3 tips on how to use evidence to persuade

Speaker credibility

When a presenter wants to persuade listeners to do something – or change their point of view on an issue or topic – it’s not enough to rely solely on emotion to persuade. Speakers should also use evidence to support their contentions. Here are a few tips.

1. Cite your sources. If you’re using a statistic to support one of your main points, where did that information come from? Is the source reliable and trustworthy? If you’re the expert, fine. Make sure the audience knows about your experience/expertise related to the topic. (You’re not bragging; you’re qualifying yourself as a credible source.)

2. Connect the dots. Explain how the information you cite supports the points you’re making. Don’t just throw the information out there.

3. Use several credible sources to maximize persuasion, not just one. You may have a single expert you quote whose opinion or testimony supports your contentions in a powerful way. However, citing additional sources will bolster your arguments leading to persuasion. Using more than one source should also help mitigate audience members’ possible suspicions that if only one person, report or whatever supports your point of view, there’s something wrong. Why should they believe you based on only one source you cite? I’m guessing they want to hear more.

I’m just saying…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

I love Texas. Although I wasn’t born here, I got here as fast as I could. My family landed in Wichita Falls, down the road a piece from where I live now (Dallas-Fort Worth).

Today I’m fixin’ to tell you some things about giving a speech. Here are some handy-as-sliced-bread and smart-as-a-hooty owl speaking tips.


Just because a chicken has wings don’t mean it can fly.
Everyone can talk, but that doesn’t necessarily equate to an effective presentation. Outline your main points and practice your speech out loud (more than once) prior to the day you’ll speak.

This ain’t my first rodeo. Make sure your audience understands how you know so much about your topic. Are your observations based on personal experience? If not, cite credible sources to support your contentions.

She speaks ten words a second, with gusts to fifty. More words, uttered quickly, can impede the speaker-audience connection. Speak clearly and concisely to enhance understanding.

Don’t leave your audience as confused as a goat on AstroTurf. Make your speech fine as frog fur.

Speaking and eye contact. Does it matter?

Writers write to communicate. Speakers speak for the same reason. So doesn’t it make sense that an article or blog post could be “converted” into a speech, word for word?

the eye

The short answer is no. Reading a manuscript doesn’t make it a speech (at least not a very good one). So why do so many speakers “read” their speeches? Laziness? Lack of preparation? Fear? The presenter just doesn’t know any better? As an audience member, I may not know why the speaker is reading, but chances are I’ll be tuning out shortly. An effective presentation engages listeners, and eye contact is one of the best ways to do that. Here are some top-of-mind tips to enhance eye contact.

  • Prepare and practice. Develop a clear statement of purpose and organize your main points. Use note cards, not sheets of paper. Rehearse your presentation out loud — more than once. Look up, not down.
  • During your presentation, scan the room. Don’t focus on a single audience member, or zero in on a spot above their heads at the back of the room. (Student speakers have told me this “looking-over-their-heads” advice was given to them — I disagree).
  • If you’re using visual aids such as PowerPoint, don’t turn your back to listeners and read from your slides. It’s okay to glance at your visual, or even turn sideways, but reorient yourself to face the audience.

Tune in later for more on how to improve your speaking skills and confidence.

How to persuade: The #1 tip for speakers

Levi 3“Hello, my name is ________ and I’m here today to tell you about ________.”

If I’m in the audience and that’s the first thing I hear, I usually tune out, regardless of  how interesting or compelling the topic might be. If you don’t grab my attention at the start, I probably won’t listen very carefully to whatever else you have to say, if at all.

The introduction to a speech — any speech — is critical. This is the moment when listeners will either connect to what you have to say — and take notice — or take a mental holiday.

Let’s say you’re giving a speech to persuade. By the end of the presentation, you want audience members to do something. Maybe you want them to sign a petition, vote for a particular candidate, send a letter to government representatives or other stakeholders, support a cause, take part in a rally or contribute money to a charity. Regardless of the specific request, you want to encourage listeners to act. That’s much less likely to happen if you don’t engage the audience at the very beginning of your speech.

For example, if I was giving a speech to persuade residents in a Dallas neighborhood to donate money or volunteer their time to support the efforts of a nonprofit organization helping rescue stray dogs in the area,* here’s how I might begin my talk (keep in mind I’m focusing on content here, not delivery — that’s another article or blog post):

When I first saw this creature one night — I wasn’t sure exactly what it was — it seemed to be hiding behind a car across the street from my apartment. There was no street light, so things were shadowy. Then I heard a soft, low noise that sounded like a whimper. As I looked more closely, I could see a nose, then a small paw. Then a quivering, wire-haired animal with a long tail inched out unsteadily from behind the car’s back tire. It was a dog. That’s how I met Fido, and I could tell he needed help.”

A brief story using imagery like this can capture attention. Immediately after reciting this short narrative, I might project an image of Fido as part of a continuing PowerPoint presentation. Subsequent portions of an introduction would include a statement of proposition (“Every dog like Fido deserves a chance to be happy, healthy and loved, and you can help”), followed by a preview of the main points you’ll cover in the body of your speech.

Of course, there are other ways to lead into your speech. You can cite compelling statistics or facts, use an analogy, offer expert opinion or testimony, make a startling statement, or use humor (if appropriate). Whatever approach you decide to take, consider your audience. Why are they listening to you? What will be most relevant to them? How can you get — and keep — the audience’s attention?

Your presentation may be packed full of awesome information, but no one will appreciate that if they checked out about the time you said “hello.” Make your introduction unforgettable. The odds are that listeners will remember that speech and you, too. Better yet, they’ll be persuaded to do what you asked.

*Duck Team 6 searches for elusive dogs that need to be rescued and off the streets. Find out more here. The dog pictured in this post is Levi, my terrier mix. He was adopted from Operation Kindness, a no-kill shelter.