Persuade Your Business Audience by Building Belief:

Lessons From the Theater

by Maria Guida
© copyright 2006 by Maria Guida. All rights reserved.

Persuasive business speakers have a lot in common with actors. They know that the key to successful public speaking is to inspire belief within the minds and hearts of an audience. This is the founding principal for Successful Speaker training programs, which help business people achieve their goals for effective speaking. For application to the corporate arena, Successful Speaker has adapted and employs training techniques from the theater, so that business speakers can learn to persuade and inspire an audience the way the best actors do.

Persuasive business speakers and actors understand the key finding of a study conducted by the Harvard Business School: while the message of a presentation is always important, content constitutes only seven percent of the total impact that a speaker makes on the audience. A full ninety-three percent of the impression speakers make is based upon their visual and vocal impact: how they deliver their message in order to build belief within the listeners. Too many business speakers prepare their presentations by developing content alone and neglect the crucial task of developing the delivery/performance techniques that help build belief.

Actors know how to do this. They spend years honing a craft that is designed to help the audience believe. And advertisers certainly rely upon actors and their craft. To promote products and services, companies pay millions of advertising dollars to actors (despite the abundance of professional salespeople), because the actor’s technique and performance skills are fundamental to the business of selling any idea, product, or service. Successful Speaker training programs bring these vital skills to business professionals in all industries.

To establish belief, actors nurture what Stanislavski (the great Russian stage director and teacher) called the “sense of truth”. They create truth on stage and exercise the power of the imagination to satisfy their own sense of truth, so that they themselves believe.

In the corporate office or boardroom, the speaker’s situation is similar to the actor’s. The more sincerely the business speaker believes and delivers the business message as truth, the more completely the listeners believe it.

When actors prepare to build audience belief, they make careful plans about their actions on stage. Successful Speaker helps business speakers prepare for their presentations in a similar fashion, so that they will be motivated to speak the business message and deliver it with a conviction that is visible on the body and audible in the voice. For actors as well as business speakers, projecting total conviction involves the pursuit of objectives. Many corporate professionals who have experience with public speaking can easily identify what they consider to be the objective of a business talk. Most, however, do not realize the importance of identifying the many different (and highly specific) objectives contained within their spoken message. It is these “micro”, moment-to-moment objectives that help build belief when a speaker identifies them carefully and executes them. Successful Speaker clients learn this process and make it part of the preparation for every presentation, especially those designed to persuade.

In order to build belief, actors become completely engaged physically, psychologically, and emotionally in the words they speak. This integration of mind, body, and spirit is one of the most powerful tools available to help the audience believe. Similarly, the business speaker and the business message must be unified. Effective preparation includes an exploration of life experience that enables the speaker to project a personal and complete commitment to the business ideas that must be expressed. Successful Speaker clients receive step-by-step instruction in how to apply this technique, which is instrumental in persuading a business audience to accept a point of view, take an action, or buy a product or service.

Business speakers must sometimes face an external challenge: addressing listeners who are skeptical or biased in some way. To help clients prepare for such speech events, Successful Speaker has adapted an approach used by actors when they are having difficulty believing in their character’s relationship with another character in the play — a situation that can jeopardize audience belief.

The persuasive power of a business speaker is often diminished to some degree by that speaker’s fear or apprehension about listener attitudes, opinions, knowledge, power, prejudices, past behavior, and business loyalties, etc. Fear tends to go hand-in-hand with feelings of anxiety, intimidation, unworthiness, and even defeatism: emotions that do not support the projection of a positive professional image and do not help a speaker to persuade. It is therefore useful to minimize these types of feelings, whether they are rooted in reality or not, and find a way to view the listeners as friendly — or at least open-minded.

Successful Speaker clients learn how to endow the audience with qualities that are harmonious with the goals of the business communication and to treat the audience in a way that nurtures the speaker’s own feelings of confidence and authority. These carefully-planned behaviors help the speaker to present him/herself as a true expert and be perceived that way.

The approaches used in Successful Speaker programs combine traditional training methods with time-honored techniques adapted from the stage — to help business speakers nurture/build audience belief and project the best professional image possible. These custom-designed programs are a valuable resource for any business person given the task of public speaking: they help create real persuasive power and success.

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