The art of persuasive speech: How to speak with confidence

Phoebe Perelman

Written by

Phoebe Perelman

The spoken word is a catalyst for change. From the boardroom, to the newsroom, to the courtroom, to the dining room – words are used not only to inform, but to influence. Every speech you give and conversation you have are opportunities to shape the world around you. In our inundated information economy, the value of your ideas is determined by your ability to persuade.

What is a persuasive speech?

A persuasive speech is a form of communication intended to influence the beliefs, attitudes, and actions of others. Whether you’re an L&D leader shaping organizational culture, a sales manager overseeing a team, or a social media strategist responsible for justifying ad spend, persuasive speaking is an integral part of your job description.

I’m sure you can think of some prime persuasive speech examples. Maybe Martin Luther King, Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech comes to mind. Or Al Gore’s ‘Inconvenient Truth.’ Or maybe that time your daughter tried to convince you to adopt a ferret.

Persuasive speeches come in many forms, but some persuasive speeches move masses (or result in new family mascots), while others don’t make a dent. Why?

Why your persuasive speaking might not be working

If you’ve ever failed to foster organizational change, close a deal, or motivate a team, you may be thinking more about what you want to say than what the audience needs to hear. We’ve all been there! But in order to persuade people, you first need to understand them.

Reason #1: Not studying your audience

Put yourself in the audience members’ shoes by answering the following questions:

  • Who are they?
  • What do they do?
  • What do they dream of?
  • What keeps them lying awake at night?
  • How will your idea, product, or point of view benefit them or solve a problem they care about?
  • What are their existing feelings and beliefs about the topic at hand?

By considering what they care about, you can determine the type of content they’ll resonate with. And by acknowledging their resistance points, you can prepare to address any counterarguments or rebuttals.

Reason #2: Not using enough data

Another common pitfall we see is when speakers lean too heavily into emotional content without including any supporting evidence. Your argument will stall quickly if there’s no research, data, or other qualitative and quantitative metrics to back up your Big Idea™.

Reason #3: Not communicating your data well

On the opposite spectrum, speakers can also lean too heavily into logical content, relying solely on facts and figures with no story. “Data doesn’t speak for itselfe, it needs a good storyteller,” says Nancy Duarte, CEO of Duarte Inc. “The findings [from the data] can stay buried without the help of a communicator.”

Neither instance is ideal. Persuasive speeches and presentations alike require a rhetorical juggling act with three specific elements.

You can learn more about this in our best-selling workshop, Duarte DataStory®. It was specifically designed to help professionals in data-intense roles learn how to communicate better, and tell stories through their data, to win buy-in.

How do you craft a persuasive speech?

Persuasive speeches need three imperative components. And these three persuasive speaking components have held true for over 2,000 years. We all have Aristotle to thank for this timeless wisdom. They are ethos, pathos, and logos, and we’ll go into why they are needed when you begin to structure your persuasive speech.



3 components of a persuasive speech structure

Make sure your persuasive speech structure includes some aspect of the three below elements. They are a huge tool for ensuring your persuasive presentation is a success.

Ethos: Establishing credibility

Establishing credibility as a speaker is crucial to winning over an audience. After all, would you take advice from a doctor who hadn’t gone through medical school? I think not. People are more likely to listen to someone they perceive as:

  • Knowledgeable
  • Trustworthy
  • And ethical

You can establish credibility by demonstrating confidence, conveying your expertise, and sharing relevant experience (in a humble, non-braggy way of course).

Pathos: Emotional appeal

One of the most effective persuasive strategies is tapping into the emotions of your audience. We can learn a lot about emotional appeal by looking at advertisements. Companies aren’t just selling a product – they’re selling a feeling, or a better state of being. Cars become calls to adventure, clothing becomes a boost of confidence, and software becomes a time-saver. These outcomes are illustrated through stories, metaphors, and vivid language or imagery. The same tactics can be incorporated into a persuasive speech.

Logos: Logical appeal

No matter how trustworthy you seem, or how compelling your stories are, most people need tangible proof. That’s why concrete evidence is essential to any speech or presentation. Include facts, statistics, customer examples, and expert validation to bolster your claims and enhance the credibility of your message.

As I said above, it’s important to cover your bases and include elements of all three persuasive appeals when outlining your main messages. Speaking of outlines…

How to use a persuasive speech outline

Now that you have your three components for your persuasive speech structure, it’s time to make your persuasive speech outline.

Step 1. Identify your Big Idea™

Start by determining a Big Idea™ for your talk. What is the main point you want the audience to walk away with? This will serve as a thesis of sorts.



Step 2: Compile content to validate your Big Idea™

Next, determine what key messages you need to make to validate your Big Idea™. These may include problems, solutions, topics, specific events, periods in time, etc. You can then start to organize these messages into chapters.



Step 3: Gather supporting points

Once you’ve defined your chapters, you can add supporting points. Those are your stats, quotes, stories, use cases, metaphors, personal anecdotes, etc.

Step 4: Read it back and fill in gaps

Your outline is probably looking good by now, but you’re not quite done. Review your outline out loud to see how it transitions from one point to the next. This is your chance to rearrange and reconsider your content. Ask yourself:

  • Does my outline address the audience-specific questions posed earlier?
  • Have I incorporated every side of the rhetorical triangle?
  • Does it flow?
  • Am I using contrast to keep my audience engaged?

Once you feel good about the messy middle of your presentation, start to brainstorm a captivating hook and compelling call to action.

Step 5: Determine your visual aids for your persuasive speech

Visual aids come in all shapes and sizes. Depending on your audience size, goals, and intent, there are a multitude of options when it comes to selecting the right visual aid for your persuasive speech. We’ve covered the topic of how to choose the right visual aid for your speech, so let’s assume is a presentation (our specialty!)

What is a persuasive presentation?

A persuasive presentation is when you choose to deliver your persuasive speech with the use of a digital presentation deck. This is typically done with slide presentation software, and they usually have helpful features like speaker notes or slide templates to help you tell your story in a visually appealing way.

Presentations offer something that speeches don’t: visuals. Visuals enhance your ability to elicit emotion and provide supporting evidence.

The most persuasive slides are simple, easy to understand, and complementary to your verbal message. So, keep your main message in mind, stick to one idea per slide, and make sure your slides can pass the Glance Test™.

Want more info on slide design principles? Allow me to save you some reading time by directing you to our on-demand webinar: Designing slides and visual aids that pop.

What is a call-to-action speech?

If you don’t intend to move someone with your persuasive presentation, then you might as well send an email. A call-to-action speech is the same as a persuasive speech. It should move your audience into action through the art of persuasion.

At Duarte, we believe that every speech is a persuasive speech, and no persuasive speech is complete without a call to action. A call to action is a directive for the audience based on your end goal. What do you want to achieve with this talk and what do you want the audience to do to help you achieve that goal?

  • Champion your brand?
  • Complete a training course??
  • Schedule a second sales conversation?

A call-to-action could also involve changing belief systems or getting the audience to adopt a new point of view. Maybe you don’t need them to act on something, but instead to feel differently about a person, product, or process.

Before developing your CTA, ask yourself: “who are they when they walk in the room, and who do I want them to be when they leave the room?”

What qualities do you need to improve your persuasive communication?

Persuasive speaking involves more than just content. You could have the most robust, audience-centric script, but without public speaking prowess, your efforts will go to waste. The way you deliver your speech or presentation has everything to do with the likelihood of influencing an audience. Capturing and holding an audience’s attention requires a certain type of stage presence. Fortunately, you don’t need to be born with uncanny charisma – you can learn how to leverage your voice and speak with confidence.


Captivate black button


The best way to nail your persuasive speech is with Duarte

There’s a lot that goes into persuasive speaking. And that tracks – it’s not easy to change people’s actions and beliefs! The content you choose, the visuals you use, and the way you deliver all play a role in persuasion. And more often than not, it’s helpful to seek an outside perspective to pressure test your persuasive speech.

Duarte works with the world’s biggest brands to develop persuasive stories and visuals that have won countless hearts and minds. From CEOs giving their keynotes to thousands, to product marketers getting their go-to-market product launches just right, we can help!

So, if you’re prepping for a main-stage or career-defining event where you need to influence an outcome, consider working with a persuasive expert from our agency.

If you’re confident in your content, but not in your persuasive stage presence, hone in on delivery by working with a speaker coach.

Or, if you don’t have a specific persuasive presentation to prepare for, but want to learn how to shape ideas into persuasive narratives, you can enroll in a public speaking and presentation skills course like Resonate® that will teach you how to:

  • Analyze your audience so you can deliver value, even when they resist
  • Clarify the core of your idea
  • Create supporting content with the story structure used by history’s greatest communicators
  • Distill and communicate complex ideas with clarity

And that concludes the persuasive speaking basics. Let’s recap. The best way to prepare for persuasive speaking opportunities is to:

  • Think audience-first
  • Consider counterarguments
  • Incorporate ethos, logos, and pathos
  • Use an outline
  • Craft a clear call to action
  • Add visuals if possible
  • Refine your delivery
  • Pressure test with an external perspective (like ours)

Put these tactics to the test before your next persuasive speech and see just how influential you can be.


Contact us black button

Duarte logo