Persuasive Strategy

The following example below showcases a semantic differential scale, which might not look like much, but serves as a useful tool for a persuasive speaker:

semantic differential graph example.

The numbers represent levels of agreement, with strongly disagree (–3) at one end, neutral (0) in the middle, and strongly agree (+3) at the opposite end. When designing audience analysis questions, use something similar to this to determine what attitude the audience currently holds regarding the topic. An example question may look like this:

Climate change is a scientific certainty (circle one):

Strongly Disagree (-3)   Disagree (-2)   Somewhat Disagree (-1)   Neutral (0)  Somewhat Agree (+1)   Agree (+2)   Strongly Agree (+3)

After collecting the completed audience surveys, simply add up the total responses for each segment along the scale. Then, divide each result by the total participants in the survey to find out the percentages for each one. From there, use this information to determine the best strategy to present the message.

Strongly Opposed (–3)

For an audience that (unfortunately) registers toward the strongly opposed side of the semantic differential scale, try to create uncertainty in their minds. At this point, accept that, no matter how effectively the message gets delivered, the audience may be too firmly entrenched in their beliefs to convince them to act upon something related to the topic. Think realistically and only attempt to create an element of uncertainty. Plant a seed for the future that may one day grow into a full-fledged idea. Provide the audience with information that will sway them to adopt the viewpoint.

kid talking to parents
I know you haven’t given me an allowance before, and I know I haven’t done much to earn one, but that could all change. I’m not opposed to working to earn an allowance, so maybe this is something we could discuss.”

Moderately Opposed (–2)

For audiences not entirely opposed to the idea, first seek to create uncertainty in their opposition, as above, but then follow that up with attempts to reduce resistance to the proposed topic. Spend energy on refuting objections.

kid talking to parents
Perhaps you think I am not responsible enough to complete my chores, but I’ve already made my bed and fed the dog. Or, maybe you don’t think you have enough money to pay me allowance; however, you will actually save money. I know I’m not going to convince you to give me an allowance of $20 a week right now, but perhaps you could consider meeting me in the middle at $10 a week.

Neutral or Weak Opinions (–1, 0, +1)

For relatively unknown topics, the audience may end up somewhere along the midpoint of the semantic differential scale, having either neutral/no opinions, or they may slightly lean to one side or the other. In such cases, ignore the previous two strategies and begin striving for actual changes in attitude and behavior. Simply put, if the audience has no opinion, the speaker can provide them with information leading to opinion shift resulting in behavioral or attitude change. Spend energy on explaining the problem.

kid talking to parents
You know, Mom, I was just thinking the other day about the possibility of earning an allowance. Right now, any time I want to buy something, you have to buy it for me. If I had an allowance, I wouldn’t have to bug you for money.

Moderately Favorable (+2)

Public speaking starts getting more fun when dealing with audiences that register on the positive end of the scale. When an audience already holds a moderately favorable attitude toward the presented material, then all the speaker needs to do is amplify their attitudes. Focus on showing the audience why the solution provided offers the most desirable outcome. Use inspiration to craft a masterful message.

kid talking to parents
I’ve really been enjoying helping out around the house lately, Mom. I always feel so accomplished whenever I finish a chore, but, as I was thinking about it, I remembered that there was this sort of expensive toy I really wanted to start saving for, so what are the chances I might be able to earn some money for the chores I’ve been doing?

Highly Favorable (+3)

The ideal setting for a public speaker as the speech resembles the proverbial “pep rally.” At this point, the audience is ready to commit to action, so it is merely a matter of capitalizing on those attitudes to gain behavior or action. As with the previous step, begin by amplifying attitudes before connecting those attitudes to the desirable action they need to take.

kid talking to parents
Remember when you mentioned the other day how proud of me you were for all the work I’ve been doing around the house lately, Mom? Also, remember when you were mentioning to Dad how you would like to teach me how to save money? Well, do I have a suggestion for you…

Knowing these strategies in advance help speakers devise a suitable message for a particular audience, whatever its current beliefs may be. Approaching a strongly opposed audience overconfidently and seeking to get them to commit to action is doomed from the beginning. Likewise, approaching a strongly favorable audience sheepishly and attempting to reduce their resistance to the idea will quickly lose their attention. Match the level of persuasive approach to the level of audience agreement. Refer to Table 11.1.

Table 11.1  Persuasive Strategies
Strongly Opposed Plant the Seed. Provide information.
Moderately Opposed Refute objections.
Neutral or Uninformed Explain the issue.
Moderately Favorable Show why your solution is most desirable.
Highly Favorable Get the audience to take action.



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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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