Article Category: Speechwriting

17 Easy Ways to Be a More Persuasive Speaker


The previous article in the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos series defined logos and described why logical arguments are so important for your presentations.

Okay, that’s all very good in theory, but do we need to be logical masters to build high logos?

No, not at all.

In this article, we examine simple techniques you can use in your presentations to be more persuasive by improving your logos.

Three Pillars of Public Speaking
  1. Ethos, Pathos, Logos - Introduction
  2. Ethos - Speaker Credibility
  3. Pathos - Emotional Connection
  4. Logos - Logical Argument

General Strategies for Improving Your Logos

In the last article, we identified, three general principles that you can adopt to improve your logos:

  1. Make it Understandable
    Can your audience understand you? Or have they only absorbed half of your points?
  2. Make it Logical
    Do your arguments make sense? Or do you require your audience to make an extreme leap of faith? How easy is it for your audience to connect the dots?
  3. Make it Real
    Concrete and specific tends to win over abstract and general.

We’ll now look at 17 specific techniques derived from these three general strategies.

You may wish to compare to techniques in previous articles:

Make it Understandable

If your audience doesn’t understand you, they can’t be persuaded by you. To be an effective communicator, you’ve first got to be a clear communicator. To be a clear communicator, you must use words, phrases, examples, and visuals that are understandable, and you’ve got to deliver them at a pace that the audience can absorb.

How can you do this? Let us count some ways…

#1: Use plain language.

Use words that your audience uses. Avoid technical jargon that your audience (or a portion of your audience) isn’t familiar with.

Favor short words and phrases over long and convoluted counterparts. Don’t imitate the language you might find in a legal transcript or an academic paper. Technical language is necessary for those contexts, but it isn’t helpful in a conversation or presentation.

Note that “plain” language doesn’t mean “boring” language. Use vivid and descriptive language where appropriate.

#2: Be explicit.

To be an effective communicator, you’ve first got to be a clear communicator.

Your audience should not need a decoder ring to figure out your message. It should be obvious. Spell it out if necessary. Make sure you are not misinterpreted.

It is particularly important to make the connection between premises and conclusions explicit. Because is a magic word for this purpose:  “Because premise A and premise B, we can see that conclusion must be true.

If your arguments involve more than a couple premises, be sure your audience sees the relationship between them. “And these five advantages — capital costs, scheduling, inventory control, marketing, and employee satisfaction — together make this a winning proposal.

#3: Trace sequences or processes in order.

To help your audience understand a sequence or process, march through the steps or phases in a meaningful order, usually sequential. If you jump around the steps out of order, your audience will be confused.

As the number of steps increases, so does the need to use a diagram for clarity.

#4: Use diagrams.

Carefully crafted and focused diagrams almost always enhance the understandability of your arguments. It doesn’t matter if you draw in PowerPoint, on a white board, or on the back of a napkin — it only matters that you clarify concepts for your audience.

But, be careful not to introduce an unnecessarily complex diagram. In the worst case, a busy diagram or one with lots of irrelevant details will frustrate your audience and diminish your understandability.

#5: Use charts.

Like diagrams, a carefully crafted chart or graph will speak volumes and clarify a previously fuzzy relationship.

Remember the warning about unnecessary complexity applies to charts too.

#6: Use progressive disclosure.

Suppose the diagram (or chart) which best explains the concepts is a complex one. What then?

It doesn’t matter if you draw in PowerPoint, on a white board, or on the back of a napkin — it only matters that you clarify concepts for your audience.

In nearly all cases, it should be possible to use progressive disclosure. This means that you build up the entire diagram (or chart) progressively as a series of chunks, revealing only a part of the overall diagram at a time. If you are drawing the diagram as you speak, you are inherently using progressive disclosure. (You draw a few lines, explain what you’ve drawn, draw a few more, explain again, and repeat.) This is easy to do with PowerPoint too.

#7: Use comparisons, analogies, and metaphors.

Whenever you introduce new concepts, search for an appropriate analogy which helps the audience understand the new concept in terms of how they already understand the old one.

Make it Logical

Okay, your audience understands what you are saying, but does what you are saying make sense?

Does it pass the logical tests which your audience will be applying subconsciously?

#8: Leverage audience commonplaces.

Commonplaces often provide the most stable foundation for your argument. It’s a good ideas to start with these — because your audience already believes them — and build the remainder of your argument outward.

In a similar manner, framing the issue from your audience’s perspective is a great way to be more persuasive.

#9: Ask questions, and get your audience thinking.

Questions engage your audience and make them active participants in the conversation. Rather than passively waiting for you to provide answers, they’ll be contributing to the answers as you go. As a result, they will collectively feel ownership when you move toward conclusions. In the best case, they will feel that they came to the conclusions themselves — a sure way to guarantee your persuasiveness.

#10: Address the opposing point of view, and refute it.

On the surface, it seems foolish to bring up the opposing arguments. What if your audience didn’t think of that? Now you’ve just planted a seed of doubt!

On the contrary, bringing up opposing arguments makes you seem unbiased and boosts your ethos. (“You must be trustworthy; you are pointing out your opposition!“) Further, and more importantly, it allows you to directly refute the opposing arguments with logical arguments of your own.

#11: Emphasize the points of most value to audience

Unless you are using only perfect, irrefutable facts as premises, and making a purely deductive argument (where the conclusions follow immediately from premises), there are going to be holes in your inductive argument. (This doesn’t mean you’ve done a poor job. Inductive arguments have uncertainties by definition.)

Since your presentation has a finite length, you must make choices how to best spend your time. You will be most effective if you devote the majority of your presentation to discuss the issues of primary interest to your audience.

Make it Real

Concrete and specific details improve the strength of your arguments, and thus make your overall message more persuasive.

Explaining the theory behind why your new solution will raise profits is a good start; sharing a story about a company which raised profits 17% by adopting your solution is much stronger.

#12. Use props or photographs.

Talking about something in abstract terms is good, but using real objects or photographs carries more logos. Visual evidence is very hard to refute.

Personal stories and anecdotes carry more logos than stories or anecdotes ‘which happened to a friend of mine.’

#13: Use vivid details.

In lieu of photographs, you can make your claims more real by supplying vivid details.

#14: Use facts and statistics.

Assigning numbers adds to the impact.

Compare the following statements:

  • Every year, many people die of cancer.
  • Every year, 3000 people in our community die of cancer.

Which one of these statements is more likely to persuade your audience to contribute money to cancer research?

#15: Cite your sources.

A statistic may be accurate, but without citing a source, your audience may dismiss it. By citing a source, you tip the scale towards believability.

(The credibility of your source is also important, but that is more closely related to ethos.)

#16: Use real examples and case studies.

You can construct convincing arguments about theories and ideas, but your audience will be left to wonder whether the theory holds in reality. Real examples and case studies show that the theory works in the real world.

#17: Use personal stories and anecdotes.

Three Pillars of Public Speaking
  1. Ethos, Pathos, Logos - Introduction
  2. Ethos - Speaker Credibility
  3. Pathos - Emotional Connection
  4. Logos - Logical Argument

A personal story combines the power of a real example with that of a cited source. Assuming you are a credible source, personal stories and anecdotes carry more logos than stories or anecdotes “which happened to a friend of mine.”

What do you think?

The techniques listed here are far from complete. There are other ways to improve your logical arguments and your persuasive effectiveness.

What other techniques do you use?

When you are in the audience, what qualities of the presentation make you more likely to judge it to be a sound argument?

Please share your ideas in the comments.

This is one of many public speaking articles featured on Six Minutes.
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Comments icon18 Comments

  1. Tejpal says:

    very interesting and explained in very easy manner , it definatly help us to make solid and successfull presentations

  2. Andrew says:

    First rate series, Andrew. I’m converting the articles into templates that I can then apply to my communications “themes” for speaking and sales presentations.

  3. Gabrielle says:

    Thank you so much for this article! It has helped me get through my rhetorical analysis paper that is due today! I’ve had a terrible time completing it until I came upon your articles. Thanks for the awesome work and advice!

  4. Sokre says:

    Great summary, would be even better with examples of current day speakers (ie Jobs to Obama to others) and how they put these principles into work. Then readers need to practice, practice, practice! Thank you for the summary.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Our speech critiques (many of which feature contemporary speakers) reference these principles and provide concrete examples.

  5. Andrew, I am SOOOOO glad I stumbled across your site. Being obsessed with communication and connection, it’s a treasure trove of gold nuggets.

  6. Saja says:

    Thanks so much for this. I’ve been talking to my students about ethos, pathos, logos and while I have some fun activities to go with these terms, I hadn’t quite run across such a nice overview that I can tell them about!

  7. Excellent article Andrew. Extremely informative and well written. Great work indeed.

  8. Thank you for your wonderful words of wisdom.
    I mentor 22 students from previously disadvantaged backgrounds who are at universities in the Western Cape and we offer “Life Skills” workshops to them. I will be making use of your well thought out skills for our “presentations Skills” workshop on the 23rd June.

    Much appreciated!
    Lynette Pullen

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Good luck with your workshop, Lynette. You have a wonderful mission, and I’m glad this article helps you.

  9. Jim says:

    A well stated article. These are techniques that I’ve been instinctively using, but Andrew has put them down in an excellent manner. Good job.

  10. David Walsh says:

    I came across your website while doing a project for a college level public speaking class. I enjoy your posts and think you do use great and relative examples. I feel like some of the posts are overwhelming though. Such as there being 17 points to being a more persuasive speaker. Seems like a lot to remember for a “non-professional”. Are there certain points that are more important than others or is it necessary to tackle all 17 points?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      David:

      The relative importance of the 17 strategies will vary from one speech to the next, so it is difficult to rank them.

      Keep in mind that all 17 don’t need to be applied to every speech as if they were a checklist which must be satisfied. Instead, consider each of them like a tool in your toolbox. If you have the tools available, you’ll be able to use the right one when the situation arises.

  11. Steve says:

    Great article but do you find that props or photographs take the attention away from you as a speaker?

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      Not at all. A well-chosen prop or photograph helps to [1] convey the message to your audience and [2] make it more memorable for them.

  12. Julianne says:

    I remember one of my first speeches I gave and I used very specific language and I am pretty sure I lost a lot of people. I will never make that mistake again. Also I have found taking a firm stance on a topic (opposing view) can be very beneficial but in some cases detrimental. I guess its just important to know what type of people you are speaking to and not to attack their core beliefs.

    1. Andrew Dlugan says:

      You’re absolutely right, Julianne. Taking a firm stance is generally far more effective. Audiences don’t appreciate “wishy-washy” speakers. However, if you are advocating a point of view which opposes their core beliefs, you might have to take a slightly indirect approach.

      Our audience analysis article series will go into more detail about addressing topics where your opinion goes against the audience’s beliefs.

      1. Julianne says:

        Thanks for the quick response, I appreciate it!

        The audience analysis series is a great idea. I look forward to reading the articles.

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Jan Wallen @thejanwallen — Nov 14th, 2012

Just For Speakers: Be More Memorable – http://t.co/xpjmxI9x

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Juana Erice @juanaerice — Dec 12th, 2012

Algunas ideas para ser más persuasivo en tus presentaciones. http://t.co/LJzukKYW

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Christopher Witt (@CPWitt) @CPWitt — Feb 24th, 2014

17 Easy Ways to Be a More Persuasive Speaker by Andrew Dlugan @6minutes http://t.co/DrF1hZjKKL

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17 ways to become a more persuasive speaker. http://t.co/qvHGMDwLzB #Leadership #Business

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there’s so many ‘how to how to’ . let me share, jo http://t.co/kaMPMtb8ZK

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