Be the spark! Ignite action with your talk

In this post, you’ll find tips you can use to help motivate your listeners to turn your words into action. And through that action, people can solve the problem they have – which is what brought them to hear you speak in the first place.

As author and researcher Andrew Abela puts it:

“If you’re trying to solve a problem for them,
then whatever you give them is going to be
interesting to them.”

So trying to solve your listeners’ problem certainly keeps them engaged. But how exactly can you help people turn your words into action? I recommend you use this 3-part model:

  1. Announce your clear call-to-action
  2. Convince people to own it – now, while you’re still there
  3. Transform it into steps (which they’ll use when you’ve left)

 

1. Announce your clear call-to-actionScroll to Contents ↑

According to Seth Godin:

“Every presentation worth doing has just one purpose:
To make a change happen.”

For instance, your talk or presentation might be about a change like:

And to make a change happen, you need to call your audience to action, because that’s how your points will be brought to life after you leave.

Too many talks don’t have a call-to-action (“C2A”)

But too many talks don’t have a call-to-action (“C2A”), which means they’re a waste of time – for the speaker and the audience! Or, they have a call-to-action, but it’s not made crystal clear to the audience, which means the talk still misses its goal.

To avoid that, announce your clear call-to-action with these 5 techniques:

  • Word your call-to-action simply, as a sentence that sums up what people should do after your presentation. For instance, you might say:

    “Use the tips you get from this talk to eat healthily, starting today!”

  • For even greater impact, use very few syllables (ideally, just 3) for your C2A’s core, and say it 3 times in a row. For example, you could say:

    “If you take just one thing from my talk, I hope it’s this:
    Eat less salt. Eat less salt. Eat less salt.

  • Repeat your C2A at 2 or 3 separate times during your talk, so people absorb it. And with a punchy version like “Eat less salt. Eat less salt. Eat less salt”, it’s so easy to say (and hear) that you can mention it even more often.

    The crucial time to state your C2A’s near the end

     
    (The crucial time to state your C2A’s near the end, when you set out people’s next steps. But other good times are near the start (to make your talk’s goal clear), and at the end of each main point.)

  • Project your C2A on its own slide (if you’re using slides), to strongly support what you say.
     
  • Give people your written C2A, featured boldly in your handout (or online equivalent).

By using those tips, you’ll already be way ahead of most presenters! Still, even after announcing your clear call-to-action, 2 problems remain:

  • It’s your call-to-action, not your listeners’.
  • For people to act on your simple call-to-action (like “Eat less salt”), they really need specific steps they can follow.

So in the 2nd and 3rd sections of this post, you’ll see how to overcome those issues.

 

2. Convince people to own it – now, while you’re still thereScroll to Contents ↑

For your call-to-action to be effective after your presentation, your audience needs to take ownership of it now – while you’re speaking. After all, they’ll be the ones who need to see it through.

As professional speaker Josh Shipp says about our role as presenters:

“We don’t have the power to change a person’s life.
Only they can change their own life.”

So, regardless of whether the change is small or large, how can you help motivate your audience to change their life in some way?

To convince people to own the action themselves, you need to get them involved in your talk – both physically and emotionally. Here are 3 ways you can do that effectively:

  • Use your listeners’ viewpoint to discuss the problem that’s brought people to your presentation.

    He made the death rate personal

     
    For instance, Jamie Oliver did that brilliantly when he spoke at TED about deaths from obesity. (He didn’t just say how many people die worldwide, or each year. Instead, he made the death rate personal by saying how many of his audience’s countrymen would die while his audience were listening to him speak. So he brought it into their world, and even into their day.)

  • Tell a story that ends today, a bit like how Jamie Oliver related his words to the current moment. That way, it’s more motivating for your audience because they can picture themselves in it more easily. That’s a technique used by Craig Valentine, former World Champion of Public Speaking.

     
    As just a simple example, you might say:

    “Five years ago, Kyle was overweight, had high blood pressure, and was heading for a heart attack.

    Today, he’s 12 kilos lighter, in great health, and this morning he swam for half an hour – as he does every day.

    What will you do today on your health journey?”

  • Get them to discuss their notes

  • Get people active, like by writing down a score for how much they can relate to the problems, stories and solutions you’ve described, or by listing any related issues they face. Then, importantly, get them to discuss their notes with the person they’re sitting next to.
     
    For more tips on activities, see these speaker-coaches’ great posts:

 

3. Transform it into steps (which they’ll use when you’ve left)Scroll to Contents ↑

Suppose your call-to-action’s “Eat less salt.” How will people make that happen in their own lives?

Recall that your call-to-action’s just a simple sentence that sums up what you want people to do. You could say it’s a high-level strategy.

This section’s about transforming that high-level strategy into something more tactical. That way, people know what steps they need to take each day, so they can gradually solve the problem that your talk’s about.

To transform your call-to-action into steps, you can use these 3 techniques:

  • Discuss the steps involved in your call-to-action. For instance, for a talk about healthy eating, you might discuss some foods to avoid, what foods to buy instead, and how to cook them.
     
  • Help them customise the action plan

  • Share an outline for a simple action plan, preferably in your handout, and ask people to fill in the blanks you’ve left in it.
     
    For instance, you might ask people to write down a canned food that they buy. You could even ask them to check its salt content when they get home – and you could leave a space on your handout for them to fill that in later.
     
    (By getting them to fill in the outline, you help them customise it to their situation – and you get them to start taking action themselves. Plus, if you get them to add to your handout even after your presentation, you help them keep up their momentum.)
     
  • Ask about roadblocks

  • Ask about roadblocks that might come up (like lack of time), and discuss some solutions with the group.
     
    For example, you might have a roving mic to hear people’s thoughts, or you might just show a list of ideas and take a poll on which ones resonate most. Then, you could tell a story of someone in the past who beat one of the top roadblocks and implemented your action plan.

 

RecapScroll to Contents ↑

So there you have it – a 3-part technique for turning your words into audience action:

  1. Announce your call-to-action
  2. Convince people to own it
  3. Transform it into steps

You might’ve noticed that those 3 top tips form the acronym ACT. (Hopefully that makes them easy to remember!)

I’d love to hear your thoughts on moving people to action. Feel free to leave a comment, and all the best with your speaking!
 

How this post fits inScroll to Contents ↑

Because action’s vital to help you and your audience reach your respective goals, it’s the key part of the speaking guidelines called the “FiRST framework”. To get a feel for using that, please see the overview of the FiRST framework.

In fact, action’s so crucial, it’s also part of the set of tactics called the “PACE approach”. That stands for making your talk:

  • P   Personal
  • A   Actionable
  • C   Conversational
  • E   Emotional

You might want to check out the other parts of the PACE approach that I’ve written so far:

 

See alsoScroll to Contents ↑

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2 thoughts on “Be the spark! Ignite action with your talk

  1. Craig, what a great set of techniques! You and I have spoken before on how every speech is (or should be) a “persuasive” speech. I love how you want to make the audience make the call to action their own. For my part, I just got the opportunity to do my first ever keynote speech, and I related a story about what I experienced myself (and have always told my kids): when you leave an event, choose one thing only to change. Don’t try to change everything at once. But choose one thing, and commit to seeing it through before you leave. Great article as always!

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