Introduction to Speaking to Persuade

A building covered with advertisements

Persuasion is everywhere.

How often do you feel like you’re being persuaded to do something? You might think of a few recent conversations where someone made a case for something—maybe your friend was trying to convince you to pick them up at the airport, or your child wanted an ice cream.

Actually, you’re being bombarded by thousands of persuasive arguments every day. In 2006, the marketing firm Yankelovich estimated that the average American was exposed to 5,000 ads per day (up from 500 in the 1970s). More recently, Red Crow Marketing pegged the figure between 4,000 and 10,000 ads per day.[1][2] That’s a lot of persuasion! Since we’re constantly fending off efforts to convince us to buy this, or subscribe to that, or vote for this, or click on that, we’ve built up strong defenses against persuasion. If you want to get through to your audience, you have to convince them you’re not selling something. Or not just selling something. You need to make it clear that your listeners are the ones who will benefit in some way by following your call to action. In the following section, we’ll think about the main characteristics of audience-centered persuasive speaking.

  1. Story, Louise. "Anywhere the Eye Can See, It’s Likely to See an Ad." New York Times, 15 Jan. 2007.