The following essay was published in The DiSCOurser, Issue #6, Aug. 2, 1990, the newsletter for the SCO Toasmasters club.
I have an idea that I feel strongly about and I would like you to be just as fired up about it as I am. How do I do this? I can plead. I can coerce. Or I can persuade.
The art of persuasion comes easily to some but is hard work for others. With practice, though, anyone can be effectively persuasive.
Step 1: Focus on what you would like to get across
Persuasive people have clarity of vision. They know what they want and they go after it. Visualize what it is that you want. Understand what will happen if your vision comes true, and what will happen if it doesn’t. You will then have a clearer focus.
For example, Mrs. Fox feels that there are too many roads kills on the road near her home. She feels that the speed limit has something to do with this, so she decides that she is going to try to have the speed limit on the road reduced. She visualizes fewer animals dying on the road but realizes that there will be no change in the death count if she doesn’t succeed. Although her motivation is animal preservation, her focus is the lowering of the speed limit.
Step 2: Formulate your idea into a purpose
If you visualize your point as a goal, then, when you reach the goal you will be a success or a failure. If you focus on a purpose, you can never fall — you will only be moving toward or away from your purpose.
To clarify, a goal is fixed in time and space. “I want to speak well the next time I give a speech,’ is a goal. A purpose is ongoing. “I want to be a good speaker,” is a purpose. You wouldn’t want to become a good speaker at one point, and then cease to be a good speaker from that point on, would you?
Step 3: Have an idea of whom you’re talking to
Know what makes your audience tick. Provide the angle that the audience can relate to, understand and will find relevant. Tell them what they want to know, but don’t lie. Never hide, distort or exaggerate the facts. Don’t suppress information either.
Dishonesty will only make you look bad and hurt your position. Be up front and honest with your audience. Nothing turns an audience off more than insincerity.
For example, let’s return to Mrs. Fox and her purpose. In order to persuade non-animal activists to her side, she would present facts on how slower speeds save gasoline, prolong the life of the car and can, therefore, save them money.
Step 4: Speak with conviction
Don’t be afraid to show the audience that you feel deeply about what you are talking about. Mrs. Fox might show her feelings about the dead animals she’s had to deal with, or how frustrating it is to have people driving at break neck speeds around sharp corners near her home.
Step 5: Show determination and persistence
This can be done in a speech with repetition of similar facts or rewording what you’ve previously said. If you’re moving toward a point, and one way doesn’t work, try a different way. Calvin Coolidge once said, “The slogan, ‘Press on’ has solved and will always solve the problems of the human race.” This is also true with persuasion.
Step 6: Show people what they can do
If letters need to be written, give them the pertinent information to write letters. Tell them what bill to vote for or against. Make it clear to the audience what they need to do. Mrs. Fox could urge her audience to write their Congressman or House Representative, or possibly the City or County Municipal Department.
All of this can be easily mastered once you have achieved focus. Once you can see your path and know your way, your journey becomes easy.
“The Fire of Your Ideas” by Roger Ailes. The Toastmaster, June 1989, pgs. 12-13.
“Friendly Persuasion” by Linda D. Swink, CTM. The Toastmaster, June 1989, pgs. 24-26.
Notes from Robert Fenwick’s class, “Freeing the Natural, Voice” offered at Cabrillo College. Spring 1990.