Touch the Head and the Heart

Often when we speak, we are trying to persuade those in our audience to understand or accept an idea, a proposal, or product. But how persuasive we are depends on how we present our information. Here are some suggestions for being more persuasive.

Touch the heart as well as the head. The way we feel about an idea can be as important as the quality of the evidence. The axiom, “People buy on emotion and justify with logic” applies here. Not only do you want to provide good, logical reasons, you want your audience to feel what you are talking about. Stories are the best way to connect the mind and heart. If you are seeking to motivate an audience, tell a story about how what you are advocating has affected people. If you are seeking blood donors, for example, tell how someone’s life was saved by blood donations or about a child who needs weekly blood transfusions to survive.

If you don’t have time to tell a story, describe the scene that needs change or the action you want the audience to take. If, for instance, you want your company to have a new health-benefits package, convey with words how things will be easier for employees if this plan in adopted.

Give parallel examples. Explain how the proposal you are advocating works someplace else. If you want to implement a new policy, find a similar organization that is using the same procedure successfully and share that case study. We do this on a personal level all the time. We go to a movie or read a certain book because someone who has seen the movie or read the book recommended it. We go to a certain location on vacation because a friend has been there and thinks it is a great place. The same basic principle can also work in your professional life.

Use testimonials. Consider using the testimony of people your audience respects. I speak frequently about the value of public speaking skills, for example, so I am always looking for credible people who say public speaking skills helped them become successful. Steve Jobs not only led the technical revolution, but he transfixed audiences with his speaking skills. At times, what were once dry, technical lectures drew thousands due to his engaging speaking skills. The great orator Daniel Webster also maintained that public speaking skills were the most important skills he ever learned.

Use several sources. Another persuasive technique is to cite several sources as evidence that what you are saying is true. Incorporating several sources not only gives depth to your ideas, it increases the chances your audience will accept what you are saying. If you use only one source, audience members may think that you have a strong bias or no one else agrees with you. Using several sources assures your audience that you are objective and you have indeed done your homework.

Be clear about what you want. Although it seems obvious, many people overlook this crucial step. Make clear what you want your audience to do as a result of your presentation. Somewhere in your presentation you need to complete this sentence, “What I want you to do as a result of this presentation is…….”:  This move-to-action step works best at the end, but you can also refer to it in the early part of your talk to let the audience know the direction in which you are headed.

But don’t be a data dumper. Avoid providing more information than you need to make your point.  When people say, “I want to give you eight reasons why you should accept my proposal,” audiences lose interest quickly. It’s too much. Instead, limit yourself to two, three, or at most four reasons. Also, don’t overload them with evidence. If you do, they won’t remember anything.

Finally, close with your best stuff. Save your strongest evidence until the end. People tend to remember best what you say last. To take advantage of this tendency, build your speech the way you would a good mystery novel, so it climaxes at the right moment. In a mystery, the suspense keeps your interest. The same is true of a powerfully persuasive presentation. Spend the early part of your talk setting the stage and providing good information, but don’t tell the audience everything at once. Instead, build your argument so your strongest reasons and most compelling evidence comes near the end. Preparing yourself in this manner almost guarantees that you’ll be more persuasive, no matter what your subject.

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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