Want to Persuade Your Presentation Audience? Give Them Something.

Posted by Bridget Beirne
May 16, 2014

To give is to receive. It's better to give than receive. "I give, and I give, and I give!" It's good to be a giver. But are you a giver to your presentation audience? 

I'll admit, one of my favorite television moments of all time is when Oprah did the great car giveaway on her show in 2004. (Ask my friends- I love the repeated shouting of "You get a car! You get a car! You get a car!" Actually, don't ask them. I probably reenact it too much...) Oprah is a persuasive force in the nation- her name alone can convince people to read a book, buy a product, or vote for a candidate. 




One of the things Oprah inherently understands is the Principle of Reciprocity, as it was referred to by Robert B. Cialdini in the article "Harnessing the Science of Persuasion" for Harvard Business Review. Cialdini encapsulates the simple idea that if you want to receive, it helps to give as well. He uses an instance of increase in charitable giving for the Disabled American Veterans as an example. When they started to include a giveaway (address labels) in their appeal letters, they saw an increase in their donation response from 18%-35%. Their recipients were more inclined to give thanks to receiving.

When you are making any kind of persuasive speech, the Principle of Reciprocity can be of great use. After all, you're trying to persuade your audience to do something for you- to subscribe to your point of view, take action for your cause, or to alter their behavior in a way that aligns with your own. You're giving them information, to be sure, but what if you gave them a little something extra? Using Cialdini's example above, we can easily see that the basic information about the charity's cause was worthwhile, but what made donors open their wallets was that small token of appreciation enclosed in their envelope.

Presentation-audienceThis is not to say your audience will be easily manipulated with gifts (not the point of persuasion, anyway), or that you need to be throwing new cars around. (Although if you are, I will gladly attend your next live talk.) But to give your audience something of value, however simple, tells them they are an important part of your process, and that you appreciate their efforts.

The good news is, it's not just about giving your audience something to hold in their hand- the idea of giving to receive can take the form of less concrete gifts as well. Here are a few ideas to you might want to try to embrace the Principle of Reciprocity when trying to persuade:


  1. A Digital Take-Away: Electronic distribution of your slides post-talk is now commonplace, and can give your audience a way to refer back to your points and ideas when making a decision. You may want to give your audience the gift of making 2 forms of your slidedeck available- Your presentation deck, if they'd like to work from their own notes, and your legal, which may include more textual information than your presentation slides. Either way, they walk away with a reminder of your content.

  2. Your Social Media Information: When you provide your audience with social media contact info like your Twitter handle, you extend the conversation beyond your presentation itself. You can encourage people to reach out to you there to continue the discussion or share quick ideas. This gift is useful in a large setting where you may not be personally "known" to much of your audience.
  3. Your Time:  Let your audience know that you are willing to give generously of your time (one of the highest commodities in business) to help them see your point of view. Beyond ensuring that everyone knows the best way to reach you with questions (a seemingly simple idea, but important), you can offer to stick around post-presenting to discuss questions or concerns one-on-one. In a small setting, you may even want to build this into your personal calendar as a part of the event itself.

  4. Your Attitude/Passion: Cialdini has this to say about more advanced exercises of the Principle of Reciprocity:

"In its more sophisticated uses, it confers a
genuine first-mover advantage on any manager who is trying to foster
positive attitudes and productive personal relationships in the
office: Managers can elicit the desired behavior from coworkers and
employees by displaying it first. Whether it’s a sense of trust, a spirit
of cooperation, or a pleasant demeanor, leaders should model the
behavior they want to see from others."

Applying that to your presentation, remember to give the audience the attitude you would like to receive. Your voice and physicality should match this intention. It's hard to persuade a room to see a certain point of view if the presenter sounds gruff or is physically closed off. Give them the attitude you would like to receive.

The idea of giving is bred into us as children- it's certainly not a new concept. But when it comes to persuasion, it can be a powerful way to let your listeners know you don't expect them to do all the giving. It can help sway hearts and minds and build relationships.

And if all else fails- give them a car.

Want to learn about Cialdini's Principle of Likability? Find out more here.

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