Persuasive Speaking in Down Times

On a Caribbean cruise a woman leans too close to the side of the boat and falls overboard. People hear her screams, and then they see an elderly gentleman jumping over the side. He swims to her and keeps her afloat until a life jacket is thrown to them, saving her life. The ship decides to throw a party for the hero and after they toasted him, he was asked to say a few words. He took the microphone and said, “I have just one question—who pushed me?” 
          As a speaker, when you have resistance because of a bad place in life, you can’t push people into accepting your ideas. In our time of layoffs, cutting back, and loss of money, the job of persuading an audience can be difficult. Here are some suggestions on how to get the audience on your side when people may be scared about their futures and not concerned about your latest product or idea.
          Include a success story. Your audience can’t help but feel in an up mood when they hear a narrative about someone who overcame odds to succeed. Even though it happened nearly 30 years ago, you are inspired when you are reminded of the 1980 U. S. Olympic Hockey team which took home the gold medal against great odds. The movie, “Miracle,” based on that unbelievable success story is still popular today. Success stories encourage an audience.
          Mention a benefit everyone in the audience will experience, no matter how difficult the context may be. Point out a freedom available to all or a blessing for each person. You might tie in the time of year or the opportunities afforded all citizens. With college students, I sometimes stress what a great future they have to look forward to by earning an undergraduate degree. To remind them of the big picture after a test everyone did poorly on helps the students to look at a brighter side.
          Include new and helpful information when you speak. When you listen to a new idea  or a different way of looking at the familiar, you are encouraged. Perhaps there is a perk that comes from slow business that you could mention. For example, when public speaking engagements are far apart, I have more time to research my area of expertise. You might have time to write an article or book on your particular topic that you have been putting off for the past three years. Point out the area audience members might get involved in to give them a competitive edge when the economy comes back.
          Make a memorable point toward the end. Leave the audience with a “wow” idea that they can’t resist thinking about as they leave your presentation. Maybe you have from a group or person the audience respects a statistic or testimonial which gives hope for the future. Leave the audience on a high note.
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor of Speech Communication, College of Informatics,  Northern Kentucky University, in the Cincinnati area. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

Steve Boyd
Steve Boyd
Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. Steve won the Toastmasters International Speech Contest in 1970 and was chosen Outstanding Professor of the Year at NKU in 1984, among other awards and honors. Since retiring, he volunteers with nonprofits, spends time with family, travels, preaches occasionally, and enjoys reading and writing. Contact Steve at (859) 866-5693 or at

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