Persuasive speech: How to convince your audience

Of all the reasons to stand before a microphone and address an audience, persuading people to take up your cause is one of the toughest.

For inspiration, we can take lessons from some of the greatest persuasive speakers of all time; speakers who convinced people to make major commitments from going to war to walking on the moon.

In this article, we will analyse four of the world’s greatest persuasive speeches and illustrate how each utilises the Rule of Five. Truly effective persuasive speech must contain the five distinct components that make it clear to your audience that your point of view is valid. They are:

  1. Tell the audience clearly why the issue matters
  2. Paint a bright picture of the rewards of embracing the cause
  3. Paint a bleak picture of the results of disregarding the cause
  4. Clearly outline the action that must be taken
  5. Wrap up with a memorable rallying cry

This was their finest hour Winston Churchill (18 June 1940)

You can watch the speech here.

Churchill tells the audience clearly why the issue matters:

Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization…

He then paints a bright picture of what participating in this battle means to his audience:

If we can stand up to him (Hitler), all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands.

But if they don’t follow his call, the picture is bleaker:

But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink by the lights of perverted science.

He makes it clear what the people must do: they must support this battle.

Then he wraps up with an eloquent and memorable rallying cry:

Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still stay, ‘This was their finest hour’!

His words are still echoed today as a rallying cry that has never lost its power and efficacy.

Quit India – Mahatma Gandhi (8 August 1942)

Let’s look at Mahatma Gandhi’s“Quit India” speech to illustrate how the same rules were used in another passionate and persuasive speech –this time in favor of change, of securing a country, but in a non-violent way. It illustrates how the rules apply to a wide variety of speakers and circumstances.

Read a full transcript of the speech here.

Gandhi reminds his audience what is at stake: “respect for all living things,” and “equal freedom for all.”

His rallying cry is equally clear:

We must, therefore, purge ourselves of hatred.

He makes it clear it is time for England’s occupation of India to end, but equally clear that it should be done in a non-violent way.

The decision to go to the moon – John F. Kennedy (25 May 1961)

Perhaps one of the most persuasive speeches of more modern times was then U.S. President John F. Kennedy’s plea for support of America’s space program that would send astronauts to the moon.

To watch his The decision to go to the moon speech, go here.

A month earlier, on April 12th, the Soviets had launched the first man into space, and the move was seen as a great public relations coup to illustrate the effectiveness of the Communist regime. Kennedy wanted to gain the support of his followers to up the stakes and have a man walk on the moon.

He used the Rule of Five to persuade them, starting with setting the stage by explaining the subject mattered because as of that point in history:

There is no strife, no prejudice, no national conflict in outer space as yet. […] Its conquest deserves the best of all mankind, and its opportunity for peaceful cooperation may never come again.

He was mindful of the reward/failure rules, and abided by meeting them head-on with an ingenuous twist: he promised the intangible…that people could see the best of themselves on a world stage.

We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of all our energies and skills…

He also had a great rallying cry:

This challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.

Trading with principles – Dame Anita Roddick (27 November 1999)

Roddick, founder of The Body Shop, was known for her stands on ethical business and for being the first company to go through a social audit, as well as a financial audit, each year.

Check out a full transcript of the speech here.

Roddick uses Rule One to establish why her argument matters to her audience, and what her point of view is. Her “people before profit” stand is one any audience can identify with.

The truth is that ‘free trade’ was originally about the freedom of communities to trade equally with each other. It was never intended to be what it is today…a license for the big, the powerful and the rich to ride roughshod over the small, the weak, and the poor.

She paints her bright picture of a world where the bottom line of a corporation is not just measured in profits made, but in how much the corporation enhances the well-being of people. She paints the bleaker picture of a world where those who disagree with her point of view will see child labor, lack of environmental guardianship, and greed.

She makes it clear what she wants her audience to do:

Business has to be a force for social change. It is not enough to avoid hideous evil – a must, we must actively do good.

And she ends with her rallying cry:

But putting our money where our heart is, refusing to buy the products which exploit, by forming powerful strategic alliances, we will mold the world into a kinder, more loving shape.

When the times comes to stand up and convince an audience of your peers, use the Rule of Five as a barometer to gauge how persuasive your argument is and improve your odds of crafting a truly compelling presentation.

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