Seven Tips for a Persuasive Call to Action

Call to actionOne of the last – and most important – tasks for any speaker is to send the audience off with a clear call to action. Such a request goes to the heart of any persuasive pitch: Now that you have drawn the audience to your way of thinking, what do you want them to do about it?

As with the other principles of persuasion that we’ve covered in this series, reciprocity and authority, a persuasive call to action taps into longstanding elements of human behavior that make us more likely to comply with a request.

Overall, we look for things that will benefit or help us in some way. Your job as a speaker is to not only help your audience see why your message is a boon, but also to clear the clutter so they can immediately see why (and how) they should take you up on your offer.

Here, we offer seven tips that will help you to do just that:

7 Tips for a Persuasive Call to Action

1. Don’t ask for too much

Three requests or fewer are best. In general, people don’t do well with too many choices – a glut can create analysis paralysis.

2. Avoid vague requests

Concrete changes or actions are easier to imagine and, ultimately, carry out. Rather than telling them to “get involved,” you could go with this: “Become an important part of the solution by participating in our first annual neighborhood cleanup next month.” 

3. Help them overcome the opposition

If you are suggesting they embrace a plan that is unpopular in some quarters, give them the counterarguments they can use when defending their decision.

4. Make it easy to execute

Your request shouldn’t require your audience members to expend too much money or time, at least not at first.

5. Aim high but provide alternatives

Be ambitious in your call to action but offer smaller steps the audience can take as well. Audience members new to the political scene may not answer a request to attend a protest, but they may be willing to sign a petition. Those who don’t make much money might struggle to donate funds but can offer their time. When you tailor your call to action to your audience’s needs and interests, you increase your chances they will comply.

6. Secure a commitment

Call to actionResearch has shown if we make a commitment – sign a survey, volunteer for a cause, raise our hand in support, etc. – we are on our way to rewriting that script of self-identity. That behavior or action will now be the basis for future behavior and actions. Since we have committed to a course of action, we will now remain consistent with that stand, says Robert Cialdini, a social psychologist, in his bestselling book Influence: Science and Practice. He adds that when our commitments are voluntary, active, made publicly, and put into writing, they are more likely to stick.

7. Start slow

To avoid cognitive dissonance, nudge the needle ever so slightly. You can do that by suggesting changes to self-identity that are barely perceptible at first. A slight tweak in thinking, perhaps, or a small step to change an enduring habit. Know your audience, too. An audience full of thrill seekers might respond to a leap of faith in an entirely different way than an audience for whom such a leap is impractical given their professional and personal responsibilities.

Realize Your Goals

Some public speakers are hesitant to issue an overt call to action. They may be fearful that they are coming across as over-aggressive in their pitch. So, they decide to let their arguments and main points do the work of convincing their audience. But such inference is no guarantee.

Your audience members must make numerous decisions, large and small, every day, based on the numerous messages that bombard them. When you are clear in your intentions, you cut through the clutter and provide the audience with the information they need to be persuaded.

Part One: Reciprocity, The Persuasive Gift that Keeps Giving

Part Two: Four Ways To Establish Your Authority With an Audience