Talking to Persuade Culture is communication ... Communication is conversation

You are the duck in the lower left section of the photograph above. You have been assigned to persuade the flamingos -- or at least most of them -- to fly south for the winter now rather than in two months. But they strongly believe that they do not have to act now. They are warm where they are, well fed, and so they see no need to make any decisions.

You have to make them believe that you are important enough to be listened to and to take your advice on how to act, even though they are bigger, more colorful, and think that they are more important than you.

Next, you have to convince them, or at least the flamingo leaders, to consider your proposal and change their attitude about postponing the flight.

Then, you must get them to act: in short, get them to start flying?

How would you accomplish all of that? Would you jump up on a big rock and start quacking -- I mean, talking? Do you, as a duck, understand what it is like to be a flamingo? How do they think, what is important to them, what makes them change? You do not have much time to achieve your goal before they begin getting hungry for roast duck.

You now know the challenge of persuasion.

Here are my tips for being effective at being persuasive in presentations rather than being impressive at Powerpointing.


  1. Remind yourself that the audience is not required to hear you. Your job is to get their attention, shift their attitude, and hopefully change their behavior concerning something you are passionate about -- like flying south for the winter.
  2. No matter if your audience is flamingos or a professional group at a conference or six colleagues in a conference room, your first objective is to get their attention. How many presenters have you heard who go on endlessly but have lost the audience's attention after a few minutes? They were so absorbed in their content, or technique, or PowerPoints that they forgot about you, the audience.
  3. You won't grab attention by over-talking or showing dozens of PowerPoints. People choose to focus on what interests them most at the time. You hope they are focusing on you, the presenter, but it could just as well be their mobile or what they would rather be doing than sitting there bored.
  4. Determine what benefit you are offering them in exchange for listening to you -- innovative ideas, unusual insights, solution to a particular problem? -- or are you simply giving them more information than they are likely to forget because they cannot connect it to some benefit for themselves. Keep reminding the audience of benefits.
  5. Connect emotionally with the audience. People learn best by connecting with people who connect with them emotionally. How do you do this?
Is Your audience paying attention to you?
  • Connect before you present. Consider introducing yourself and talking with one or two people in the audience before you speak. Then mention them by names in your remarks.
  • Walk around the room as you present. This feels uneasy, doesn't it? It will scare you to leave the security of the podium and your PowerPoints. It will make the audience feel uneasy, too, because they did not expect you to mingle with them. Yet surprise creates attention. The audience pays more attention to you and you pay more attention to their reactions (up close) and can adjust your message accordingly.
  • Ask your audience a "how-would-you" question or two: For example, "How would you solve the problem I just presented?” Ask two or three people in the audience whom you met to share their ideas.
Being effective is more important than being impressive. If you try to make your presentation perfect by polishing your PowerPoints, then your audience will be impressed by your PowerPoints, not necessarily by you.


Do you really believe what you are saying? Could you do what you’re asking your audience to do?” If you don’t believe it or cannot live it, your credibility will be damaged and your presentation will be boring. Convince yourself before you try to convert others.

How do you make sure you are credible?

  • Half-way through preparing your presentation, draft a one-page plan of how you will – will, not could – apply your emerging recommendations to your own job. If the plan sounds realistic and achievable, continue preparing your presentation. If not ... well, you know what to do.
  • Be willing to throw information away. When you’re exhausted from piling every piece of information you could find on the topic, stop, go to bed, and when you wake up, pull out from your pile only that which will cause your audience to say, “I never thought of that. I could do that.”
  • Be flexible. Prepare one solid, well-crafted presentation but then organize your notes for what-ifs: have case studies ready; have stories to tell should your audience's eyes get sleepy during your talk; and have notes about the attendees should you find the content out of sync with the audience’s real needs. Demonstrate that you know what you are talking about even if you did not have a script and slides.


Prepare for the next presentation immediately after this one. Think of what you learned from your presentation – you talked too much, the case studies were not interesting, etc. – that would improve your next presentation. You’re now ready to do a much more effective job on your next presentation

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