The User’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations


A few years ago, I did a presentation for the AIA at Architecture Exchange East, which is an educational conference serving the Mid-Atlantic States.  The graphics were done by Nikki Mueller, one of our brilliant graphics designers in Marketing.  The name of the presentation was The User’s Guide to Persuasive Presentations.  I will attempt to serialize that presentation in this blog over the course of a few weeks. 


This presentation was built using two major sources, with some minor ones shot through.  The major sources are the book, Made to Stick: Why some Ideas Survive and Others Die, (by Chip and Dan Heath, one a professor of organizational behavior at Stanford, the other a former researcher at the Harvard Business School), and an article by Kevin Dutton titled, “The Power to Persuade”, in Scientific American Mind magazine.


This quote endorsed by the World's Greatest Orator


People have used persuasive oratory to build consensus for a long time.  Persuasion is something that we respond to subconsciously.  Persuasion and Influence can affect us so profoundly that they can take us beyond our rational selves.  We are wired by nature to respond to certain cues.  Certain things in nature take advantage of these things.  They play to human responses that, if someone is not aware, can lead to an automatic response.  Kevin Dutton (his most recent book is titled “Split Second Persuasion: the Art & New Science of Changing Minds”) calls this Supersuasion.


Here Kitty, Kitty....


See this panda?  It looks sweet.  It looks cuddly.  It will rip your face off.  But the marking on its body – the big, moony eyes, the soft coat – recall an evolutionary response in us that can persuade us to do things based on its resemblance to….human babies.


This baby is messing with your mind



See?  It’s so simple even a baby can do it.  And they don’t even know how to speak.  These triggers work beyond words, beyond devices, beyond awareness.  They are fast – the baby is immediately recognizable.  They are simple – the baby is obviously helpless.  They are immediate – it is evident that this tiny thing needs to be cared for.


Look for the sweet spot


Supersuasion is the sweet spot at the intersection of biology, neuroscience and psychology.  Our response is firmly rooted in the amygdala.  The amygdala is the part of the brain that is frequently referred to as our reptilian brain.  It’s where our Fight or Flight, self-preservation response lives.  It’s the same automatic response that would cause me to duck if someone threw a baseball at my head.


One of these things is not like the others


Not everyone is born a Supersuader.  The good news is that Supersuader skills can be taught, and this column is going to introduce the concepts that you’ll need to know, in order to become one.  My hope is that some of these issues may make you self-aware of what you do in a presentation now, and help you gain the confidence and know-how you need to up your presentation game.



Heath, Chip & Heath, Dan.  Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die.  New York:  Random House,  2007.

Dutton, Kevin.  “The Power to Persuade”.  Scientific American Mind.  March 2010: 24.

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