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You’ve seen these short persuasive messages at the end of marketing materials. But they don’t belong only to the world of marketing. Toward the end of most persuasive speeches, the speaker does something similar to elicit response from the audience. They make a call to action. It’s a movement that asks the audience to take what they’ve just heard or learned and act on it. It extends the speech beyond the speech act itself.

When done correctly, it is powerful and inspiring. When not executed well, it falls flat. Mastering the call to action involves understanding the buildup, the risk, and the tools needed.

The Buildup

The buildup involves everything that happens prior to the call to action. Great presentations function like a crescendo that slowly builds as excitement and energy mounts, ultimately resolving in a cymbal crash of response. If you’ve worked to get the audience on board, the call to action is welcomed, even craved. However, if you haven’t built anything with the audience, the call to action just feels like an oddly placed cymbal crash.

The buildup has two parts: the actual presentation and the relationship you build with the audience. You can fulfill the first part of this by structuring clear and compelling content, by creating information that meets the needs of the audience while also entertaining them. You can meet the second part, the relational component, by presenting with warmth and by taking time to interact with the audience before and after the presentation as time allows. Don’t underestimate how important this is. Studies show that “personal interactions have greater influence over consumer choices than personal selling, print advertisements, or radio.”

The Risk

Part of asking for action is recognizing the risk the audience takes to act. Think about what happens in the time from when you read “Get a quote” to when you actually click on the link (if you choose to do so). You probably wonder if you really need a quote. You evaluate your current service and compare the new one to it. You probably have some concern about entering and releasing your contact information (will this company smother me with sales calls and marketing emails?). You take time to weigh the risk with the reward.

When you present and ask the audience to act, they go through a similar process. They wonder what consequences, good or bad, acting will have on them. They evaluate if you can really be trusted. They try to future cast and figure out how action versus inaction will affect them in the long run. Respecting the audience risk is part of being a responsible speaker.

The Tools

When asking your audience to act, you need to provide them with the tools to actually do so. Sometimes it’s information like a website to visit, a phone number to call, or further resources to read. Other times the tools you need to give the audience are reasons for acting.

I saw how important tools are at a recent parent meeting. A few beloved teachers were being let go, quite unfairly, and many parents were in an uproar. A few of these parents called a meeting, made a presentation, and then made a call to action. It sounded something like this, “Write your school board members, email the superintendent, contact the principle.” Without specific names, email addresses, and phone numbers, what are the chances that people are actually going to act? Very little. That’s why you must equip your audience members with the tools they need.

But giving information is only one part of the equation. You need to provide reasons for acting. In her book, The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It, Stanford research psychologist and lecturer Kelly McGonigal explores a study that pitted persuasive messages based on identity versus persuasive messages based on behavior. She found that appeals to identity (messages that tap into the listener’s view of who they are or aren’t) versus appeals to behavior (of what to do or not do) can be twice as effective. That means your call to action should focus on who the audience is, not just want they should do.

You are ready to make an effective and powerful call to action once you fully understand the buildup needed, the risk involved, and the tools you’ll need to provide in order for your audience to act.

So here’s where we blatantly do what we’ve been talking about. But since we believe in what we do and we respect you and your time, it’s easy to say this. At Ethos3, we exist to help you design and deliver better presentations. Ready to get started?


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