The ability to communicate persuasively is a cornerstone of success in all of our lives. Whether you know it or not, everything you’ve ever achieved had at least something to do with your ability to persuade another person. This is especially true in your professional life. If you want to promote yourself as an expert, you need to persuade others to trust in your expertise. Likewise, if you want someone to buy your product or service or otherwise embark on a desired course, you must persuade them to take action.
But how can you become a more persuasive communicator? What concrete steps can you take to ensure that people take action when you talk? By coming to thoroughly understand the following three steps, you can ensure that all of your communication is persuasive and effective.
Step 1: Build a relationship with your audience (customers).
In order to sell yourself, your company, your product, or your service, you must first establish a relationship with your customers—the audience for your message. This process is also known as building rapport. Rapport refers to relationships of mutual trust among people, feelings of sympathetic understanding and sympathetic compatibility. In short, people pay attention to those they trust, have confidence in, look up to, and respect.
So how do you build rapport with your audience? Here are some things you can do.
- Speak your audience’s language. Is your audience a group of young professionals who are climbing the corporate ladder? Is it a group of experienced entrepreneurs looking for a competitive edge? Or will you be addressing a room full of senior executives? If possible, do some audience research so you know something about the psychographics and demographics of your audience. The better you know your audience, the better you will be able to put yourself in their shoes and communicate with them in a relevant way.
- Cut to the chase. It may seem counterintuitive, but you don’t need to get off topic and talk about yourself to build rapport. Unless it is a compelling part of the presentation’s core, your audience doesn’t need to know your life story. You only need them to believe that they might be able to gain something valuable from listening to you. So don’t beat around the bush, give them what they want. For instance, if they’re listening to you because they expect enlightening business tips, they will have more confidence in you if you’re immediately enlightening. Ask yourself, “What’s the best strategy for getting to the point right away?” Open by stating your thesis and big idea. What are you going to do during this time? What exactly are they going to gain from their time spent with you? This is what news journalists call a “reverse pyramid.” The main point and pertinent facts go at the top of the piece, and everything else that follows supports it with use cases, testimonials, discussion of features and benefits, supporting evidence, and so on. Not only will this help you build rapport with your audience, it is also an excellent way of making your presentation a unified and powerful defense of your big idea – whatever it is. You don’t want that to be tacked on as a surprise at the end of your presentation. You want it to be front and center throughout.
Step 2: Understand your audience’s wants and needs.
A persuasive presentation, obviously, aims to persuade the audience to take some kind of action—read your article, brochure or proposal; click a link; make a purchase or take some other desired action. But if you don’t know what your audience wants or needs, you won’t be able to persuade them to accept your solution. After all, people take specific actions because doing so fulfills a particular want or need.
But how can you truly understand your audience’s wants and needs? There are a couple ways:
- Try to create a desire or need in your audience. You may have heard sales experts talk about the importance of “creating a need” for your offer. This can be done, but it’s not the easiest thing you’ll do in your business career. Imagine having an audience of 1,000 people – only a few of whom came to your presentation conscious of having a problem your product solves. Even if you were a powerful communicator and an outstanding salesperson, it would be a huge success for most offers if you convinced 30% of your audience that they need it. Fortunately for you, there’s a better a way to communicate with an audience that you have a good chance of convincing.
- Attract people with specific needs or desires that your solution can fulfill.The key to attracting an audience that’s easier to sell to is advertising or promoting your presentation to people with that specific need. The most straightforward way to do this is to give your presentation the right kind of title. If you’re selling toupees, for instance, this title might do the trick: “Are You Bald and Wish You Weren’t? Learn Your Options.” This is a straightforward title or headline that will attract your market – balding men who aren’t content with their hair loss. That audience is better than a group of bald men who are satisfied with their hair loss, or – worse for you – a group of young men that haven’t experienced hair-loss at all – you know, the type who might be attracted by this headline: “Wish the Ladies Were Fawning Over You? Learn How to Drive Them Away.”
Sometimes, however, it isn’t that easy. If your offer is something new that most people have never dreamed of, it can be tough to attract an audience that’s composed of people clearly in your target market. You may end up in a situation where you actually do need to “create a need” for your offer. Even in this situation however, you’ll only be able to create a need if you already know your audience’s needs or desires.
For instance, if you’re selling a new convenience, you’ll have to create the need for it by building upon some other widely felt need or desire – such as the need for more free time or the desire to stop mowing the lawn.
In most cases, you’re going to be doing a little of both – attracting people with certain needs or desires, and convincing them they should feel some new ones.
Step 3: Make certain that your work speaks to the audience’s wants and needs.
When your message doesn’t speak to your audience’s desires and needs, it is going to be ignored every time. So if you want people to pay attention, you have to quickly grab their interest and engage them because your audience only cares about what you do when you can meet their wants and needs.
It isn’t enough to simply know what their wants and needs are. Your message also needs to explicitly address their concerns and speak to their interests, values and aspirations. You must tailor your message to clearly demonstrate how you, your product, or your service delivers benefits that fulfill your audience’s wishes or needs.
Finally, remember that not one of the three points listed above is explicitly about you, your company or your service; they’re all about your audience. That’s because in the end, they are the ones who determine whether or not you succeed. Therefore, it’s your responsibility to connect with your audience, establish rapport with them, determine what they want or need, and then tailor your message to address their desires and meet their needs. Although it may be difficult to juggle each of those goals right now, remember that when you can, you will have achieved your goal of communicating persuasively with your audience, whoever they may be.