The Art of Persuasion: The 4 Elements of Dynamic Presentations for Music Entrepreneurs and Arts Leaders

What is the secret of persuading others to follow your lead?

No matter what your station in life-as a musician who is raising money, a member of an ensemble, an artistic collaborator working on a project or an arts leader with a vision that you want to carry out, success often depends on your ability to persuade other people to join in your cause and follow your lead.

This was another question that we tackled in the Opera America’s Leadership Intensive Next Steps (LINS) program as we considered a real life case that was presented by one of the members of the group, a rising leader in the opera company and symphony orchestra of a mid-sized Western city:

How can I convince the movers and shakers of the “creative class” of this city (including not only other arts and cultural organizations but also creative businesses like fashion companies and breweries) to join an advocacy council whose purpose is to create new audiences for the city’s cultural organizations?

To answer this question, we followed the 4 elements underlying the art of persuasion identified by Professor Jay Conger in The Necessary Art of Persuasion (Harvard Business Review 1998):

1. Establish credibility.
2. Find the common ground with your audience.
3. Provide vivid evidence.
4. Create an emotional connection.

Our lively discussion led to some fascinating results! Here is how the 4 principles helped our group to analyze the situation and design a compelling presentation.
The 4 Elements of Persuasion

1. Establish Your Credibility

In order to persuade others, you need to show that you are a credible person either because of

  • Your expertise and knowledge or
  • Your relationship power as a trustworthy individual on whom people can rely.

It is interesting to note that when you are relatively junior in an organization or just starting out your career, you may feel a lack of power to persuade others. The good news is that expertise and relationship power are two of the most positive ways to use your power and they are entirely within your control. So focus on building up your expertise and your ability to get along with others in order to build your capacity to persuade others.

2. Find the common ground with your audience

The art of persuasion requires that you understand your audience and figure out what your position has in common with their interests.

The audience can vary from

  • people who are attending a live artistic performance;
  • members of your team or working group;
  • members of your organization from different departments, and
  • different stakeholders from your organization, like board members, community members or those who use your programs.

If you identify the common interests between you and your intended audience, that audience will be able understand the benefits of your position and you will have a much better chance of persuading them to adopt your position.

One common mistake is to do a “hard sell” or take an “all or nothing position” because you are often ignoring what your audience cares about. The result?

They are not likely to listen to you because this often ignores what they care about.

3. Provide vivid evidence

One reason that presentations often fail to persuade is that they rely solely on rational arguments, facts and cold data. While factual evidence is important, you are more likely to be successful if you tell stories, use personal examples, compelling analogies and metaphors. These elements will help to bring your presentation to life.

4. Create an emotional connection

Lastly, you want to create an emotional connection with your audience.

Start with yourself and show your passion!

Why do you care so deeply about this subject? Why is it important to you? People get excited when they hear passion. It translates into optimism and possibility that underlie great leadership.

Then, shift to your audience.

What do you sense?

Are they friendly and open to your proposals?

Perhaps they are scared of your proposition and may be afraid of change and even hostile to what you are attempting to do.

Be sure to consider what your audience is feeling as you shape your presentation.


Creating A Persuasive Presentation
How do these 4 elements come into play when you want to create a compelling presentation?

Our LINS group brainstormed, shared ideas and converged on some great solutions by using this 4-part model.

Here is the process by which our group created a compelling presentation by the representative of the symphony and opera to the creative class of this particular city to form an advocacy council.

1. Establishing Credibility

As the largest cultural organization in the city, the symphony and opera already has credibility since it attracts a sizable audience to its events (expert power) . Moreover, our LINS participant from this organization has many contacts around town and has good relationships and an active network that extends to the entire cultural class (relationship power).

2. Finding the Common Ground

  • Expanding the local economy

All of the potential members of this council have an interest in building up their city and make it an exciting vibrant community that will enhance the attractiveness of the city and bring more people to the area.

We quickly realized that our pitch was focused on the “creative class”, the brainchild of economist/social scientist Richard Florida, author of The Rise of the Creative Class who posits that post-industrial cities will flourish if they are able to attract and retain members of this class (whose ranks extend beyond the artistic professions and include consultants, researchers, IT specialists, producers of culture and freelancers).

In a study done by the American Planning Association on how the arts and culture sector catalyzes economic vitality, the APA found that economic development is enhanced by bringing cultural organizations and creative workforce together in the same geographic area. This convergence elevates the quality of life in the city, enhances the community’s ability to attract economic activity and creates a climate in which innovation can flourish.

  • Shared Values of the Creative Class

We also noted that members of the cultural and creative sector in this city value creativity and making beauty, as well as enhancing the quality of life of their stakeholders and program users. With these shared values, the potential members of the advocacy council can collaborate on making something bigger and more high-impact than if they were to work separately.

  • High-energy leaders

Another common interest in creating a council is to bring together a group of high-energy leaders to create something bigger. Our LINS representative enjoys working with high-energy teams to get new ideas, work towards big and exciting goals and create something meaningful and she feels that her counterparts at other organizations would be equally excited to work together in a stimulating environment.

Leadership expert Jim Collins in his book, Good To Great, advocates getting the right people on the right bus in the right seats in order to effect change.

And when the right people come together, change is in the air! That’s another common interest of our proposal.

  • Sharing Resources

Yet another common interest is to share resources in order to work more efficiently and collaborate more effectively.

In short,

  1. The council is a win/win since we solidify the creative community and expand our audiences.
  2. We raise the profile of the creative class in our city in order to attract and retain the type of people who are critical to success in the 21st Century and build up our city.
  3. We work together as a dynamic group of thought leaders.
  4. We share resources and collaborate more efficiently.

3. Providing Vivid Evidence

We next turned to the type of evidence that would be persuasive to this group of high-energy creative leaders.

We acknowledged the importance of providing data on size of the various audiences, the projected growth of the audiences without collaboration and the potential for attracting new businesses to the city.

But we also wanted to make the presentation exciting and convincing!

First, the setting:

The presentation would take place at the host organization’s facilities, along with refreshments and a musical performance. The “pitch” section would last 30 minutes and would be followed by a request to join the council.

To enhance the effectiveness of the evening, we agreed that it would help to have a “soft launch” first in order to line up key members of the council before the presentation.

Next, the type of evidence:

  • Have a live performance.
  • Show video excerpts from a production to inspire the potential council members.
  • Tell a story about the impact of music on audience members.
  • Get testimonials from people who are transformed by your offerings, not only from your audience members but also from board members and politicians.
  • Provide an example of a community-based project that attracted audiences from different sectors.

4. Creating an Emotional Connection

Finally, we addressed how to create an emotional connection to this group of creative movers and shakers.

In order to make the emotional appeal and to show the power and passion of music, we would begin the evening with a performance. One possibility would be to showcase a community-based work that brought in new audiences. We would mix in some fashion from the fashion companies whom we would invite to get their buy-in.

For the oral presentation, it is important to begin with a hook: a provocative, compelling and attention-grabbing opener.

Ideas for a hook included:

  • painting a picture of the future of the creative class in Salt Lake City,
  • providing a bold reality check about what happens if the creative class does not band together.

We would then fold in the “evidence” to create a good flow of the arguments and mix up logic, data and emotional content. And above all, we would avoid the hard sell and arm-twisting! We want to make a good case instead of turning people off.

And finally, we would conclude the presentation with an appeal to the invitees asking them to

  • Learn more about how to make our city an attractive, vibrant community;
  • Join the council;
  • Bring your audiences to our performances; and/or
  • Advocate for our creative class.

For the reception, we would serve beer and other food products assembled from the invitees to showcase their work.


Our group discussion and brainstorm generated a lot of good ideas on how to make a persuasive case for the advocacy council. Members of the group shared their experience, bringing in a wide variety of sources of information. By the end, our LINS representative of the opera/symphony felt excited about putting together this presentation and the rest of the group felt much more equipped to create a persuasive presentation for their individual causes.

So, no matter what stage you are in, you can shape a persuasive presentation and make a strong case for the causes that enflame your passion!