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How to Create Persuasive Speeches & Presentations: Objectives and Context

Updated on November 27, 2016

Need to give a persuasive speech or presentation? Don't stress. By thinking insightfully about your objectives, your audience and the context of your speech, the path to successfully persuading your audience will become clear.

After giving hundreds of speeches and presentations, from competition at the national finals for extemporaneous speaking to a myriad of types in my work, I've found that success, and reduced anxiety about speaking, usually depend on thinking clearly and systematically about the speech ahead of time.

I break a speech down into 5 tracks of work:

1. Objectives and Context (subject of this article)

2. Content Design and Creation (read article here)

3. Theatrics and Environment (a potential future article)

4. Equipping- practicing (or not), props or tools, additional research (a potential future article)

5. Delivery and Follow up (a potential future article)

Here I'll focus on understanding the Objectives and Context of a speech in order to design and create successful, persuasive content.

Despite the detail I cover in each, these 5 steps can be executed over hours, days or weeks. It just depends on the requirements of your speech and how much time you want or have to spend on it.

There are many types of speeches: a toast at a wedding party, executives speaking to shareholders, sales presentations, etc. There are also many reasons a speech may fail, but for now let's focus on getting the content correct by being clear about the objectives and context of the speech.

For the purposes of this discussion, "speech" means any situation where you will be verbally communicating to an audience of one or more people, regardless of whether in a public, private, business or other setting. There are certainly differences between a speech to hundreds of people at a convention and a presentation to 10 people in your department at work, but the principles below apply to them all, in my experience.

So, how do you lay the foundation for successful and persuasive content?

I've found that answering the following three questions provides an excellent understanding of the objectives you'll want for your speech, as well as the context of the audience to which you'll present it. I want to emphasize that giving them the appropriate amount of thought is critical to success. Don't rush through the thought process to answer these questions.

• What do you want to change once the speech has been given?

• Who is the audience, really?

• What are the circumstances and environment of the speech?

Let's exam each in more detail.

A. What do you want to change once the speech has been given?

One of the most helpful things to do when planning a speech is to know the real question you need to answer in order to have a successful speech.

I believe the key question to start is "What do I want to change after I've given this speech?”

If the change you desire begins or occurs, even in part, as a result of your speech then it's been successful.

It may seem the same, but this question is very different than, for example, thinking about the purpose of the speech.

Let's use the example of a speech (presentation) you must give on the status of a project you're managing at work. The audience is a few dozen people in a monthly status review with the whole project team.

If you ask the purpose of the speech the answer might be something like "To give a monthly status review to the team and discuss any issues or decisions that must be addressed". That's passive and it leaves the success or failure too much in the hands of your audience.

Speeches are almost never about just sharing information, then letting the audience go off with their own thoughts.

Instead, let's ask, "What do you want to change once the speech is given?" and then plan content that directs the key segments of the audience toward that change. Now the answers are more interesting.

Perhaps the forum is the monthly update meeting, but the change you want is to have two people added to your team with specific skills, say website design, but it could be anything. You need to get the support of multiple constituencies in the audience, this is your chance but you have to do it in a politically savvy way because, as always, budgets are tight.

There could be multiple changes that you want to happen, ideally no more than 3, but for simplicity I'll focus on just this one.

Your desire for this change to occur now must be woven into your entire presentation, generally more implicitly than explicitly, by thinking through what content is needed to achieve this change, given the answers to the questions below.

B. Who is the audience, really?

Understanding this question and its implications on the change you want is probably the single most influential factor in whether the desired change happens.

Determining "who" the audience is in this case means understanding their perspectives, agendas and relevant experiences before planning the content of your speech.

a) What are the major perspectives and related agendas from which the audience will process your speech?

In the status meeting, the audience might range from executives to mid-level managers, to junior people focused on a very narrow aspect of the project.

The executives' perspective is the big picture. Is this thing on track? Their agenda is probably two-fold; First, to find out whether things are on track to get the business value they want, and have committed to their bosses, if not why not and what's needed to correct/ keep on course. Second, to make sure the team stays focused on the big picture and everyone is working in a way to end up at the same place when done!

Mid-level managers' perspective is probably to present a well-oiled project team that's on track, with a few issues that they're managing very well.

Their agenda is to avoid a political snafu, look good to their bosses and get affirmation from them for the managers' plans and requests for the next phase of the project.

Junior team members are focused on learning, getting some face time with more senior people, looking good to their boss and getting out of this meeting as soon as possible! (probably common across the groups). Their agenda is to avoid looking dumb or unprepared and to demonstrate how much they know and are contributing.

b) Which segments of the audience are the keys to achieving the change you seek?

The key segment is probably the executives, right? If they're on board everyone else will follow, right? Well, probably not.

For the purposes of this example, I believe all three segments are important:

Executives must see the risk to the project OR the enhanced value from it, if you don't or do get your resources

Mid-Managers must see the same as the executives, but they must also feel prepared to make the case to those execs for more resources and see how it will benefit them.

Junior team members must see that asking for more people is not an indictment of their skills or contributions and see the value of more team members to split the work and maybe to learn some new skills. They're also probably important to supporting your case with detailed facts and examples.

c) What will they just have experienced and what will they experience before and after your speech respectively?

The executives may just have experienced an analyst, board of directors or shareholder meeting where they were beaten up about the slow progress of this project, or they may fear the same in upcoming meetings.

Maybe everyone just finished or is about to have lunch…sounds innocuous, but it can have a major impact if you don't plan for it.

Perhaps there has just been some major success or milestone achieved on the project, or some major failure or delay.

The examples are endless, but the key is to think through the relevant experiences that may linger in your audience's mind or that may be on their mind for the future when it comes time to make or support the change you want.

d) What will they be thinking about as they listen to your speech?

The answer to this question definitely relates to and must account for the answer to what the audience has just or is about to experience, but this question is more about what's going through their mind in response to what you'll be telling them.

Again, the answers are endless, but the key is to consider the types of thoughts they may have.

Examples include: Challenging or disbelieving your facts, Agreeing with your facts but not your conclusions, Having a completely different way to solve the problem you present, Having a very biased view for/ against your position, etc.

One of the most common and most important to things to consider here is that they may hear, see or come to the meeting with something that sets them off in a completely different direction than you planned to take them in order to get the change you want.

Perhaps the executives have seen the initial wire frames and mock ups of the website and they want to make major changes. This could be a supporting fact for your request for more resources, but it may so derail your speech's focus so much that you never get to make your request or case.

There are good ways to address this, but it can't be prevented and sometimes you'll just have to find another forum to give your presentation and request the change. Of course this is unlikely to happen at a speech to a trade or civic group, but you always have to consider it and what content or issues are most likely to cause it.

A simple tip is to order your content so that the items most likely to derail the speech or presentation are discussed after the items related to the change you seek, assuming they aren't all related to it.

e) What do they know and what should they know about you?

Does the audience, everyone or only a few people, know who you are and why they should listen to you? More can be said in a discussion about "Delivery and Environment", but it's important to understand this when planning your content and then to decide what to do about it.

Consider things like:

• What should they know about you in order to be positively disposed to the change you're seeking, or at least to hearing you out about it?

• Is a simple introduction of you sufficient?

• Are your professional and educational credentials important or pretentious to this audience?

• Should you ask someone who everyone knows or respects to introduce you and give you some credibility that way?

• Should some content about you be provided to the audience ahead of time?

• Can you tell a story of a recent experience that draws the audience in, causes them to want to know more about what you have to say and instantly gives you credibility as someone who "gets it"?

C. What are the circumstances and environment of the speech?

One of the most overlooked factors that can impact the success of a speech is also the most obvious; Under what circumstances and in what environment will it be given? For example:

• Where will it be given?

• What's the environment like in that place (physical or virtual)? (acoustics, visibility, temperature, comfort, etc.)

• When will it be given? A good example is the before/ after lunch situation mentioned earlier, but this may also include coming after someone else that may "steal your thunder". If this is a risk, you'll need to have a plan for it.

• Will there be 'virtual' participants via conference call or videoconference?

• What is the specific location like where you will be while giving the speech?- Elevated platform?, Podium or not?, Type of microphone?, Audio visual support, etc.

• Who else is speaking, when and on what topics?

There isn't room to cover these in-depth here, but some initial thought about them will help you understand their impact on the content you must create.

For example, if you know the speech will be given in a cramped room that's always hot and can't be changed, then what do you do about that from a content perspective?

You probably want to shorten the speech and give an encapsulated version of the speech in the first few minutes before people become too uncomfortable and then elaborate if needed.

Or, perhaps you give the audience permission to stand, stretch and remove their jackets, etc. This last point is content by the way because it's communication with the audience and may even give you a chance to add some humor or make a link into the real content of your speech.

Takeaways

Preparing and presenting a successful speech, and doing so with less fear than you may usually experience, IS possible.

The key is to ensure you're thinking through all 5 aspects of given a speech:

1. Objectives and Context

2. Content Design and Creation (read here)

3. Theatrics and Environment

4. Equipping- practicing (or not), props or tools, additional research

5. Delivery and Follow up

Setting the foundation by understanding the first of these, Objectives and Content, will give you much more confidence and make your preparations flow better all the way through delivery.

Answering three simple, but very insightful questions, will give you and understanding of your real objectives and the context in which the speech will be received by the audience and set you on the path to success:

• What do you want to change once the speech has been given?

◦ You must think actively about the change you want, not just the information you want to convey

• Who is the audience, really?

◦ In most cases demographics are much less important and insightful than understanding the audience members' perspectives, agendas, relevant experiences and likely real-time thoughts during your speech

• What are the circumstances and environment of the speech?

◦ This is not just a factor in delivering the speech. It must be accounted for as you design and create the content as well

You probably already have or can readily get the knowledge and data required for your speech. Following the approach outlined here will give you the insight and confidence to design and present the related content successfully as well.

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