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Writing a persuasive speech
Getting started with a 7 point action plan
Writing a persuasive speech needs extra-special planning and consideration to be successful. In my experience, this is not the type of speech that can be flicked out in five minutes! There may be brilliantly competent speakers who can do it but the rest of us, me included, have to put the time in to achieve what we want to.
To help you through the entire process from beginning to end, here's a 7 step checklist. To get the most from it move through the list sequentially. You'll find links to topic suggestion pages, explanations about how to structure your speech and the importance of audience analysis with examples and more.
The "Little Rock Nine" sculptures, Arkansas, USA, commemorating nine students who, in 1957, risked their lives for the right to receive an education.Find out more by clicking the image.There's more than one persuasive speech topic in this story.
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Writing a persuasive speech checklist
1. Speech topic selection
If you've already got a speech topic move on to setting a goal. For those who don't have a topic read on.
A major part of the perceived difficulty around writing a persuasive speech is choosing a topic.
If you're preparing the speech as part of a class exercise or for a public speaking club like Toastmasters you have seemingly unlimited choice. And that can be bewildering! The possibilities are vast. How do you narrow them down?
The answer is to choose something that you genuinely care about, fits the occasion AND that you know your audience will be interested in.
Click these links to explore speech topic suggestions:
2. Setting a goal
The goal of writing a persuasive speech is to change or move the audience toward accepting your position on the topic. An essential part of that is knowing exactly what it is you want to achieve.
There are degrees of change. Do you want a little, or a lot?
Most wanted response or MWR
What you decide is called your most wanted response or MWR.
A realistic MWR is reached through analysis of your audience in relation to your topic.
Example: My topic is "obesity in children".
I am speaking to mothers whose children all attend the same kindergarten.
There is concern among the staff over the number of children who are over weight for their age.
The children mostly come from homes where both parents work. Food is bought already made up for a variety of reasons including time saving, convenience and a lack of knowledge of preparing it any other way.
'Treat' food (sweets, cake etc.) is also used to pacify and/or to reinforce good behavior. Fussy or picky eating is allowed principally because the effort and time required to change already established patterns is difficult to find.
The problem is compounded by lack of exercise.
In setting the goal (MWR) for the speech I need to decide what approach will achieve the best results.
Do I want to influence the mothers to open their minds to the idea that allowing a child to establish habitual unhealthy eating patterns is detrimental to their children's growth and development?
Or do I want them to stop using treat and pre-prepared foods immediately and only offer home cooked healthy options instead?
The first approach is softly-softly. The second is direct or hard hitting.
3. Audience analysis
Who is your audience?
How you persuade, and your MWR (goal) is most effectively established when you understand who you are talking to.
In relation to your topic area are they:
- Hostile - actively don't want to hear what you have to say for many reasons which may include prejudice, fear, ignorance, inertia, cultural difference, differing values/beliefs ...
- Neutral - no decided opinion or beliefs and therefore no investment toward maintaining the current state or moving toward a new one. This is the middle ground.
- Motivated - actively seeking to change. These people are already aware of the 'problem' and are looking for solutions. They want to hear what you have to tell them and are likely to be already and convinced of the rightness of your solution.
What else do you need to know?
Aside from their anticipated baseline attitude, (hostile, neutral, motivated), toward your speech topic, what else do you know about them?
Find out their:
- General Age
- Shared fears, concerns or problems
- Cultural background(s)
- Shared interests, beliefs, values, goals, hopes, desires
- What obstacles there are to adopting the change you desire
The more you can find out, the more you can tailor writing a persuasive speech (including tone and language choice), and your MWR to fit.
For instance, going back to the obesity in children example above, we could decide that given what we've found out about the audience, the hard-hitting approach would generate too many obstacles to overcome. Therefore we will be writing a persuasive speech with a non-threatening MWR that has mothers accepting a pamphlet on children's healthy snack choices to take home.
4. Keep it local
Where possible draw your examples from local material. The reason is that we are more likely to care or respond when we actively know who or what is involved firsthand. We identify, and the more we identify the more invested we are in finding a solution. The situation becomes real to us and we care.
5. Evidence and empathy
Writing a good persuasive speech means finding credible evidence to support your argument. Seek out reputable, reliable, quotable sources to back the points you make. Without them your speech will fail its purpose.
Persuasion is a synthesis of emotional as well as intellectual appeal.
Emotional content will be dismissed unless it is properly backed. Conversely purely intellectual content will be dismissed if it lacks empathy or feeling. You need both - in equal measure.
6. Balance and obstacles
Seek out and address the opposition's arguments, or obstacles in the path of adopting your course of action, fairly and respectfully. Find the elements you share. Openly acknowledge and be clear about them. This builds credibility and trust and as a result your points of departure are more likely to be listened to.
7. Choosing a structural pattern
Once you've decided your topic and its angle, done your audience analysis, fixed what you want to achieve (MWR), researched for evidence, and addressed the obstacles, you're finally ready to begin writing.
What pattern or model will you use?
There is more than one.
Have a look at each of the four below to see which best suits your topic, speech purpose and audience.
1) Monroe's Motivated Sequence
This is a tried and tested model developed in the 1930's by Allan H Monroe. Monroe's Motivated Sequence follows the mind-flow or thought sequence someone goes through when someone else is persuading them to do something.
It's a pattern used over and over again by the professional persuaders: marketers, advertisers, politicians ...
Monroe's Motivated Sequence in action
You can find out more about the steps involved in writing a persuasive speech using Monroe's Motivated Sequence here.
And read an example persuasive speech written using the method.
This is a two step pattern. The first part outlines/explains the problem and the second provides the solution which includes meeting the obstacles and giving evidence.
In this pattern the method is to compare an item/object/idea/action against another similar item/object/idea/action and establish why the item/object/idea/action you are supporting is superior.
Example:Why a SBI website is better than a Wordpress site if you want to build an online business
- Reason One
Wordpress primarily is a blogging platform and blogging is not a business model
- Reason Two
Wordpress does not supply fully integrated step-by-step instructions to build a sustainable e-business
- Reason Three
Wordpress does not provide its users with constant and fully tested upgrades/updating
With each comparision point compelling, relevant evidence is provided and obstacles are met.
(If you're curious check out the SBI v Wordpress comparison. There are many more than three reasons why SBI is the preferred online business platform! Wordpress or SBI? And these days you can actually have both through SBI.)
4) Using the negative to persuade
In this model the reasons why you are against the opposition of your chosen topic are highlighted.
Example: The topic is Teenage Binge Drinking and the angle is to persuade parents to take more control
- Leads to anti-social behavior - mindless vandalism, drunk-driving, unprotected sex etc
- Impacts on growing brains - an overview of current research
- Has implications for developing addictions - alcoholism, nicotine ...
Each negative reason is backed with evidence. One piles on top the other creating an urgency to solve the problem. Your positive solution coming at the end of the speech clinches the argument.
More speech resources
For more about the processes involved in writing a successful speech check these pages:
For more about delivering your persuasive speech persuasively please don't overlook these pages. They are gold! Writing is a only part of the process. How you deliver completes it.
As content writers, we’re trying to persuade others to see our point of view – to agree with us. Regardless of whether it’s to click on a link or to purchase a product, we want our writing to influence others in a positive manner.
To write in an engaging and persuasive way is an art form – it’s elegant, refined and exercises discernment. And it’s worlds apart from the distasteful, strong-arm tactics employed by spam marketers.
Crafting content that influences isn’t necessarily hard, but it does take a bit of practice. So, without further ado, let’s have a look at five key elements that contribute to successful and persuasive content writing.
1: Be an Expert
Few things are more influential than the opinion of an expert. Why? Because true experts know what they’re talking about. It’s clear in their authenticity and transparency. Experts don’t use fluffy filler material in their persuasive writing, and they don’t try to distract the reader with gimmicks.
If you want to establish yourself as an influencer in your niche, you need to be the premier expert in your field. You don’t need a degree or years of related experience, but you need to demonstrate that you’re a specialist. You want to be so knowledgeable in your particular market that your content is oozing with confidence and certainty.
Note the word specialist. Experts don’t try to cover all the bases, and they don’t pretend to know everything remotely related to their topic. They specialize in one particular aspect or angle, and by sharing their knowledge they become an authority. And authority bestows persuasion.
La Carmina, a very successful travel blogger self-describing her approach as “spooky-cute”, embodies this idea to perfection because her success is not the result of trying to be all things to all travelers. Her advice? “Be niche. Don’t be afraid to focus on a specific topic or audience…” Read more of her suggestions for being a specialist on the Huffington Post.
2: List the Most Important Information First
Writing persuasive copy for web pages is similar to that of writing news articles. That is, the most important information comes first – which is quite different from writing an essay or a short story. Journalists refer to this method as writing in an inverted pyramid, and it starts with the most relevant points which are then followed by related details and background information.
In this manner, you have the opportunity right at the start of your post to motivate your readers to continue on to your benefits, features and call to action.
By highlighting the outcomes that you or your products can provide at the beginning, you’ll give them a clear understanding of the big picture. Don’t wait for the conclusion of your piece to deliver the vision they want, because they’ll be long gone.
Gregory Ciotti at Unbounce gives a great example of this idea in his post on how research can affect the way we write copy. He captures the essence of his entire topic in the second sentence, leaving no doubt in the readers’ mind about whether reading the post will be beneficial or not.
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3: Give Your Readers Reasons WhyWritten or spoken, few words are more persuasive than the word because. In her book Mindfulness, social psychologist Ellen Langer clearly demonstrated that people are more likely to comply to a request if they’re given a reason via the word because. Even if the reason is redundant or doesn’t make sense!
Another persuasive word to work into your copy is imagine – asking your readers to imagine their desired outcome is a safe alternative to asking them to take action. It’s make-believe, so their inner gatekeeper (the voice in our head suspicious of others’ motives) won’t be inclined to object. And getting your prospects to imagine themselves in happy situations is a powerful influencer.
At Enchanting Marketing, Henneke shows us how to master this element with the words ‘because’ and ‘picture’ right in the introduction of her post (picture being a synonym of imagine). She first suggests we may be making a mistake in our web writing, then gets us to picture a client clicking where we want them to and finally shows us ‘why’ we’re making the mistake – with the word because.
You can’t help but continue reading, and for web content, that’s a big deal because, as Henneke says, you are writing for people who probably aren’t going to read what you write. People don’t read articles all the way through online like they do in print.
4: Benefits First, Then Features
This point may seem a bit counterintuitive, but only because you know your products or services so well – still, you need to remember that your prospects don’t. Keep in mind that they’re looking for specific outcomes.
It might help to think of the benefits as the outcome they desire, while the features are part of the solution to their problem. For example, “You can look like a supermodel in two weeks with our Magic Pills – no need for diets or exercise!” The benefit is looking like a supermodel in two weeks. The features are no dieting or exercising.
By succinctly outlining the benefits first, then the features, you’ll generate greater interest in your clients’ minds.
Brian Clark shows us how to successfully highlight benefits, and to differentiate between benefits and features, with the ‘forehead slap test’ in this great post on Copyblogger.
5: Write for Scanners
It’s important to remember that most online consumers are scanners first and readers second. To persuade your prospects actually to read your content, use some of these eye candy elements to draw them into your article:
- Headings and subheads, relevant and on topic
- Bullet lists to highlight benefits and features
- Font variations, bold, italics, and colored links
- Short sentences and short paragraphs, each with one idea only
- Images and infographics
- Memorable captions
Alex Turnbull at Bufferapp expertly includes all five of these elements in his post on research-backed content. You’ll notice that:
- He establishes himself as an expert on writing persuasive content with solid research, and results, to establish his status.
- The most important information is listed first. The graph shows us that a headline that includes research received a +40% increase in click throughs.
- He gives us the reason ‘why’ in a big way – right there in the first sub-header: “why you should write research-backed content”.
- The benefit is shown in a graph demonstrating the increase in click through rates.
- The post is easily scanable. Lots of relevant subheads, graphs, images, bold and colored fonts. And the sentences and paragraphs are short and concise, with a memorable caption: “ROI is about the MECHANIC using the tool.”
With a bit of practice in applying these key elements, you’ll be successful at writing persuasive content that your readers will understand and appreciate – and that’s a winning situation for everyone.
Cari Bennette is an experienced freelance blogger and writing expert at Jet Writers. She loves trying new things in copywriting and widening her area of expertise. Cari will be happy to provide her own tips for crafting better posts, feel free to contact her on Twitter.