Boundless Communications

Persuasive Speaking

Introduction to Persuasive Speaking

Defining a Persuasive Speech

Persuasive speeches aim to convince the audience to believe a certain view.

Learning Objectives

Identify the qualities of a persuasive speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Persuasive speeches can come in many forms, such as sales pitches, debates, and legal proceedings.
  • Persuasive speeches may utilize the three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos and logos.
  • Ethos is the most important appeal in a persuasive speech.
  • Factors such as body language, the willingness of the audience, and the environment in which the speech is given, all affect the success of a persuasive speech.
  • Audience Analysis is important in a persuasive speech, as the audience will be convinced for their own reasons, not for the speaker's reasons.

Key Terms

  • persuasion: the process aimed at changing a person's (or a group's) attitude or behavior
  • Logos: logical appeal to the audience; does the speaker's argument make sense?
  • pathos: emotional appeal to the audience
  • Audience Analysis: the speaker's understanding of the audience's knowledge, personal experience, and proximity to a topic
  • ethos: credibility of the speaker, assigned to them by the audience


A persuasive speech is a specific type of speech in which the speaker has a goal of convincing the audience to accept his or her point of view. The speech is arranged in such a way as to hopefully cause the audience to accept all or part of the expressed view. Though the overarching goal of a persuasive speech is to convince the audience to accept a perspective, not all audiences can be convinced by a single speech and not all perspectives can persuade the audience. The success of a persuasive speech is often measured by the audience's willingness to consider the speaker's argument.


Persuasive Speech : President Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter meet at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia to debate domestic policy.

The Sales Pitch

An example of a persuasive speech is a sales pitch. During a sales pitch, the speaker is trying to convince the audience to buy his or her product or service. If the salesperson is successful, the audience (the person being sold to) will choose to purchase the product or service.

However, salespeople understand that just because someone does not make a purchase after the first sales pitch does not mean the pitch failed. Persuasion is often a process. People may need multiple persuasive pitches and a lot of outside information before they are ready to accept a new view.

Components of a Persuasive Speech

While ethos is an essential part of a persuasive speech, pathos and logos are usually combined to form the best possible argument.

While a speaker can attempt to establish ethos, or credibility, with an audience, it is ultimately assigned to them based on the audience's perception. If the audience does not perceive the speaker as a credible source on the topic about which they are speaking, they will ultimately have a hard time considering the speaker's argument.

The logos in a speech, or logical appeals, are arguments that present a set of information and show why a conclusion must rationally be true. For example, arguments heard in court are logical arguments.

Pathos, emotional appeals, are appeals that seek to make the audience feel a certain way so that they will accept a conclusion. Negative political ads, for example, often incorporate emotional appeals by juxtaposing an opponent with a negative emotion such as fear.

How to Succeed

Using an attention grabbing device is a powerful way to begin a persuasive speech. If you can make your audience laugh, think about a personal experience, or tell an anecdote that produces emotion, they are more likely to listen to the content of your argument. Additionally, keeping a speech within 6-8 minutes makes the audience less likely to let their mind wander away from what you are saying.

The effectiveness of a persuasive speech also depends on factors beyond the words of the speech. The willingness of the audience to accept a new view, the body language of the speaker, and the environment in which the speech is given all can affect the success of a persuasive speech.

A successful speaker will do their best to establish strong ethos with their audience, and combine pathos and logos to form the best possible argument. Audience analysis is an important factor when giving a persuasive speech. For example, if a speaker is trying to convince the audience not to tell their children about Santa Claus, using arguments that relate and resonate with them, such as encouraging them to remember how they felt when they discovered he wasn't real, will be more successful than if the speaker shared a negative personal experience of their own.

The Goals of a Persuasive Speech: Convincing, Actuation, and Stimulation

Persuasive speeches can be designed to convince, incite action, or enhance belief by the audience.

Learning Objectives

Define the three goals of a persuasive speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Convincing speeches aim to get the audience to change their mind to accept the view put forth in the speech.
  • Actuation speeches seek to incite a certain action in the audience.
  • Stimulation speeches are designed to get an audience to believe more enthusiastically in a view.

Key Terms

  • actuate: To incite to action; to motivate.
  • stimulation: An activity causing excitement or pleasure.
  • convince: To make someone believe, or feel sure about something, especially by using logic, argument or evidence.

The overall goal of a persuasive speech is for the audience to accept your viewpoint as the speaker. However, this is not a nuanced enough definition to capture the actual goals of different persuasive speeches. Persuasive speeches can be designed to convince, actuate, and/or stimulate the audience.


A convincing speech is designed to cause the audience to internalize and believe a viewpoint that they did not previously hold. In a sense, a convincing argument changes the audience's mind. For example, suppose you are giving a persuasive speech claiming that Coke is better than Pepsi. Your goal is not just for the audience to hear that you enjoy Coke more, but for Pepsi lovers to change their minds.

A man and woman standing in front of signs that say

Actuation: Political candidates use actuation speeches so that their supporters will cast their votes.


An actuation speech has a slightly different goal. An actuation speech is designed to cause the audience to do something, to take some action. This type of speech is particularly useful if the audience already shares some or all of your view. For example, at the end of presidential campaigns, candidates begin to focus on convincing their supporters to actually vote. They are seeking to actuate the action of voting through their speeches.


Persuasive speeches can also be used to enhance how fervently the audience believes in an idea. In this instance, the speaker understands that the audience already believes in the viewpoint, but not to the degree that he or she would like. As a result, the speaker tries to stimulate the audience, making them more enthusiastic about the view. For example, religious services often utilize stimulation. They are not trying to convince those of another religion to switch religions necessarily; there is an understanding that the congregation already accepts part or all of the religion. Instead, they are trying to enhance the degree of belief.

Persuasive vs. Informative Speaking

Informative and persuasive speeches differ in what they want the audience to walk away with: facts or an opinion.

Learning Objectives

Differentiate between informative and persuasive speeches

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Informative speeches (or informational speeches) seek to provide facts, statistics, or general evidence. They are primarily concerned with the transmission of knowledge to the audience.
  • Persuasive speeches are designed to convince the audience that a certain viewpoint is correct. In doing so, the speaker may utilize information.
  • Informative and persuasive speeches are exemplified by academic lectures and sales pitches, respectively.

Key Terms

  • informative: Providing knowledge, especially useful or interesting information.

Informative (or informational) and persuasive speaking are related, but distinct, types of speeches. The difference between the two lies in the speaker's end goal and what the speaker wants the audience to leave with.

Informative speeches are probably the most prevalent variety of speech. The goal is always to supply information and facts to the audience. This information can come in the form of statistics, facts, or other forms of evidence. Informational speeches do not tell people what to do with the information; their goal is for the audience to have and understand the information. Academic lectures are often informational speeches, because the professor is attempting to present facts so the students can understand them.


Informative Speeches: Journalists, like Walter Cronkite, generally use informative speeches to inform their viewers about news events.

Informational speeches may have a tendency to become overdrawn and boring. Their goal is not to excite the audience members, but rather to provide them with knowledge they did not have before the speech.

Like informational speeches, persuasive speeches use information. However, persuasive speeches are designed for the audience to not only hear and understand the information, but to use it to be convinced of a viewpoint. The end goal of a persuasive speech is not for the audience to have information, but rather for them to have a certain view. Persuasive speeches may use some of the same techniques as informational speeches, but can also use emotions to convince the audience. A sales pitch is one example of a persuasive speech.

A common cry against certain persuasive speeches is that they rely too much on emotion and not enough on facts. A persuasive speech that succeeds in convincing the audience to accept a view but is based on faulty or misleading information is unethical.

The Psychology of Persuasion

Each individual is persuaded by different things over different time-periods, so to be effective each pitch must be customized.

Learning Objectives

Explain the two psychological theories of persuasion

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Each person is unique, so there is no single psychological key to persuasion.
  • Cialdini proposed six psychological persuasive techniques: reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity.
  • The Relationship Based Persuasion technique has four steps: survey the situation, confront the five barriers to a successful influence encounter, make the pitch, and secure the commitments.

Key Terms

  • reciprocity: the responses of individuals to the actions of others
  • social proof: People tend to do things that they see others are doing.

There is no single key to a successful persuasive speech. Some people take longer than others to be persuaded, and some respond to different persuasion techniques. Therefore, persuasive speakers should be cognizant of audience characteristics to customize the pitch.

An illustration from Jane Austen's novel

Persuasion: A persuasive speech is given with the goal of influencing how the audience thinks about a certain topic.

The psychology of persuasion is best exemplified by two theories that try to explain how people are influenced.

Robert Cialdini, in his book on persuasion, defined six "weapons of influence:"

  1. Reciprocity: People tend to return a favor. In Cialdini's conferences, he often uses the example of Ethiopia providing thousands of dollars in humanitarian aid to Mexico just after the 1985 earthquake, despite Ethiopia suffering from a crippling famine and civil war at the time. Ethiopia had been reciprocating for the diplomatic support Mexico provided when Italy invaded Ethiopia in 1937.
  2. Commitment and Consistency: Once people commit to what they think is right, they are more likely to honor that commitment even if the original motivation is subsequently removed. For example, in car sales, suddenly raising the price at the last moment works because buyers have already decided to buy.
  3. Social Proof: People will do things they see other people are doing. In one experiment, if one or more person looked up into the sky, bystanders would then look up to see what they could see. This experiment was aborted, as so many people looked up that they stopped traffic.
  4. Authority: People will tend to obey authority figures, even if they are asked to perform objectionable acts. Cialdini cites incidents like the Milgram experiments in the early 1960s and the My Lai massacre in 1968.
  5. Liking: People are easily persuaded by other people whom they like. Cialdini cites the marketing of Tupperware, wherein people were more likely to buy from others they liked. Some of the biases favoring more attractive people are discussed, but generally more aesthetically pleasing people tend to use this influence over others.
  6. Scarcity: Perceived scarcity will generate demand. For example, saying that offers are available for a "limited time only" encourages sales.

The second theory is called Relationship Based Persuasion. It was developed by Richard Shell and Mario Moussa. The overall theory is that persuasion is the art of winning over others. Their four step approach is:

  1. Survey your situation: This step includes an analysis of the persuader's situation, goals and challenges.
  2. Confront the five barriers: Five obstacles pose the greatest risks to a successful influence encounter - relationships, credibility, communication mismatches, belief systems, and interest and needs.
  3. Make your pitch: People need a solid reason to justify a decision, yet at the same time many decisions are made on basis of intuition. This step also deals with presentation skills.
  4. Secure your commitments: In order to safeguard the longtime success of a persuasive decision, it is vital to deal with politics at both the individual and organizational level.

The Ethics of Persuasion

Persuasion is unethical if it is for personal gain at the expense of others, or for personal gain without the knowledge of the audience.

Learning Objectives

Discuss the qualities that assure that persuasion is ethical

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Methods such as torture, coercion, and brainwashing are always unethical.
  • Ethical persuasion has three components: the exploration of the other person's viewpoint, the explanation of your viewpoint, and the creation of resolutions.
  • Tests such as the TARES test and the Fitzpatrick & Gauthier test are used to determine if a persuasion attempt is ethical.

Key Terms

  • coercion: Use of physical or moral force to compel a person to do something, or to abstain from doing something, thereby depriving that person of the exercise of free will.

Ethics of Persuasion

Not all persuasion is ethical. Persuasion is widely considered unethical if it is for the purpose of personal gain at the expense of others, or for personal gain without the knowledge of the audience. Furthermore, some methods of persuasion are wholly written off as unethical. For example, coercion, brainwashing, and torture are never considered ethical.


Understanding Ethics: Al Capone, an American gangster in the early 20th century, used coercion as a persuasive technique, which isn't ethical.

Barring any of the persuasive methods that are easily distinguished as unethical (such as torture), the line between ethical and unethical is less clearly demarcated. Ethical persuasion has a series of common characteristics that are missing in unethical persuasion. Ethical persuasion seeks to achieve the following three goals:

  1. Explore the other person's viewpoint
  2. Explain your viewpoint
  3. Create resolutions

Notably, this approach involves input from the audience and an honest explanation of your viewpoint. If you have questions about the ethics of a persuasive attempt, there are a number of tests that can be done.


Sherry Baker and David Martinson proposed a five-part TARES test to help guide the PR practitioner to define ethical persuasion. An ethical persuasive speech must have all of the following components:

  1. Truthfulness of the message
  2. Authenticity of the persuader
  3. Respect for the audience
  4. Equity of the persuasive appeal

Fitzpatrick & Gauthier

Fitzpatrick and Gauthier developed a series of questions that must be honestly answered to determine how ethical a pitch is:

  1. For what purpose is persuasion being employed?
  2. Toward what choices and with what consequences for individual lives is persuasion being used?
  3. Does the persuasion in this case contribute to or interfere with the decision-making process for its target audience?

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