5 Ways to Help Your Speakers Be More Persuasive

Every presenter wants to engage their audience. Here's how you can help them do it.

Author and speaker Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, CSP, is known for her dazzling presentations. It’s why she goes by SpeakerSue, and why she’s tapped to speak all over the world — including at PCMA Convening Leaders 2016 this past January, where she delivered a session called “Be More Persuasive! Conversation and Presentation Techniques That Win Most.” Here, she offers five strategies that you can share with speakers to help them shine.

1. It’s not about you
Speakers often think that if they tell their most dramatic personal stories, then they’ve emotionally connected with an audience. But Hershkowitz-Coore says that making people cry doesn’t mean you’ve engaged them. Any poignant anecdotes should illustrate a bigger point and offer a clear message. They should change a listener’s thoughts or behavior. Also: Don’t paint yourself as the hero in them.

2. Engage the senses
Hershkowitz-Coore aims for more than an audience’s ears when she speaks. She loads her slide deck with unexpected photos — forget stock images of people in suits huddled over a laptop screen — and throws in video clips to add visual and audio flair. Scent is trickier, but Hershkowitz-Coore suggests distributing lightly fragranced warm towels. “The more you can tap into their five senses,” she said, “the more they’re going to remember.”

3. Play host
Hershkowitz-Coore shows up early to meet as many people in the audience as she can, which helps get them invested before the presentation even starts. “They know that the speaker cares,” she said, “so they care more.” And like any good host, Hershkowitz-Coore never wants her guests to feel anxious. That’s why she doesn’t call on attendees at random — “it puts them on edge” — and why she doesn’t use sarcasm or say “no” to wrong answers.

4. Know your audience in advance
Hershkowitz-Coore often connects with her audience even before those pre-session introductions. For a recent talk on negotiation skills, she sent out an advance survey — with the meeting planner’s approval — asking participants to share stories about when they lost a negotiation. When she used some of those stories in her talk, “I wasn’t imagining how they felt, I knew how they felt,” she said. “Right away, there’s greater buy-in, because they’re kind of co-creating the presentation.”

5. Cellphones aren’t the enemy
“Treat the audience like adults,” Hershkowitz-Coore said. “If I can’t be compelling enough that they’d rather be posting on Facebook, then they have every right to.” She’s also found a way to get those phones involved in her presentations: live polls. Hershkowitz-Coore uses an audience-response platform called Poll Everywhere to formulate questions in advance. She works those mini-surveys into her talks, inviting the audience to text in and give her real-time feedback or answers. “They love it,” Hershkowitz-Coore said.

Speaker Prep

To find presenters whom audiences will love, according to Sue Hershkowitz-Coore, CSP, you need to think past basic questions like “How will you engage my participants?” Here are some screening questions she recommends instead:

• What’s your key message or takeaway, and how will you ensure my participants get it?

• How do you handle audience questions, especially if they’re negative or pointed?

•  How do you address wrong answers from the audience?

•  I know you tell good stories. Can you give me a story you’re going to tell and explain why you’re using that particular story?

•  How will you get to know my audience and their needs before your presentation?

Molly Petrilla

Molly Petrilla is a freelance writer based in Collingswood, New Jersey.