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What Makes a Speech Persuasive?

Categories: Persuasive Speaking, Business Presentations


Patrick Henry
Patrick Henry

Happy President's Day! On this day that celebrates our first and 16th presidents, George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, let's look back at other historical figures of note -- specifically those whose presentation skills were extraordinary.

Lincoln, of course, is a well-known example of superb oratory skills -- his Gettysburg Address is often cited as a classic speech.

You may already be aware that knowing your audience, along with the right message and the most effective delivery are three vital components of a good presentation.

What makes a speech not just good, but great? What makes a presentation something that your audience will leave buzzing about? What makes a speech persuasive, inspirational, and highly memorable?

A persuasive presentation must appeal to both the mind and the heart. It must also be delivered with passion and conviction.

Let’s take a look at two of the greatest speeches of all time, and see if we can identify why their words have endured -- one by Susan B. Anthony and the other by Patrick Henry.

One of the things I always stress is to consider the needs of the audience. Your audience is always asking, WIIFM? (What’s in it for me?). Your presentation must speak to your listeners’ concerns.

It must also contain facts and examples, like Anthony’s famed 1873 speech in favor of giving women the right to vote. Notice how she cites the Constitution of the United States as her argument in this famous passage:

"It was we, the people; not we, the white male citizens; nor yet we, the male citizens; but we, the whole people, who formed the Union. And we formed it, not to give the blessings of liberty, but to secure them; not to the half of ourselves and the half of our posterity, but to the whole people — women as well as men."

Read the rest of this feminist trailblazer’s speech here.

Along with rational arguments, your presentation must convey your passion and convictions. Patrick Henry had no trouble with that in 1775, as the American colonists at the Virginia Convention debated whether or not to mobilize forces against the British.

Henry’s position was clear: revolution. To sway his listeners, he gave an impassioned speech in support of this position in a Richmond, Virginia, church:

“Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! — I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!”

Still stunning, still moving, hundreds of years later! Henry infused this presentation with his own passion for liberty, holding nothing back. Others could not help but be swayed by his passion, his delivery, and his eloquence.

If you need to persuade listeners on a high stakes issue, you might want to study the full text of Patrick Henry’s speech here.

Persuasive speaking is a skill that can be studied and learned. You can learn to write a persuasive, compelling speech and deliver it with passion.

If you need help learning to create a brilliant and memorable presentation, check out our training programs in Presentation Power. They will enhance your ability to inform, influence and inspire like the great speechmakers of old.

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