10 Tips for Persuading an Audience

Whether you want to give a presentation about your business model or change a person’s political beliefs with a regular printed magazine, you’ll need to wield tools of persuasion. Changing someone’s mind can be tough, especially if they already hold conflicting beliefs, but with the right combination of strategies, you can make it happen. 

Know Your Audience 

Everything starts with naming and understanding your target audience. 

How to Persuade an Audience

From there, you can persuade almost any audience with the following tips: 

  1. Consider your image. People are much more likely to someone who looks and seems respectable than someone who appears untrustworthy in some way. For example, you’re more likely to get someone to take you seriously if you’re well-groomed and wearing a suit than if you’re scraggly and homeless looking. If you’re going to get in front of an audience, spend some time putting yourself together. Otherwise, consider your reputation as an individual or as part of an organization. 
  2. Repeat your message. Repetition instantly makes an idea more persuasive; this is part of the reason why propaganda works so well. If you’re giving a presentation, repeat a slogan or tagline to drive your message home. If you’re trying to persuade an audience over time, make sure you repeat and advertise your core message often. 
  3. Capitalize on multiple channels. You’ll reach more people and get your message repeated more often if you capitalize on multiple channels at once. For example, you can circulate a printed magazine in line with your cause and speak regularly at local meetup events. People will see your message in different contexts and begin to take it more seriously. 
  4. Steel man the opposition. It’s a common practice to “straw man” opposing arguments; in other words, present them in their weakest form so they’re easier to attack and dismantle. However, it’s often more persuasive to “steel man” the opposition, presenting opposing arguments in their strongest form. If you can logically refute the strongest version of your opponent, you’ll win far more support from your audience. 
  5. Sympathize. People are much more likely to trust you and believe you if you take a moment to sympathize with them. What’s holding them back from buying into your argument? What kinds of stressors and struggles do they face on a daily basis? Show them you understand them and you’ll have a much higher likelihood of getting them on your side. 
  6. Rely on facts and statistics. Fake news may make it seem like facts don’t matter anymore, but most people heavily base their beliefs on facts and statistics. Use these to your advantage and make sure you name your sources. The more reliable and trustworthy your numbers are, the more compelling your case is going to be. 
  7. Cater to emotions. That said, logic and data will only get you so far. If you want to bring more people to your side, you’ll need to cater to emotions. For example, can you make your audience happy and optimistic about the future when you present a vision for a better tomorrow? Can you stoke fears about what might happen if your opponents get their way? Can you evoke anger or frustration to motivate people to action? 
  8. Make use of social proof. Social proof is one of the most powerful tools in your arsenal. People are much more likely to go along with a belief or a course of action if they see other people doing the same. If you already have a large audience of supporters, you’ll be more likely to be taken seriously. In the meantime, try to get testimonials and backup from a selection of trustworthy individuals. 
  9. Find a point of commonality. If you’re working with a person one-on-one, try to find a point of commonality. Even if you’re polar opposites on one issue, there’s likely another issue you completely agree on. For example, you may have diametrically opposing views on universal healthcare, but you may both agree that our current healthcare system needs to be improved. Use this as a starting point. 
  10. Inch your way to success. It’s much easier to change someone’s mind if you try to do it gradually; major changes don’t happen all at once.  Don’t force them to flip their position. Instead, get them to agree to something smaller, then gradually inch them closer to your views. For example, you may not be able to convince someone that your system of police reform is the best, but you may be able to get them to agree that excessive police violence is unfortunate. From there, you may be able to get them to agree that higher accountability would be favorable to both police officers and ordinary citizens. 

No matter how persuasive or logical you are, there will be some people whose minds can’t be changed. This isn’t reflective of your abilities as a persuader, but has more to do with that person’s stubbornness, ability to listen, or preconceived notions. Remain calm and patient with anyone you’re trying to persuade, and persist if the cause is important to you.