity and transparency. Experts don’t use fluffy filler material in their persuasive writing, and they don’t try to distract the reader with gimmicks.
If you want to establish yourself as an influencer in your niche, you need to be the premier expert in your field. You don’t need a degree or years of related experience, but you need to demonstrate that you’re a specialist. You want to be so knowledgeable in your particular market that your content is oozing with confidence and certainty.
Note the word specialist. Experts don’t try to cover all the bases, and they don’t pretend to know everything remotely related to their topic. They specialize in one particular aspect or angle, and by sharing their knowledge they become an authority. And authority bestows persuasion.
La Carmina, a very successful travel blogger self-describing her approach as “spooky-cute”, embodies this idea to perfection because her success is not the result of trying to be all things to all travelers. Her advice? “Be niche. Don’t be afraid to focus on a specific topic or audience…” Read more of her suggestions for being a specialist on the Huffington Post.
2: List the Most Important Information First
Writing persuasive copy for web pages is similar to that of writing news articles. That is, the most important information comes first – which is quite different from writing an essay or a short story. Journalists refer to this method as writing in an inverted pyramid, and it starts with the most relevant points which are then followed by related details and background information.
In this manner, you have the opportunity right at the start of your post to motivate your readers to continue on to your benefits, features and call to action.
By highlighting the outcomes that you or your products can provide at the beginning, you’ll give them a clear understanding of the big picture. Don’t wait for the conclusion of your piece to deliver the vision they want, because they’ll be long gone.
Gregory Ciotti at Unbounce gives a great example of this idea in his post on how research can affect the way we write copy. He captures the essence of his entire topic in the second sentence, leaving no doubt in the readers’ mind about whether reading the post will be beneficial or not.
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3: Give Your Readers Reasons WhyWritten or spoken, few words are more persuasive than the word because. In her book Mindfulness, social psychologist Ellen Langer clearly demonstrated that people are more likely to comply to a request if they’re given a reason via the word because. Even if the reason is redundant or doesn’t make sense!
Another persuasive word to work into your copy is imagine – asking your readers to imagine their desired outcome is a safe alternative to asking them to take action. It’s make-believe, so their inner gatekeeper (the voice in our head suspicious of others’ motives) won’t be inclined to object. And getting your prospects to imagine themselves in happy situations is a powerful influencer.
At Enchanting Marketing, Henneke shows us how to master this element with the words ‘because’ and ‘picture’ right in the introduction of her post (picture being a synonym of imagine). She first suggests we may be making a mistake in our web writing, then gets us to picture a client clicking where we want them to and finally shows us ‘why’ we’re making the mistake – with the word because.
You can’t help but continue reading, and for web content, that’s a big deal because, as Henneke says, you are writing for people who probably aren’t going to read what you write. People don’t read articles all the way through online like they do in print.
4: Benefits First, Then Features
This point may seem a bit counterintuitive, but only because you know your products or services so well – still, you need to remember that your prospects don’t. Keep in mind that they’re looking for specific outcomes.
It might help to think of the benefits as the outcome they desire, while the features are part of the solution to their problem. For example, “You can look like a supermodel in two weeks with our Magic Pills – no need for diets or exercise!” The benefit is looking like a supermodel in two weeks. The features are no dieting or exercising.
By succinctly outlining the benefits first, then the features, you’ll generate greater interest in your clients’ minds.
Brian Clark shows us how to successfully highlight benefits, and to differentiate between benefits and features, with the ‘forehead slap test’ in this great post on Copyblogger.
5: Write for Scanners
It’s important to remember that most online consumers are scanners first and readers second. To persuade your prospects actually to read your content, use some of these eye candy elements to draw them into your article:
- Headings and subheads, relevant and on topic
- Bullet lists to highlight benefits and features
- Font variations, bold, italics, and colored links
- Short sentences and short paragraphs, each with one idea only
- Images and infographics
- Memorable captions
Alex Turnbull at Bufferapp expertly includes all five of these elements in his post on research-backed content. You’ll notice that:
- He establishes himself as an expert on writing persuasive content with solid research, and results, to establish his status.
- The most important information is listed first. The graph shows us that a headline that includes research received a +40% increase in click throughs.
- He gives us the reason ‘why’ in a big way – right there in the first sub-header: “why you should write research-backed content”.
- The benefit is shown in a graph demonstrating the increase in click through rates.
- The post is easily scanable. Lots of relevant subheads, graphs, images, bold and colored fonts. And the sentences and paragraphs are short and concise, with a memorable caption: “ROI is about the MECHANIC using the tool.”
With a bit of practice in applying these key elements, you’ll be successful at writing persuasive content that your readers will understand and appreciate – and that’s a winning situation for everyone.
Cari Bennette is an experienced freelance blogger and writing expert at Jet Writers. She loves trying new things in copywriting and widening her area of expertise. Cari will be happy to provide her own tips for crafting better posts, feel free to contact her on Twitter.