How to Use the Science of Persuasion to Create Compelling Presentations

When presenting, being a clear thinker and effective communicator helps. But delivering persuasive presentations in particular goes way beyond that. The challenge is that you’re presenting something new to a unique group of audience who already have pre-existing sets of beliefs, experiences and values. And swaying your audience to change some of these is both an art and science.

It’s an art because as you may know, you’d have to creatively explore ways to get them convinced which may often include using descriptive illustrations, mind blowing facts, humor or sharing your personal experience.

But it’s likewise interesting that the art of persuasion is also a science. Regardless if you’re selling yourself, a product or a business idea, an effective persuasive presentation has its basis on behavioral psychology and neuroscience.

Here are 5 scientifically based facts to make your presentations highly compelling:

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1)      Vivid illustrations create a powerful impact.

The reason why anti-smoking advocates often plaster gruesome photos of lung or oral cancer symptoms all over their campaigns is because they work. Whenever we observe something extreme, neurons in our brains fire up to mirror whatever we see and translate these into powerful feelings. But you have to use illustrations which your audience can relate to and not impose something new to them. Ask yourself what your audience is anxious about, what frustrates them or what keeps them up at night.

2)      Verbs rule over adjectives.

Which sounds more convincing: “A brilliant business idea that is positively guaranteed to bring phenomenal profits for your business” or “A business idea that can yield more than 50% returns on your investment and cut down your expenses by as much as 30%”? Verbs give your audience more specifics. Adjectives on the other hands are vague and something anyone can easily claim.

3)      Being transported by a good story leads to persuasion.

Imagine this- a salesman goes to your place and starts bombarding you with features of a product he’s trying to sell. Then another person knocks and mentions about an intriguing story he’s heard from the grapevine. Which of the two would you be more willing to invite over? Most likely the second. Perhaps after being hounded by countless annoying salesmen, our brains eventually become wired to block off sales pitches. But when one starts telling an absorbing story, we naturally return to become like little captivated kids listening and being transported to another “world”.

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4)      Being the devil’s advocate supports, not contradicts your presentation.

A common mistake in persuasive presentation is getting your audience to be impressed, but not convinced. It’s easy to promise incredible offers to your audience but deep inside, each one of them also brings to the table certain concerns or questions which they won’t necessarily openly state. Questions like “Yes, that’s amazing but will that address…” So before they leave with these unanswered questions, address their objections immediately by saying “If you’re worried about ….”

5)      The little details do matter but don’t go overboard.

In one experiment conducted in Carnegie Mellon University, researchers have analyzed various brain regions that light up when being presented products or services for sale. Interestingly, certain brain regions also light up as soon as the word “money” or “price” is mentioned. But even the slight details count such as the simple mentioning of the word “free” or “small”. Compared to phrases that make no mention of these “positive” words, ads that do insert these tiny details produced higher conversion rates by more than 20%. But like in many things, don’t overdo this lest you run the risk of being that another “annoying salesman.”

What other tips can you share to make your presentation more persuasive?