The winning triad to be an influential speaker

In Presenting with Impact

By Maura Fay Learning

If you’ve ever watched Barack Obama’s Presidential Acceptance Speech of November 2008, you’ll understand how the power of emotions, combined with a good script and the art of executing the delivery work in tandem to engage and rapture the audience so that they hang onto the speaker’s every word. When giving an influential speech, it’s a winning triad of elements that work beautifully together.

So let’s look at each.

The power of emotions


Management author Daniel Pink says:

“Whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest, or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others. Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

A thought leader in using emotions to influence and sell, Pink believes that knowing how to move others is essential in the modern world. Pitching, enticing, cajoling, motivating, persuading; these are all words that align to influencing. And you can’t successfully pitch, motivate, entice or cajole without emotions.

Why? Because emotion drives behaviour. It drives the decisions we make every single day. The most important characteristic of emotions is that they push us toward taking action. Working at a much faster pace than cognitive processing, emotional response is a visceral response that the body undergoes to process large amounts of information. It is the most natural way a person reacts to any complex data input.

And when you think about when you would need to influence someone, perhaps when you need to achieve shared goals and attain desired outcomes, appealing to their emotions will compel them to take action.

So when executing an influential presentation or giving an influential speech, you need to perhaps ask yourself a very fundamental question: how do you want the audience to feel during and after the presentation or speech?

Ideally, you want your presentation or speech to be so memorable that the audience feels moved to act on something that will lead to a change or shift in belief or behaviour. It could be as simple as: I want my audience to start eating healthily.

Let’s go back to Barack Obama’s Presidential Acceptance Speech of November 2008. For the more discerning reader, if you listen to the speech again, you’ll notice that it employs the elegance of repetition and the rule of three to build and reach a climax. The speech also uses storytelling to influence.

The President wanted the audience to feel invigorated after his speech. So he led them on a journey and told them a story about the many who believed that they could make a difference. He told them a story about a phone call he had received from opponent Senator McCain. He also told the story of the people behind his campaign. Then he told the story of 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper who stood in line to cast her ballot in Atlanta. And he touched on many stories that will be told for generations.

President Obama is not wrong. Stories have been told for generations. Why? Because humans are hardwired for storytelling.

A good script tells a story


A primal form of communication, storytelling is fast becoming integral to how communicators and leaders define their approach to connecting with, influencing and inspiring others. In fact, the most memorable leaders are the ones where the leader is also a storyteller.

Embracing storytelling in a business environment helps you effectively communicate the vision and strategic intent for greater engagement, direction, focus and clarity amongst those you lead and desire to inspire to achieve organisational goals. It also aids you to deliver memorable messages that resonate with your audience and influence how people think, feel and act for more positive responses to change and increased levels of productivity.

What’s more, it helps you to gain stronger buy-in from your stakeholders with inspirational and influential messaging to keep projects and change initiatives moving in the right direction. Storytelling, when delivered in positive and clear communication, is a powerful tool that assists you in mobilising your workforce, building resilience and reducing uncertainty or fear amongst those who report to you and those around you.

American psychologist Alison Gopnik states that:

“Other people are the most important part of our environment.”

When you bring characters into your story, you automatically bring your story to life. And to bring your characters to life, add depth so they form a three-dimensional picture in the mind of the audience. Give your audience a reason to identify with the characters by presenting them with the characters’ thoughts, feelings and situations. Give them something to resonate with. That way, you increase buy-in.

President Obama’s recollection of 106 year old Ann Nixon Cooper’s journey from an America where women’s voices were silenced, to this day where her voice could and would be heard, is such a story. Indeed, a memorable story.

And while the Presidential Acceptance Speech of November 2008 certainly was very well scripted, it takes more than a good script to move an audience. Because while writing a great speech full of emotion is a good start to influencing, it doesn’t end there.

The art of executing an influential presentation


Being an influential presenter or speaker is about speaking with conviction. And you can’t speak with conviction, and you certainly can’t deliver a winning influential speech, without passion. If you don’t believe what you’re saying, how do you expect your audience to believe you?

Influential presentations and speeches have one aim – to effect a change in the audience. And you can’t do that if you don’t know what you’re talking about or if the audience doesn’t buy your story.

Ever heard a life coach speak? They start with how it all began, then they share the story of their struggle, then they call on the audience to make a change.

It may come across cheesy, but it works. Why?

Because what this does is it gives them credibility. It makes them human. It makes the audience sit up and pay attention. Because the audience can sense when a person is speaking from the heart.

That’s the funny thing about emotions. It’s an innate need to connect, empathise and feel. So it’s important that you connect with the audience, too. This means making positive eye contact and moving towards them as you speak, especially if in a large space where some of the audience members may not be able to see you. Visual aids and logistics aside, your audience came to see you speak, so give them your energy. Because they can sense when you don’t.

To be an influential presenter or speaker, it’s important to stay true to yourself. The audience will appreciate your honesty and respect you for it. Connecting with the audience also means focusing on them. This means that you centre your content and your delivery on the action you want your audience to take as a result of your presentation or speech. It’s about sharing and transferring who you are and what you know so that the audience is moved to make the change you want them to.

This leads us to the call to action.

A call to action for buy in


A call to action is an instruction to the audience to provoke an immediate response, such as: call now, read more, or visit today. In a presentation or speech, a call to action might be the impact statement you deliver that causes the audience to think about what will happen if they don’t adopt the change you suggest. It is the so called climax that sticks in their head and almost forces them to make a change because the alternative is not an option.

An effective call to action need not be complicated. It can be as simple as reminding the audience what you want them to do and why you want them to do it.

In Barack Obama’s Presidential Acceptance Speech of November 2008, his call to action was simple:

“Yes we can.”

The winning triad

So there you have it. The winning triad of elements – anchoring your content on the power of emotions, a good script and executing the delivery – for an influential presentation or speech that will urge your audience to act.

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