Presentations are a gamble.
You invest valuable time and money, but you can’t predict the presentation climate that you will be dealt. You cannot calculate the exact mood of the audience nor control all variables of the situation. To succeed, you must be bold and come prepared with an ace up your sleeve: You have to be a master of persuasion.
Even if your goal is only to inspire or inform, you still have to persuade your audience to pay attention. If you want your audience to take action, persuasion is an obvious essential.
No. 1: Use your hands.
Loosen up. Let yourself gesture naturally during your presentation.
Research has shown that presenters are judged as more effective and competent when they make hand gestures compared with when they keep their hands still, according to The 4 Ways You Can Use Body Language To Influence Success by Christian Jarrett.
When gesturing, be especially aware of how you use your palms. In his TEDx talk, Body Language, the power is in the palm of your hands, Allan Pease uses humor, stories, case studies and audience interaction to deliver a compelling case for the importance of using your palms wisely when speaking. There are more connections between your brain and the palm of your hands than any other body part, Pease says. Clearly, the palms have evolved as an important part of human brains, he concludes.
Pease demonstrates how the palm orientation of a speaker can transmit a signal that appeals to your ancient brain. Depending on which signal is transmitted, a speaker can either gain the trust and attention of the audience or be rejected by the audience, Pease says. In one case study mentioned by Pease, palm orientation was tested; the study concluded the palm up speaker had up to 40 percent more retention of the deal than the palm down speaker.
Speaking with your palms up will make you more likable and persuasive. If you speak with your palms down, you will be perceived as threatening and controlling. To drive this message home, Pease demonstrates the Nazi salute. The palms down gesture seems aggressive. Pease then flips the salute from palms down to a palms up gesture. The audience laughs because the revised salute is comical. Pease was transformed from intimidating to lovable. Go watch it for yourself; the entire video is phenomenal.
No. 2: Choose your language carefully.
Be selective about the words that you choose to use during your presentations. For example, lean heavily on words that will strike an emotional chord with audience members. Compared with words with neutral connotations, emotional words have a more lasting effect on audience members, according to “Memory enhancement for emotional words: Are emotional words more vividly remembered than neutral words?” Conducted by MIT researchers Elizabeth A. Kensinger and Suzanne Corkin, the study concluded:
In the present investigation, we examined whether there was a qualitative memory benefit for emotional, as compared with neutral, words. The results of six experiments confirmed that there is such a benefit: Across all tasks, details associated with the presentation of words (assessed through subjective and objective measures) were more likely to be remembered for emotional than for neutral items.
Integrate these highly influential words into your presentations:
- You: Use second-person pronouns to excite your audience. Rewrite sentences, replacing I with you; doing so will put the focus on the audience. In addition, if you are delivering a presentation to only to a few people, consider using their first names during the presentation. Don’t force it, though; be natural when addressing audience members directly.
- Free: The word free is thrown in our faces continually by advertisers and purveyors, yet the word retains its power of persuasion. However, be strategic about your use of free to maintain the value of your message.
- Because: In “Magic Words: The Science and Secrets Behind Seven Words That Motivate, Engage, and Influence,” author Tim David describes a Harvard study by Ellen Langer to demonstrate the persuasive nature of the word because. In the study, participants were asked a small favor, and 60 percent complied. When the word because and an explanation for the request were added, compliance rates jumped to 94 percent. If you want audience members to participate in your presentation, give them a reason.
- Instantly: This word makes events or experiences seem easy and exciting. If you can honestly and tactfully use instantly as part of your final call to action, go for it. Chances are, your results will improve.
No. 3: Tap into the five senses.
For example, if technical difficulties delay your presentation, keep the audience relaxed by playing some pleasant music. Pleasant music played while you’re placed on hold keeps callers on the line longer, Thai Nguyen explains in his article “The Art of Persuasion: 10 Brain Hacks to Leverage in Business and Life.” To avoid the struggle of trying to persuade an angry audience, use music to keep people happily on hold for you.
In addition, watch the video below to learn the basics of the physiological responses to color that influence moods and behaviors. Use colors wisely to maximize the persuasive potential of your presentation design.
No. 4: Tell stories.
Studies prove stories are more persuasive than logical arguments. Take it from TED Talks: The most successful presentations are about 65 percent stories and 25 percent figures, with the rest information to support your credibility, Drake Baer reports in his article “9 Proven Ways To Get People To Take You Seriously.”
Summarizing a study by Timothy Brock and Melanie Green, Gregory Ciotti explains the secrets to crafting a persuasive story in his article “The Psychology of Storytelling: Transportation Leads to Persuasion.” Ciotti suggests using suspense, detailed imagery and literary techniques such as metaphors to deliver a story that will influence your audience.
No. 5: Key on imagination and aversion to loss.
Ask your audience to imagine performing the task that you want them to complete.
As strange as it may sound, the brain cannot tell the difference between imagining reality and actually experiencing reality, Bnonn Tennant says in his article “How To Use These 3 Hypnotic “Power Words” To Covertly Increase Your Conversion Rates.”
Once people imagine an experience, they emotionally and mentally own it. As a result, your audience will be less likely to reject the action that you are requesting. That’s because our emotional reaction to loss is twice as intense as our joy in gain, Nugyen explains.
No. 6: Establish a rapport.
Likable presenters are more persuasive than those who cannot connect to the audience. In the video below, Science of Persuasion, Dr. Robert Cialdini shares tips for being a likable speaker. Specifically, Cialdini explains that people tend to like speakers who are cooperative, similar to them and generous with compliments.
Before delivering a presentation, thoroughly research your audience. When you take the stage, be prepared to demonstrate commonalities between yourself and the audience members, and also compliment the audience. If you are working the room after the presentation, cooperate with requests from audience members who need a final push of persuasion.
Warmth is another characteristic of likable leaders and presenters. In the Harvard Business School study “The Dynamics of Warmth and Competence Judgments, and their Outcomes in Organizations,” researchers report that leaders must be perceived as warm, even more so than competent, to be persuasive. Although projecting competence is clearly important, neglecting to demonstrate trustworthiness/warmth—a psychological conduit for influence—makes it very difficult for leaders to gain loyalty and to be persuasive in a sustainable way. Among other techniques, researchers suggest flashing a natural smile during appropriate moments in your presentation to project a warm demeanor.
Conclusion: Consider the impact your hand gestures and word choices will have on your audience when you prepare for a presentation. In addition, look for ways to be a likable presenter, as well as ways to use storytelling and the power of the five senses. Last, help your audience develop a sense of ownership of your ideas by asking them to use their imagination. Stack the deck in your favor; master the art of persuasion before your next presentation.
A version of this article first appeared on Ethos3.com.