6 Secrets to get People to Take Action after your Presentation

Switch coverHow can you increase the likelihood that people will take action after your presentation? Chip and Dan Heath reveal many of the secrets in their latest book Switch. I’ve added a few more tips that I’ve learnt over my years presenting and training.

1. Script the critical move

Tell people exactly what you want them do. Chip and Dan Heath tell how school students in Miner County, South Dakota wanted to revive the local economy. The students worked out that if residents spent more of their money locally it would make a big difference. But they didn’t just say “Buy Local”, they scripted the critical move. They asked residents to spend 10% more of their disposable income in Miner County. They calculated that this would boost the local economy by $7 million. A year later, the amount of money spent in Miner County had increased by $15.6 million.

So in your presentation don’t just use a clever slogan. Be clear and specific about what you want members of your audience to do.

2. Give explicit instructions

An experiment on encouraging university students to take part in a food drive for charity showed that giving explicit instructions can give a tremendous boost to the response rate. One group of students received a letter asking them to give a can of food to a booth on Tresidder Plaza (a well-known spot on the campus). A second group of students received a more detailed letter including a map and a specific request for a can of beans. 4% responded to the general letter whilst just over 33% gave food after receiving the detailed letter.

In your presentations, take people through the detailed steps they’ll need to take and give them all the information they need to carry through in a handout.

3. Get them to imagine what they will do

If you’re asking people to take some action which only they know the details of, it won’t be practical for you to give explicit instructions. Instead get them to work out the details. Gary Rodriguez describes such a situation in his book Purpose Driven Public Speaking. Gary was recently back from the Vietnam War and his peace activist brother had welcomed him home with the words “How many babies did you kill?” Gary was deeply hurt and found it impossible to forgive his brother. That was until Gary heard a speaker talking about forgiveness:

Believe me, I have heard plenty of talks on forgiveness, but not one like this…The speaker challenged us to pick a specific person and put into practice what we had learned.

Gary chose his brother. And the next time he saw his brother he was able to forgive him.

4. Develop action triggers

People who create action triggers for themselves are far more likely to take action. An action trigger is a mental plan you make about when and where you will do something or what you will do in a certain situation. For example, patients recovering from a hip operation who wrote down when and where they would go for a walk were much more likely to carry through on that decision then patients who just decided they would go for a walk.

Don’t just ask people to do something, get them to make a mental plan of when and where they will do it.

5. Appeal to their identity

People don’t do things simply because it’s in their self-interest, but because the action conforms to their view of themselves. Talk to your audience as if they are the type of people who do what you want them to do. For example “As people who love this community and want to see young families flourishing here, you’ll want to donate to refurbishment of this playground.”

6. Set up an accountability mechanism

Sharing a commitment to take action is powerful. There are a number of ways you can set this up for a presentation. You could ask people to pair up with another person and commit to keeping each other accountable. Or you could ask audience members to email you by a certain date with the action they’ve taken.

What tips do you have for motivating people to take action after your presentation?

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    • Thanks Doug for letting us know about the video

  1. Olivia:

    Great Post with very specific ideas for action.

    I’ll be using some of these for myself and audiences.


  2. Olivia, I love how Switch identifies the patterns of how change occurs, and gives us a simple framework to ignite change in our lives.

    You’ve done a nice job of applying these tips to make a presentation’s call to action more effective.

    We need to tell our audience exactly what to do and how to do it. It might seem that we’re treating the audience as children who need to have their hands held through every step of the change.

    Of course, our audience isn’t stupid or childlike. But unclear direction can cause anyone to wander aimlessly, or to be paralyzed by indecision over too many choices.

  3. Thank you Olivia, for a great set of techniques. Now, of course, I’ll need to read Switch.

    Particularly poignant, for me, was: “People don’t do things simply because it’s in their self-interest, but because the action conforms to their view of themselves.”

    From the little I know of the book, I guess the application of this to oneself is all part of the game plan!

    • Hi John
      Chip and Dan Heath keep the book pretty focused on what it takes to encourage others to change. But the advice does also of course apply to ourselves!

  4. Interesting and beneficial techniques. I’ll need to get my hands on Switch and further educate myself on how to get the audience engaged, and involved even after the presentation. A lot of times once they hear the speech it typically ends there, and there is no action taken place of the information you just informed your audience. This is a strong skill once a person can execute it correctly.


    • You’ll find Switch fascinating. As you redesign your speeches, start with scripting the critical move – that’s the foundation of all the other techniques.

      Go well

      • Hi Olivia,

        How would you present the key message of your presentation along with the critical move?

        Maybe you use the critical move as your key message?

        I suppose it depends on the length of your presentation. For a 7-minute Toastmasters talk, perhaps you only have time for 1 critical move and 3 supporting points.

        We’d have to judge this based on the content of an individual speech, but for a short talk, I’m inclined to keep it simple and memorable with 1 critical move and 3 supporting points.

        Unless, for some reason, the critical move doesn’t make sense if it isn’t explained in the context of a key message. It probably depends on how self-explanatory the critical move is.

        For an example from Switch, a critical move is to “Buy low-fat milk.” I think that critical move stands alone without needing a supporting key message about the health benefits of drinking low-fat milk?

        • Hi Kevin
          Yes, I would make your critical move the key message. I should have mentioned that.. thanks for raising the issue.

  5. While I was reading this blog, it reminds me of the principles for goal setting. Be specific with the goal and have a reminder for it.

    • Hi Warwick
      And there’s a heap more information in Switch about take action on goals.

  6. very interesting thanks


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