How to Use the Principle of Social Proof in Persuasive Speeches

Posted by Elizabeth Levey
July 15, 2014

by Elizabeth Levey


“If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it too?”  We all may have heard this cliché thrown back at us at some point in our lives—most likely when trying to gain our parents’ permission for something.  But even as adults, we look to our peers to know what to do.  

Think about how often we are solicited for feedback in today’s digital world.  Sites from Trip Advisor to Amazon to Angie’s List have become virtual open-forums in which people can share their opinions and rate products.  Popular site Rent The Runway takes this concept even further: users create a profile containing data such as age, dress size, and body type.  When selecting for a dress, you can see how many times the item has been reviewed, and how many reviews are from “women like you”.  Even websites for smaller companies often have a pop-up asking you to take 5 minutes to complete their survey or rate your experience.  And the more closely we identify with a reviewer, the more likely we are to be influenced by their opinions.

“Social creatures that they are, human beings rely heavily on the people around them for cues on how to think, feel, and act. We know this intuitively, but intuition has also been confirmed by experiments, such as the one first described in 1982 in the Journal of Applied Psychology. A group of researchers went door-to-door in Columbia, South Carolina, soliciting donations for a charity campaign and displaying a list of neighborhood residents who had already donated to the cause. The researchers found that the longer the donor list was, the more likely those solicited would be to donate as well.” 

- Robert Cialdini, Harnessing the Science of Persuasion, HBR

How can you leverage this Principle of Social Proof/Validation (as described by Cialdini) in your principle-of-social-proof-persuasive-speeches-1persuasive speeches? 

1. During your presentation, use peer power!:  People follow the lead of similar others.  Perhaps you’re introducing a new corporate initiative or product during your presentation – if possible, find some testimonials from people who have been through exactly what you’re proposing to your audience. 

2. The less the peer group is known to your audience, the less effective this principle will be: In a professional presentation, don’t limit yourself by simply presenting data and analytics, or testimonials from random strangers—a similar colleague’s testimony stands a much better chance at persuading an audience.

3. Remember, as always, honesty is key:  When trying to persuade your audience, it is important to wield the Principle of Social Proof/Validation with integrity.  Anything less could appear manipulative or dishonest, and therefore run the risk of alienating those hearts and minds you’re trying to win.

Looking for more on the Principles of Persuasion? Learn about the Principles of Consistency and Scarcity!


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