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How to Create Persuasive Speeches & Presentations: Content Design and Creation

Updated on November 27, 2016


There are few areas of life in which there is a single, correct way of doing something. Certainly this includes persuasive writing, whether for a speech, presentation, research paper or whatever. However, I’ve found that breaking the process into 5 areas and thinking them through individually and clearly to be very helpful.

Despite the detail in this, the second of two articles on these areas, once you’re familiar with the approach you’ll be able to adapt it effectively regardless of the time you have to write a speech.

The point is not to jam a lot of information into your mind, but to thoroughly explain examples of simple, but critical, considerations that will show you how to write a speech that’s persuasive and gets results.

The five areas are:

1. Objectives and Context (see article here)

2. Content Design and Creation- the subject of this article

3. Theatrics and Environment (a potential future article)

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

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

The first article in this series on how to write a persuasive speech focused on how to really know what you want to change after the speech is completed, versus considering only the purpose of the speech itself. The article gave insights for how to get a precise understanding of the audience so you can know what it will take to persuade them.

This article focuses on the second of the five areas, Content Design and Creation, which includes:

  1. What Motivates the Audience?
  2. Finding the Best Persuasion Points with a Motivation Map
  3. Designing and Creating Content, Given Audience Motivation(s)

For the purposes of this discussion, "speech" means any situation where you will be verbally communicating material to an audience of one or more people. The approach works regardless of the setting (with tweaks for conference calls or webinars) or whether the format is a presentation, research report, status update or something else.

The word audience includes the individuals and/ or segments within the group who will determine whether the change you desire happens after the speech. This is discussed in depth in article one.

Based on how you’ve defined segmented the audience, you can determine to whom your content should primarily be directed as you apply the methods in this article.

I. What Motivates the Audience?

When thinking about developing the content for the speech it's critical to understand what is most likely to persuade your audience to do/ not do or to think/ not think the thing(s) that will result in the change you want. This requires assessing the psychology of the audience and then applying your content to those Persuasion Points that will have the maximum leverage to get the outcome you want.

There is a maxim that people are motivated by either fear and/ or greed. However, there is a third element, relationships that must be considered as well.

I also prefer the word desire instead of greed because what we’re really talking about is the desire for something either for oneself, for others, or for both, and that something isn’t necessarily based on greed.

Fear, Desire and Relationships are the Decision Influencers that will affect audience members’ motivation to do what you want.

We could get tied into knots trying to discern the finer points of difference, similarity and overlap between Fear, Desire and Relationships, but it’s not necessary. For our purposes, let’s define them as follows:

  • Fear = Distress over what may/ may not happen if something does/ does not occur
  • Desire = A want, or longing, for a certain state of affairs
  • Relationships = Personal connections, whether positive or negative, between individuals

For each of these decision influencers, the audience may have a myriad of issues that ultimately determine whether they are persuaded to act or think, as you want after the speech.

However, there are only two bases on which this determination depends, reason and emotion. Reason and Emotion are the Decision Bases through which the audience will filter what you have to say and ultimately decide to make the change you want, or not.

Key Point: It is the interplay of Decision Influencers and Decision Bases that will determine audience receptivity and response to your speech.

Understanding, as best you can, the dynamics of these five factors, Fear, Desire, Relationships, Reason and Emotion, especially for the key individuals and/ or segments of your audience, is the key to identifying what motivates them and then designing the content you’ll need to persuade them.

II. Finding the Best Persuasion Points with a Motivation Map

A simple way to bring this together and identify the specific Persuasion Points that your content will need to address is to draw a 2x3 matrix, or Motivation Map, like this:

Using the motivation map, let’s consider the example of a situation where you need to prepare a persuasive speech with the desired change being that some audience members (professional investors) agree to fund a company that you're starting.

Using the understanding of your audience, as discussed in article one, and then thinking through the intersections of the Motivation Map as they relate, or not, to the audience will help you understand the motivations that will drive the change you seek.

Then, the type of content you’ll need to include in the speech will become clear.

If you’ve not already done so, identifying the individuals or segments that are key to the success of your speech is key to successful motivation mapping.

For example, you might have 50 people in your audience but they may really fit into only four or five segments of people who have the most common interests and mindsets that you’ll have to address in your speech.

Perhaps only one or two of those segments are really critical to getting the change you seek. Those groups (or individuals) should be the focus of your motivation mapping to determine what to address in your content.

Key Point: It usually works best to consider the Decision Influencers first when mapping motivations.

In this example, deciding to fund or not fund your business idea, it's likely that Desire will be the primary influencer of whether or not you persuade the audience. However, it’s important to consider all influencers.

There could be a long list of specific Influencing Factors within each category (Fear, Desire and Relationships), but for this example, that list might condense down to a few things like those shown below.

III. Designing and Creating Content, Given Audience Motivations

Once you have identified, thought through and consolidated (if needed) the Influence Factors that are most important and likely to affect the audience for each Decision Influencer category, as we did in the example above, map those Influence Factors to the Decision Bases of Reason and Emotion.

Mapping means that for each Influence Factor, thinking from the audience members’ perspective, you identify the likely emotional and/ or reason-based considerations (questions, concerns, objections, etc.) they may have in their minds as you present the speech and the succinct Persuasion Points that could remove or at least mitigate any negative effect of those considerations on your ability to persuade them.

Persuasion points may remove concerns, generate excitement, change perspective, increase confidence, answer key questions or whatever is needed to persuade.

In this example, the Persuasion Points might look something like this:

Note that emotional Persuasion Points may not be the best way to address the Fear influences of Lose Money and Lawsuits. This is because the assumption in the example is that we’re dealing with a professional investor audience very accustomed to these types of situations. This is why understanding the audience, as discussed in article one, is so important.

It may not even be a good idea to plant the thought of lawsuits in their minds, although it may be there anyway. Also, making an emotional appeal on these points, given their level of experience and knowledge may seem amateurish or condescending to them.

In this case it may be best to not explicitly address them at all, or to implicitly address them through Persuasion Points based on reason.

A reason-based example might be to emphasize that the company has obtained all required government licenses or permits and is testing and producing its widgets at standards of quality above those required by the government and/ or relevant trade associations. This implicitly tells them that you’re doing all you can to mitigate the risk of lawsuits arising from those sources.

Once you’ve defined your persuasion points, you’re almost ready to design and begin creating the content.

Designing the Content

Key point: Before you start writing the content, take time to visualize yourself giving the speech.

At this point, I strongly urge you to give the speech! yourself, of course.

How can I do that when I haven’t even written it, you ask? Just give it impromptu either in your mind or, if you prefer, verbally. Ignore stops, starts, gaffs and goofs and just force yourself to get through the entire thing.

Envision the location, as best you can, and you stepping in front of the audience and giving the speech.

Walk through the whole thing, from your introduction to the audience, to likely questions you’ll get after it’s over. At the end, visualize a rousing ovation by the audience in appreciation for your insights!

If you have to stop to make notes or something, do it. Then start up again until you complete the speech. I usually have to start and stop several times to get all the way through.

This exercise helps to design the content in several ways:

  • Gives comfort from envisioning yourself giving the speech successfully (professional athletes often use visualization)
  • Identifies important gaps in the story, data, audience understanding, etc.
  • Forces you to create a rough storyline on the fly, which will help with the actual storyline you’ll develop next (and also shows you weak points where you may lose them or you don’t know well enough yet)
  • Allows you to “hear” the speech both as presenter and audience, which helps understand if the key points come off as you want
  • Provides ideas for how to order the speech and the most effective ways to deliver your persuasion points
  • Gives a feel for how to pace and time the speech. Prepare as if you only have half as much time as you actually will. This leaves room for augmenting points and even questions, if you like.

Finally, I usually find the most valuable aspect of this exercise to be that it helps me understand if the audience could actually follow the impromptu storyline of the speech or if they’re likely to be diverted by objections, questions or challenges in their mind as they listen as certain points (perhaps giving me ideas for even better Persuasion Points).

If that happens too often to too many people, you’ve lost them and are unlikely to get the results that you want. Basically it’s a reality check on what they’ll buy and what they won’t. You can then address the issues and opportunities you’ll identify as you begin to create the content.

Creating the Content

I find the easiest way to create the content of a speech is to:

  • Outline the storyline
    • And iteratively revise and sharpen it over and over until it’s as concise and understandable (not lengthy) as possible
  • Identify the supporting information needed for each section of the outline
    • Incorporating your Persuasion Points is the first priority here
    • Think of likely questions, objections and counter arguments as well
  • Determine the type of content best suited to each section
    • Showing video of an actual customer testimonial at the relevant point may be much more effective than you simply quoting them, for example
    • List existing content that you may be able reuse in each section, as well as any new content, such as a piece of financial analysis or research, that you’ll need to create.
  • Repeat these steps until you think it’s as good as you can make it.
    • Get others’ opinions if you like, then put it down and walk away for a day or two so your mind can refresh and you can come back to it with a fresh eye and finish it.

A storyline could take several forms, such as a walk through of a major piece of analysis, a scenario or day-in-the-life example that brings home the reality of a market opportunity or, as is likely in our example, a series of connected sections on market size, target customers, financial projections, management background and so forth.

The best storylines are natural, engage the audience, keep their attention and make it easy for them to persuade themselves about your own points.

It’s also critical for the storyline to fit together and make sense as a whole. It should be easy for the audience to retell it, or at least the key points you want them to take away, after they’ve heard the speech.

Key Point: A very important, simple, but not always easy, aspect of creating a successful storyline is to be very careful about the terms used, such as the names you give to things in your story.

Make sure their meaning and relationships are simple and clear to the audience and that you use them consistently.

For example, this article uses the terms Decision Influencers, Decision Bases, Influence Factors and Persuasion Points throughout. If this were a speech, it would be easy to get a little sloppy and use a term like Influence Areas instead of Influence Factors at some points.

In most cases, the audience can follow you, but often they can’t, or won’t. Any confusion or time lost, as they try to figure out what you mean, just makes persuasion that much more difficult for you.

It can also make you look a little sloppy and as though you’ve not fully thought through and understood your own content, which will definitely not help your case.

As you create and fill in the supporting bullet points of the storyline outline, use these questions to help create the most persuasive story possible:

What’s the best way to position the storyline in the audience members’ minds?

  • Counter intuitive? (I find a counter intuitive position often works very well)
  • Against the conventional wisdom?
  • Reassuring or reaffirming the conventional wisdom?
  • Changing course (e.g. we’re on the wrong course, we can leapfrog the competition)
  • Compare/ contrast?
  • Put the topic into context?
  • Others?

What are the one to three things that the audience must understand and believe to be persuaded to make the changes you want?

  • The bottom line or truth that you believe the audience needs to believe for each persuasion point, even if it’s the “skunk at the garden party” that no one wants to face

Which items should you address explicitly, implicitly or not at all?

  • For example, the issue of investor lawsuits discussed above

What types of content will be most effective at each point in the speech?

  • Such as data analysis, stories and anecdotes, audio, video, photos, social proof points and others (even a special guest you bring onstage to make key points)

If appropriate and helpful, what call to action should you make to the audience at the end of the speech?

  • What would close the deal to persuade them to begin making the change you seek?

What else, if anything, do you need to know or have to create and deliver the speech successfully?

  • Research, analysis, anecdote gathering, fact checking, etc.


Though the explanations took considerable space in this article, once you understand your audience well, a few simple steps are the keys to writing persuasive speech and presentation content that gets results:

  • Understand the Fear, Desire and/ or Relationship influencers that affect your audience
  • Determine the emotional and reason-based factors that will be the bases on which your audience decides to be persuaded, or not, to make the change you seek
  • Develop the emotional or reason-based Persuasion Points required to persuade your audience on each of the factors that affect their decisions
  • Create a storyline with content that is natural, engages the audience, keeps their attention and makes it easy for them to persuade themselves that your points are correct
  • If appropriate, include a call to action at the end of the speech to help the audience initiate the change you seek


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