The signature of a persuasive speech is a clear call-to-action.
Yet many speakers miss a fantastic opportunity with a call-to-action that is wishy-washy, hypothetical, or ill-constructed. Even worse, some speakers omit the call-to-action entirely.
A poor call-to-action undermines the effectiveness of your speech; a great call-to-action stirs your audience to act enthusiastically.
In this article, we reveal the qualities of a strong speech call-to-action which will lead your audience to act.
What is a Speech Call-To-Action?
A speech call-to-action is an explicit appeal to your audience to take a specific action following your speech. A call-to-action is most often made at the conclusion of a persuasive speech.
“If you have been persuasive and your audience is emotionally invested, the best time for action is now.”
For example, you might call on your audience to…
- … adopt a new business process
- … sponsor an event
- … attend an event
- … fund a research initiative
- … register to vote
- … join a club
- … train for a marathon
- … read out loud to their children
- … donate money to a charity
- … travel to Saskatchewan
- … buy a fire extinguisher
- … eat more vegetables
- … use public transit
Guidelines for a Strong Speech Call-to-Action
Your call-to-action and your approach to delivering it may vary according to your audience and your speaking style. While there is no rigid formula, there are a number of guidelines which will improve the effectiveness of your call-to-action.
- Make your call-to-action clear and direct.
- Have your audience act quickly.
- Lower barriers to action.
- Focus on benefits for your audience.
- Customize your call-to-action for each person.
1. Make your call-to-action clear and direct.
Don’t hint. Don’t imply. Don’t suggest.
It’s not a whisper-to-think-about-action; it’s a call-to-action.
Use direct language, and eliminate wishy-washy phrases.
- Instead of “Maybe you could think about joining…”, say “Join…”
- Instead of “It would be good to train for…”, say “Train for… “
Don’t assume that your audience will “figure out” what needs to be done. (I have made this mistake in the past and regretted it.) If members of your audience walk out of the room thinking “Wow, this sounds great, but I’m just not sure what to do…”, your call-to-action was not clear enough.
2. Have your audience act quickly.
If you have been persuasive and your audience is emotionally invested, the best time for action is now. The longer it takes to initiate the action, the more likely that your audience will lose motivation.
So, an ideal call-to-action is one which your audience can act on immediately, perhaps even before they leave the room. If this isn’t feasible, then aim for actions which can reasonably be completed (or at least started) within hours or a day or two.
3. Lower barriers to action.
To help your audience act quickly, eliminate as many (trivial or non-trivial) barriers as you can.
For example, ask the following questions about your audience.
- Do they need to sign up?
Bring forms and pens and pass them out.
- Do they need to read additional information?
Bring handouts, or copies of books, or website references.
- Do they need approval before they can act?
Make the first call-to-action to organize the meeting with stakeholders.
- Do they need to pay?
Accept as many forms of payment as possible.
A common psychological barrier is the perception that the suggested action is too big or too risky. This is a legitimate concern, and is often best handled by dividing the call-to-action into several small (less risky) actions.
For example, “train for a marathon” may be too large of a call-to-action for a non-runner. A better call-to-action would be to join a running club or train for a shorter race.
4. Focus on benefits for your audience.
“A poor call-to-action undermines the effectiveness of your speech; a great call-to-action stirs your audience to act enthusiastically.”
Always frame your call-to-action in the audience’s best interest.
For example, don’t say this:
- What I’d really like you to do is…
- It would make me so happy if you…
- My foundation has set a target of X that we can reach with your help…
Making you (the speaker) happy is (probably) not highly motivating for your audience.
Instead, say this:
- Build your financial wealth by…
- Make your community a safer place to live for yourself and your children by…
- When you volunteer, you build your skills and gain valuable experience…
Surround the call-to-action with a description of how their lives will be improved when they act. Paint a prosperous vision.
5. Customize your call-to-action for each person.
Audiences don’t act; individuals act. Rather than addressing the group as a whole, focus your call-to-action on each individual in your audience.
Suppose your goal is to have a new business process adopted. Each individual in the room may play a different role in accomplishing this.
- For the person who controls the budget, the call-to-action is to allocate the necessary funds.
- For the personnel manager, the call-to-action is to delegate staff to work on the initiative.
- For others, the call-to-action may be to attend in-depth training about the new process.
Audience analysis is critical. If you know who is in your audience, and understand their motivations and capabilities, you will be able to personalize the call-to-action for them.
Put it into Practice
By working on the planning and execution of the call-to-action in your speeches, you’ll become a more persuasive and effective speaker.
Look back to your last persuasive speech.
- Did you make a clear and direct call-to-action?
- Was your audience able to act quickly on it?
- Did you make an extra effort to lower barriers to action?
- Did you highlight the benefits for your audience?
- Did you address individuals rather than the group with a personal call-to-action?
If the answer to any of the above questions was “no”, then how could your call-to-action have been improved?
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Image credit: Megaphone man at the Metro 4 by Hazzat (CC BY 2.0)
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