Do you need to present ideas to inspire your audience to act?
Read below to discover four powerful ways to achieve this elusive goal. You can expect powerful results when applying these to any kind of comms you wish to create.
There is a lot of good advice on how to inspire an audience. This ranges from telling stories, injecting humour and using visuals to starting and ending strong.
Yet there are four essential steps that I hardly see mentioned:
- Getting clear on your outcome and understanding your audience
- Choosing a persuasive structure for your content
- Fleshing out your comms in a language appropriate for the situation, your audience and the type of medium you are using
- Testing your comms before delivering
These fundamental elements, which influence the very “DNA” of your comms, will strengthen the persuasive power of your comms exponentially. Let’s look at how they can help you present your ideas to inspire your audience to act.
Get clear on your purpose and who your audience is
Clarify your purpose
Professional communication is about getting your audience to think, feel or do something that typically aligns with a business outcome. It’s just one of several business tools that anyone can use to achieve work outcomes.
It’s therefore critical to be clear on your purpose before you start crafting your speech, email, small meeting presentation or online video. No point in inspiring people to take an action not relevant to your outcome!
A piece of comms is only as successful as it is in achieving its outcome. Regardless of how good it looks, how well it reads or the professional quality of its production skills.
Therefore, clarify your purpose before you start your comms. This can take time, so be prepared to think hard. For this blog, we’re talking about how to present ideas to inspire your audience to act. So we know that we’re focusing on the audience doing something – not thinking or feeling something. Make sure the action you want aligns with your broader business outcome. You’ll immediately lift the strategic nature of your message.
Understand your audience
A part of clarifying your purpose should involve identifying who your audience is. You also need to understand your audience detail if you want to make your message or content more meaningful.
There are lots of ways to do this. A simple start is to ask them what their needs, attitudes and wants are. Also, consider what they know about the topic and what their preferred media is.
If you’re keen to present your ideas to inspire your audience to act, understanding their needs is critical. Knowing your audience’s needs is like a gold nugget when it comes to inspiring. People respond much more strongly to something if it meets their needs. Crafting a message or piece of comms around your audience’s needs is the most fundamental step in making your content compelling.
Sure, there are structures, words, and graphic styles that will help make your comms compelling. But they are not effective if promoting something you clearly don’t need or are interested in.
The other thing to consider is what media your audience is most likely to receive your message from. You might like to give a fancy speech on a podium that looks good, but if none of your audience has the time or is bothered to turn up, it will fall on empty ears. But if you know they’ll watch a short 3-minute youtube video, you can present a less than fancy presentation and know they’ll watch.
So make sure you are clear on your purpose of what you want your audience to do consuming your comms. Be sure to deliver it on the best medium for the audience. This is the first step if you wish to present your ideas to inspire your audience to act.
Choose the best structure for your content
A structural approach can help you articulate your ideas
“Structure” might not be the first thing that comes to mind when exploring how to present your ideas to inspire your audience to act.
Having the best structure in your speech, email, document, video or PowerPoint slide is very important to get your message across. It helps you organise your subject matter so that it’s meaningful to your audience. And it helps articulate complex ideas in ways that make them simple.
You can re-organise the ideas to present to your audience from an angle that makes the best sense to them. You can also fit them into a structure that aligns with your audience’s schema.
Further, you can use elements of structure (such as time, place or function) to piece together the elements of your idea for better clarity. For example, if describing how something works, you can organise the elements by occurrence in the sequence. Or if highlighting ideas, you can order critical points in order of priority.
But more than using structure to articulate your idea, you can use it to ensure your message is persuasive.
You can use structures to make your comms more persuasive
Did you know that you can organise your subject matter in a particular order to be more persuasive? Marketers do this all the time and you can in business as well.
Have you ever wondered why a sales letter promoting a new product is so convincing? They will follow a “formula” that prepares you to take action. This formula is based on a structure working hand in hand with language to get you reading first, and then put you in the right context where it’s almost impossible to say no to an offer.
For further research, look at David Frey’s 12 step sales letter formula and examine where he places different content in the overall flow. And ask yourself why it doesn’t have a “call to action” until the end.
This 12 step formula is what we call in the communication game a superstructure. This is a generic structure that you can use on pretty much any kind of topic to achieve a purpose. In this case, the purpose is to get by people to buy a product. As another exercise, see if you can look at five different sales letters and see how they follow the same superstructure. It will surprise you what you find.
Look to persuasive structures from the marketing world and learn how to adapt them to your business comms
Superstructures exist for any kind of communication. That’s why you’ll find a lot of user guides unique to their product following the same kind of flow as other user guides. Or training guides. Or bids and proposals and business cases.
There are superstructures for explaining things, informing people, training people… and convincing people. And if you want to present ideas to inspire your audience to act, persuasive superstructures are a great resource to start.
At this point, you may be getting uncomfortable with the idea of using marketing ideas in standard organisational comms like a lot of senior leaders I have spoken to. This is often because they immediately think of the hype surrounding marketing material that is not generally appropriate in a typical work environment. However, the “hype” you’ll see in marketing comms typically comes from the language with superlatives. A superstructure suggests the type of content in the best order – not how you write about it. Having a persuasive structure in the way your order your subject matter but with toned-down language is infinitely more effective than no persuasive structure.
One extremely simple – but very effective – superstructure is the PAS method. PAS represents three types of content to present in sequence: Explain or introduce the Problem, Agitate the problem, Provide a Solution to the problem. This is a good way to draw in the audience by talking about their problem. Then make it very real by agitating the problem with a cutting example. Then provide relief on how to overcome the problem with your solution.
Although this is a superstructure used by marketers, you can adapt it to business comms. (You may need to tone it down by language.)
[P] The market is forcing margins for consulting to get smaller and smaller. [A] This affects our business because we rely on margins – this is where we get most of our money to pay you bonuses. [S] To prevent small margins affecting our business, we each need to work smarter and look for ways to automate.
To whet your appetite for persuasive superstructures, look to the world of copywriting and the many structures (which they call formulas) for presenting compelling information.
And by the way… next time someone says “tell a story” to make your comms more effective, how are you going to do it? Did you know that the classic story is a superstructure? When followed correctly it will captivate, compel and inspire.
Once you’ve got a structure, it’s time to start fleshing it out into a solid piece of comms. That’s when using the right language comes in.
Adopt language that is appropriate to your audience and medium
With the best superstructure, you can start collecting subject matter and organising it into a meaningful piece of content for your audience. You may even need to drill down the existing structure further with a structure to outline the logical flow of ideas between paragraphs.
However, a lot of this process involves working with language to express your ideas. This is where it’s important to consider what kind of language you use. Here are some important tips:
- Adopt a language that is appropriate to your audience. If it’s a formal occasion, use a “formal” style. If it’s a casual occasion, use a “casual” style. This may seem obvious, but when you’re used to delivering information formally, it’s hard to switch and deliver it casually. Being able to switch styles comfortably is a skill that requires mastering the elements of styles.
- Use a language that works with your chosen media. You wouldn’t send a 1000 word tweet through Twitter just as much as you shouldn’t submit a three-sentence user guide. There are certain conventions around how you communicate across different media in the interests of clarity. Make sure you follow these.
- Although I mentioned understanding your audience’s “needs” and giving it to them as a big step in making things compelling, you can enhance this by your use of language that supports that need. This is where appropriately using words to excite can come in handy.
There is a lot that can be covered on this, which I explain in my book Bullseye! Getting the RIGHT Message to the RIGHT Audience. But the main takeaway here is to deliver your message in the language of your audience using the language of your chosen medium. This will help you present your ideas to inspire your audience to act.
Test your comms
Once you’ve crafted a piece of comms that presents your ideas to inspire your audience to act, you need to test it. Get feedback from someone who represents your audience to see if it is compelling.
Two things on this. Be sure to ask someone who can represent your whole audience. You don’t need feedback from a small segment of your audience that is not representative of the general audience. Otherwise, you may get advice that could limit your reach.
Once you have chosen the right person, listen to the feedback. Be humble enough to accept that you don’t know everything. Evaluate the feedback and take it on board as is appropriate. This will give you confidence that your comms will present your ideas to inspire your audience to act. Your interest here should be in the most effective way of achieving your purpose.
There are many ways to present your ideas to inspire your audience to act the way you need them. All of these are good – from telling stories, injecting humour, having strong openings and closes…
However, if you want to present ideas to inspire your audience and get them to take a specific action, make sure that you:
- Clarify your purpose and understand your audience first, so you can…
- Adopt an appropriate superstructure that supports your purpose, in this case, take action, so you can…
- Flesh out the content using language that is appropriate to your audience, context and medium, before…
- Testing your comms so you can be sure it will achieve your purpose