I'm not sure if this is really the best method of persuasion...

I’m not sure if this is really the best method of persuasion…

Earlier this week I attended a training session on persuasive speaking, hosted by Future Faces Birmingham. It was delivered by Mimi Hughes of Business Voice. I wasn’t too sure what to expect to be honest, but it proved to be an excellent workshop which I learnt a lot from, particularly about speaking skills.

Mimi began the event by getting us to think about what we mean by persuasive speaking and when we need to persuade. We concluded that in almost any working relationship, we need to utilise persuasion skills – to get people to listen to us, to work collaboratively, or to delegate work, as well as the more immediate examples such as selling, negotiating, or asking for a promotion/payrise.

We were then introduced to the three main components of persuasiveness:

  1. Presence
  2. Message
  3. Mechanism

We also discussed personal impact and presentation skills which are important in all three components.

Mimi then asked some very brave volunteers (she referred to them as ‘Have a go heroes’ which I liked as a term) to come to the front and speak to the rest of the room about their organisation. They only had a minute to speak and they were recorded, and then we all watched them back (see what I mean when I said they were very brave! In return they got some really useful feedback). This exercise was all about presence and the following tips were shared with us to help improve:

  • Opening lines and the way you start are key. Your audience makes a subconscious judgment before you have even spoken
  • Body language very important – stand squarely on to people and straight (keep confident)
  • Don’t stand behind desks or flip charts – need to show your presence
  • Your voice needs to reach out to people furthest away from you (you can practice this by projecting your voice against a wall and gradually moving further back)
  • Need to pause between key points – pausing is key in persuasion
  • Don’t use preparation words before each sentence (Ok, Right, Um) – know what you’re going to say and start on the positive words
  • Look like you’re interested in what you are saying in order to be interesting to others
  • Let your hands move if they want to – good to use your hands as they give out energy
  • Settle your hands in a comfortable middle position where they can move easily from (ideal position is joined together at the waist, not too low or behind you)
  • Movement is good as it adds energy – though needs to be definite, not just shuffling from side to side
  • Moving the face also important to show enthusiasm
  • Um and err are not too intrusive as long as they are not used excessively, though pausing is better
  • If you want to move when you start speaking, take a step forward not backwards
  • It’s good practice to engage with people as they enter the room and encourage people to respond to your greeting (ask for their name and what they do/how they are) as it helps breaks down barriers
  • Shaking hands and making positive eye contact is also good as again helps break down barriers
  • Good to tap into something your audience are familiar with and tap into their emotions

We then focused on the message element and how to tailor the message to maximise its effectiveness. Mimi emphasised the importance of focusing on the key idea(s) you are trying to get across, and considering how to ensure the audience (in broad terms, this could be just a one-to-one conversation) will take that away. In order to achieve this, the audience needs to be able to repeat the message and the best way to get to this is to keep the message clear and brief. In presentations, Mim recommended only aiming to talk for around 10 minutes, and dedicate longer time to Q&A to extend the dialogue and cement the message. We then completed an exercise preparing the key messages about our organisation using the following model:

Model for constructing message

Model for constructing message

In the model, the roof is the conclusion you want people to walk away with (you may mention what this is, but you may not). You want the audience to walk away with the conclusion based on the evidence you provide them with through the three pillars, which act as the different messages you deliver. Three is an ideal number, though you can manage with 2-4 (as can a building). 1 isn’t really enough to get them to believe in the conclusion, whilst too many will make the messages less memorable and weaken the argument. We did this as an activity with our own organisations and two more ‘Have a go heroes’ presented about their organisations using this model. You’ll probably also have noticed that Mimi practices what she preaches as our whole workshop was based on this model with the three components of persuasion as the three key messages.

We also discussed how to handle questions, which is a key part of helping get your message across. The main things here were to listen very carefully to the questions, and think about the answer you are going to give before speaking. You want to aim to “build, bridge, and reinforce” in your response so that you bring it back to your key messages and help cement that in their minds. You’ll also need to stay focused and keep it brief but tailored to the audience. If you don’t know the answer to the question, be cautious about winging it – if you don’t know enough to do so, be honest and tell the person you’ll find out and get back to them (and make sure you do). We also discussed hostility and Mimi warned us to be careful as we may be seeing nervousness and recognising it as hostility – generally, people won’t be hostile, and if they are, let it wash over you.

We briefly discussed the mechanics, such as using presentation slides only to illustrate the key messages but keeping the focus on what you’re going to say; making sure you have the right people for group presentations (some may need to be there to respond to questions but don’t need to present as too many can dilute the message); not leaning on lecturns or tables when speaking as this comes across as too relaxed and like you’re not really interested; and listen carefully in two-way conversations and again try to link what they are saying back to your key messages.

Mimi ended the workshop by sharing some exercises of things we can do to help improve our persuasive skills by improving our presence, message and mechanism. Some of them may seem a little silly at first (she got us up on our feet flopping our bodies over to help our posture, and reading stories aloud to practice our pitch and pausing), but I really think they’re going to be useful tools in helping improve my skills.

What next?

I’m currently preparing some conference presentations and webinars and found this workshop really useful for helping me plan these further. It’s caused me to reflect on the best way to use my allotted time, the materials I develop to support what I’m going to say, and the way I hope to present myself. I was really pleased to learn that it’s OK to use your hands when you talk as I naturally do this a lot and was worried it came across as too much arm flailing. Mimi reassured us that as long as it is natural, it’s very rare for it to come across as too much. One thing I know I need to work on is pausing. I tend to speak very quickly in normal conversation, and even moreso when the adrenaline is pumping and I’m giving presentations. I fill what little thinking time I allow myself with ‘um’ as well, so I’m hoping to practice talking more clearly and pausing when presenting key points to help them stand out.

I also have a training session next week on making presentations and giving briefings, so I’m hoping some of what I learnt in this workshop will be repeated and it might help it stick!

  • Sarah Wolfenden

    Thanks for writing this up. It sounds very useful and practical; I also have the issue of talking quickly and arm flailing! It’s interesting that a very similar course I went on had such a different approach http://thewolfendenreport.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/effective-influencing-skills.html. Many of the tips you mention actually came up on a course on lecturing, rather than persuasion which I attended as well http://bit.ly/15TK9V3

    • http://www.joeyanne.co.uk Jo Alcock

      Thanks Sarah. It’s really interesting that some things have come through both of these recent sessions on persuasive speaking and lecturing that are very similar and applicable to us both. I really like the idea about using personal stories – thinking back now I can definitely see how that helps strengthen a connection and help your message stay with people.

    • http://www.joeyanne.co.uk Jo Alcock

      Thanks Sarah. It’s really interesting that some things have come through both of these recent sessions on persuasive speaking and lecturing that are very similar and applicable to us both. I really like the idea about using personal stories – thinking back now I can definitely see how that helps strengthen a connection and help your message stay with people.