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Persuasive Presentations

A little girl tries to convince her parents to buy her a pony. An executive rolls out a new business strategy to his employees. A salesperson pitches his newest product to a prospective customer. What do they all have in common? They are all practicing the art of persuasion. We do it every day at work, at home, and everywhere in between. And for all of us, our success or failure depends on our ability to convince other people to adopt our viewpoints.

The Audience: Star of your Presentation

So what’s the trick to doing it well? Before you plot out a plan, you need to understand the most crucial component to victory: your audience. To reach your objective, you need them to act – and that means you have to put in the time to understand what moves them. When I’m working on my own presentations, I always start by trying to understand the audience before I begin writing the script or designing slides. So before you start working on your presentation, or your pitch for a pony, ask yourself some basic questions about the audience. Who are they? What kind of jobs do they hold? What keeps them up at night? What are they trying to achieve? What do they like and dislike? Answers to basic questions like these will give you a baseline from which to start crafting your story.

Things to Keep in Mind:

Next, focus these questions on what the audience thinks about your subject matter. Do they know a lot about it? If they do, what do they think? Do they hold any misconceptions you need to correct? How might they resist this change? Fill in the left side of the chart below with the answers. Once you’ve established what your audience currently thinks, clarify what you want them to think after they hear your presentation or pitch. What ideas will they now accept? What action will they plan to take? How will their mindsets have changed? Use these answers to fill in the right side of the table.



The gap between “from” and “to” tells you how hard it will be for you to persuade the audience – and it should spark some ideas about how you can inspire and motivate them to get there. For example, the left side of the salesperson’s column might say, “This product is too expensive.” The right side might say ,“The long-term cost savings make the price well worth it.” Bridging this divide helps focus his presentation and drive the framing of his story.


presentation diagrams


The process of mapping the audience transformation becomes a filter and guide. Everything you put into your presentation should support their transformation or be removed. I whip out this little exercise to get my husband to do chores on the weekend. Hm, maybe I should ask him for a pony.

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