How to Increase Your "Likability" to Benefit Persuasive Speech Topics

Posted by Bridget Beirne
May 9, 2014

Sure, you may mean the world to your mother. Or father. Or a grandparent or friend. Or somebody. 

But do you mean the world to your audience? 

When working with persuasive speech topics, any topic or content that requires swaying your listener to your point of view, you need more than just your content and good intentions. When it comes to persuasion, research shows that you need people to actually like you. 



Robert B. Cialdini discussed the "Science of Persuasion" in this article for the Harvard Business Review. One of the six principles covered is "The Principle of Liking". Although this principle has many factors, it is based in two major, actionable components- similarity (common ground between you and your audience/listener) and praise (compliments given to your audience/listener). He describes the overall affect of likability in terms of the popularity of the Tupperware party: 

"The retailing phenomenon known as the Tupperware party is a vivid illustration of this principle in action. The demonstration party for Tupperware products is hosted by an individual, almost always a woman, who invites to her home an array of friends, neighbors, and relatives. The guests’ affection for their hostess predisposes them to buy from her, a dynamic that was confirmed by a 1990 study of purchase decisions made at demonstration parties. The researchers, Jonathan Frenzen and Harry Davis, writing in the Journal of Consumer Research, found that the guests’ fondness for their hostess weighed twice as heavily in their purchase decisions as their regard for the products they bought. So when guests at a Tupperware party buy something, they aren’t just buying to please themselves. They’re buying to please their hostess as well.
What’s true at Tupperware parties is true for business in general: If you want to influence people, win friends."

persuasive-speech-topicsMakes sense, right? Winning friends and influencing people is not a new venture. The challenge then becomes how to get your audience/listener to like you- often, they won't know you beforehand and you won't have the luxury of connecting with each person one-on-one . If your ability to persuade others to action is partially rooted in the likability factor, and that factor can be upped by creating a sense of sameness and admiration for your audience, clearly adapting these ideas to your overall communication is important, and a no-brainer when it comes to presenting persuasive speech topics.

In order to up your likability through similarity and praise during a presentation, you'll need to take some of your preparation a step further. Luckily, you can build on some of the work you are already doing to increase the persuasion factor of your content on your audience.


  • Creating similarity through audience analysis: Take time to really consider whom you are trying to persuade. Demographic analysis of your audience can yield many opportunities for the creation of similarity. For example, if presenting to an audience of your age-wise peers, a shared pop culture reference may go a long way. Or if you know that you are speaking to a local audience, build bridges by discussing the area. However you choose to use your audience analysis to your advantage, the key is to find a point of similarity for as many people in your audience as you can- a way to tell them to buy into your information, because you are just like them.


  • Creating similarity from differing opinions: We talk about knowing how you want your audience to feel about your content, and presenting from a place of that knowledge. When trying to persuade an audience, you may face a lot of dissension- you're trying to change minds, after all. When you analyze your audience, you need to ask yourself how they currently feel about your information. Then you can use it to your advantage by creating similarity.

    Acknowledge how they might be feeling about your content- can you understand that point of view? Address that fact and put yourself in the same boat with them. When you are coming at the issue from the same place, you can help them see how your point of view is relevant. For example, "I realize this is a departure from how you are used to performing this task. I understand- it was for me, as well. So, this was my first step towards embracing the idea...."

    The important thing, as Cialdini points out, is "authentic similarity"- even if a point of similarity may seem simple, it is useful if it is a true connection between you and your audience.


  • Using praise without "praising": You don't have to tell your audience what amazing human beings they are to build a rapport through praise. Remember, you want to appear genuine and trustworthy, not slick and tricky. You can praise through acknowledgment of their achievements, knowledge, position, willingness to listen and learn, or even their passionate opposing nature. Try praising with phrases like "I know, based on all of your accomplishments, that you are familiar with this information" or "The fact that you are interested in what I am about to discuss tells me that these are inquisitive minds" or  "I admire your stance and defense of __________. I'd like to discuss some ideas that I am passionate about, as well." Simple, honest acknowledgment works.


  • Praising with gratitude: Show your audience that you appreciate their time, efforts and attention. Say more than just "thank you" at the end of your presentation- be specific about for what you are actually thanking them. Have you given your listeners a lot of information at once? Have you asked them to fundamentally change their mindset on a difficult issue? Is it just an early morning/late night presentation that requires a modicum of physical stamina on the part of your audience? Let them know. Specific gratitude helps you praise the part your listener has played in your endeavor overall.


Likability is not about false personas, weakness, or frivolity. It's about creating honest connection with your audience or listeners. It goes further than simply shouting "You really like me!"; it persuades others to your point of view by winning them to your side.


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