The signature of a persuasive speech is a clear call-to-action.
Yet many speakers miss a fantastic opportunity with a call-to-action that is wishy-washy, hypothetical, or ill-constructed. Even worse, some speakers omit the call-to-action entirely.
A poor call-to-action undermines the effectiveness of your speech; a great call-to-action stirs your audience to act enthusiastically.
In this article, we reveal the qualities of a strong speech call-to-action which will lead your audience to act.
What is a Speech Call-To-Action?
A speech call-to-action is an explicit appeal to your audience to take a specific action following your speech. A call-to-action is most often made at the conclusion of a persuasive speech.
“If you have been persuasive and your audience is emotionally invested, the best time for action is now.”
For example, you might call on your audience to…
- … adopt a new business process
- … sponsor an event
- … attend an event
- … fund a research initiative
- … register to vote
- … join a club
- … train for a marathon
- … read out loud to their children
- … donate money to a charity
- … travel to Saskatchewan
- … buy a fire extinguisher
- … eat more vegetables
- … use public transit
Guidelines for a Strong Speech Call-to-Action
Your call-to-action and your approach to delivering it may vary according to your audience and your speaking style. While there is no rigid formula, there are a number of guidelines which will improve the effectiveness of your call-to-action.
- Make your call-to-action clear and direct.
- Have your audience act quickly.
- Lower barriers to action.
- Focus on benefits for your audience.
- Customize your call-to-action for each person.
1. Make your call-to-action clear and direct.
Don’t hint. Don’t imply. Don’t suggest.
It’s not a whisper-to-think-about-action; it’s a call-to-action.
Use direct language, and eliminate wishy-washy phrases.
- Instead of “Maybe you could think about joining…”, say “Join…”
- Instead of “It would be good to train for…”, say “Train for… “
Don’t assume that your audience will “figure out” what needs to be done. (I have made this mistake in the past and regretted it.) If members of your audience walk out of the room thinking “Wow, this sounds great, but I’m just not sure what to do…”, your call-to-action was not clear enough.
2. Have your audience act quickly.
If you have been persuasive and your audience is emotionally invested, the best time for action is now. The longer it takes to initiate the action, the more likely that your audience will lose motivation.
So, an ideal call-to-action is one which your audience can act on immediately, perhaps even before they leave the room. If this isn’t feasible, then aim for actions which can reasonably be completed (or at least started) within hours or a day or two.
3. Lower barriers to action.
To help your audience act quickly, eliminate as many (trivial or non-trivial) barriers as you can.
For example, ask the following questions about your audience.
- Do they need to sign up?
Bring forms and pens and pass them out.
- Do they need to read additional information?
Bring handouts, or copies of books, or website references.
- Do they need approval before they can act?
Make the first call-to-action to organize the meeting with stakeholders.
- Do they need to pay?
Accept as many forms of payment as possible.
A common psychological barrier is the perception that the suggested action is too big or too risky. This is a legitimate concern, and is often best handled by dividing the call-to-action into several small (less risky) actions.
For example, “train for a marathon” may be too large of a call-to-action for a non-runner. A better call-to-action would be to join a running club or train for a shorter race.
4. Focus on benefits for your audience.
“A poor call-to-action undermines the effectiveness of your speech; a great call-to-action stirs your audience to act enthusiastically.”
Always frame your call-to-action in the audience’s best interest.
For example, don’t say this:
- What I’d really like you to do is…
- It would make me so happy if you…
- My foundation has set a target of X that we can reach with your help…
Making you (the speaker) happy is (probably) not highly motivating for your audience.
Instead, say this:
- Build your financial wealth by…
- Make your community a safer place to live for yourself and your children by…
- When you volunteer, you build your skills and gain valuable experience…
Surround the call-to-action with a description of how their lives will be improved when they act. Paint a prosperous vision.
5. Customize your call-to-action for each person.
Audiences don’t act; individuals act. Rather than addressing the group as a whole, focus your call-to-action on each individual in your audience.
Suppose your goal is to have a new business process adopted. Each individual in the room may play a different role in accomplishing this.
- For the person who controls the budget, the call-to-action is to allocate the necessary funds.
- For the personnel manager, the call-to-action is to delegate staff to work on the initiative.
- For others, the call-to-action may be to attend in-depth training about the new process.
Audience analysis is critical. If you know who is in your audience, and understand their motivations and capabilities, you will be able to personalize the call-to-action for them.
Put it into Practice
By working on the planning and execution of the call-to-action in your speeches, you’ll become a more persuasive and effective speaker.
Look back to your last persuasive speech.
- Did you make a clear and direct call-to-action?
- Was your audience able to act quickly on it?
- Did you make an extra effort to lower barriers to action?
- Did you highlight the benefits for your audience?
- Did you address individuals rather than the group with a personal call-to-action?
If the answer to any of the above questions was “no”, then how could your call-to-action have been improved?
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You could write the most effective, emotional, efficient copy for your printed marketing media, and it wouldn’t amount to anything if a call to action wasn’t clearly defined.
In written advertising, a call to action (by definition) is an imperative sentence that instructs the reader to perform a task. They’re absolutely crucial because once you’ve hooked your audience on your brand, they need to know what steps to take in order to obtain your product or service. Good call to action phrases act like a trail of breadcrumbs leading potential customers directly to your business.
Know your audience’s needs
Before you can begin writing your call to action, you have to understand what you can offer your audience and more importantly, why they need it in the first place. The best practices for accomplishing this are to identify a problem your audience can relate to and position your brand as a solution to that problem. This makes the call to action more enticing to the audience because it gives them a reason to follow your instructions.
This flyer begins by offering a benefit (a happy reaction from your mother) and follows up with a call to action: “Send us her photo.” Photo Credit: LeighAnn Loftus
A call to action is only as powerful as the surrounding copy. If your copy doesn’t tell the audience exactly how they can benefit from using your brand in a clear and engaging way, they won’t even care about the call to action.
Use actionable verbs and phrases
Almost every call to action includes a verb–but some verbs are stronger than others. Action words and phrases compel the reader to perform a task, which is the entire point of a call to action to begin with. Actionable verbs are ones that can actually be carried out by a person in a literal sense.
Good: “Call us today for a free sample” – this is actionable because “call” is a verb that can be carried out by a person.
Bad: “Give us a call for a free sample” – although “give” would normally be actionable, in this case what you’re giving is not a tangible object. You can’t literally hand someone a phone call.
Clarity is crucial
A call to action is only effective if it’s clearly understood by the audience. For starters, the font should be bold and easy to read, so avoid small or overly fancy fonts.
More importantly, the message itself should be easily understood. A clear message spells out exactly what the audience should do and how it will benefit them. Write your call to action using simple language-avoid jargon or confusing terms.
Here’s an example:
Good: “Visit our website! “
Bad: “Point your web browser towards our home page.”
The call to action here is quick and to the point: “ENTER NOW” and a corresponding URL. Photo Credit: Jennie Myers
Make the action as easy as possible
The reader should be able to go directly from the call to action to performing the task itself, so make sure he has everything he need to follow up. For example, if you want them to call, provide a phone number.
However, you also have to consider what kind of phone number you use and if it presents any other problems to your customer. For example, a customer is more willing to call a local number or a toll-free number than a long-distance number.
If you want your customer to visit your website, provide an address. However, if you also provide a QR code, then customers with smart phones or tablet devices can immediately visit your site without having to type an address.
If your goal is for your audience to visit your website, make sure to include a clear and noticeable URL, such as the one on this flyer. Photo Credit: Veronica Varetsa
Obviously you’d provide an address if you want the customer to visit your location, but providing an actual map of your location helps to ensure you won’t miss a sale because the customer lost his way. Better yet, also provide a QR code with Google Map directions to make it even easier.
Writing a call to action is more effective when the audience is only being asked to complete one task. Multiple phrases asking the audience to perform different tasks can be confusing and audiences can loose interest when they think there is a lot of work involved.
However, if you have to have multiple calls to action, make sure one is clearly dominant while the others are just there to work towards the main goal.
This flyer has multiple examples of calls to action, but one dominates the others: “Buy at Fine Retail Stores.” Photo Credit: Fran Linden
For example, the end goal may be to have customers sign up for a free consultation, but they might have multiple options for doing so. By using both “Call us to sign up for a free consultation” and “Visit our website and sign up for a free consultation” in your copy it makes it clear to the audience that signing up is the most important action.
A better way to achieve this would be to eliminate the other calls to action altogether. “Sign up for a free consultation by phone or on our website” is much clearer.
Often times your end goal (making a sale/converting a customer) takes a few steps to accomplish. Your call to action should guide the customer towards the next natural step he or she needs to accomplish in order to get to the end goal.
Create a sense of urgency
A time limitation makes your calls to action a bit stronger because it adds a sense of urgency. However this doesn’t have to be a strict measurement of time, just a general feeling of importance.
Good: “Call us today” – This call to action gives the audience a firm measurement of time to work with and creates a sense of importance.
Good: “Call now” – This is even more urgent and implies the offer may not last forever (even if that’s not the case.) The audience understands the importance of calling soon.
Bad: “Call anytime” – This implies that the offer is always available and that there’s no need to call immediately, which makes it more likely that the audience will forget to call completely.
If your offer does have limitations, make sure this is clearly outlined in your call to action. For example “Call now, supplies are limited” or “Call now to take advantage of this limited-time offer.”
A sense of urgency helps to make your call to action (such as the one on this flyer) more persuasive. Photo Credit: Darren @ Mass Appeal Designs
Answer the reader’s questions
Customers want to know what will happen if they follow your call to action and how doing so will benefit them. Many people in your audience will be skeptical to follow your instructions unless they’re given more information on what happens after doing so.
For example, “Call us today” is not as strong as “Call us today and we’ll help you save money on your heating bills.” The latter tells the audience exactly what will result by following the call to action.
Quell your reader’s fears
Call to action phrases can be used to help your audience get over any opposition they may have. Identify and demolish any misgivings your audience may feel towards your brand and add statements that provide reassurance.
For example, a reader may not want to call because they’re afraid of being sucked into a long sales pitch. Therefore, you might say something like “Call now and in less than five minutes you can get a great deal on your insurance.”
Provide as many details about the process as possible, including any limitations your offer might carry. Walk the reader through the process of what to expect when they follow your call to action. When they do follow your instructions and the results are what you promised, you will have gained their trust and hopefully their future business.
Make an offer they can’t refuse
Sometimes a special offer can go a long way towards convincing skeptical audience members to follow your call to action. This might be a free gift, guarantee, special discount or other incentives to sweeten the deal.
“Order today and get half-off the cost of shipping.”
“Call now and ask about our buy-one, get one offer.”
“Sign up for our mailing list to receive special member coupons.”
Be upfront in your call to action if there are any limitations to your offer, such as a time limit or per-customer limit.
The fact that buyers can ‘save over $700’ makes the call to action on this flyer especially persuasive. Photo Credit: Mike Greenwald
Just like any message you want to drive home, repetition makes your call to action more effective. Repeat your call to action several different ways and in different areas to make sure the message is clear.
Take a look at these examples:
“Visit us at the corner of Main and Maple to receive a free quote”
“Come to our downtown location for your free quote”
“Ask for your free quote at our Main and Maple location.”
“Drive downtown today for your free quote.”
If your marketing materials have multiple pages, then every page should contain a repetition of the call to action. That way, the customer doesn’t have to go searching around to find out what to do when he or she is ready to take the next step.
Use colors and graphics
A call to action is more effective when it stands out from the rest of your design. Try using a contrasting font color to make the call to action pop. Red is an effective call to action color because it’s bright and creates a sense of urgency, but you can use any distinctive color that matches your design.
The bright red color helps this mailer’s call to action really stand out. Photo Credit: Burton Creative
You can also use graphics like an arrow or bullet point to help draw the eye towards your call to action. However, be careful that you don’t go overboard-graphics should enhance the call to action, not overshadow it.
Leave white space
When designing the layout of your printed materials, make sure not to overcrowd your call to action. Leave plenty of white space to allow it to stand out better on the page. This allows your call to action to be easily read when scanning the page for information.
A call to action should usually be sightly larger than the surrounding paragraph text so that readers recognize it as something separate. This also makes it easier to scan and read. People don’t always take action right away; a large call to action ensures that they will find it easily if they look at the ad later.
You should aim for a 20% increase in font size between your call to action phrases and the rest of your copy. That of course means the font size used for the body paragraphs, not the headlines.
When the customer actually does follow through on your call to action, what happens next? It’s your responsibility to make sure that when they follow your instructions, it’s easy for them to follow the next step towards a sale or conversion.
And the next step.
And so on.
For example, if you ask them to call your office, make sure someone is on the other end waiting to take their call and to explain the next step of the process. If the office is closed, there should be an automated message that explains the process and gives the customer instructions on when to call back.
Whenever a customer does follow your call to action, track your success. Figure out which ones are getting positive responses and which ones are having difficulty attracting new customers. Then adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.
Practice makes perfect, and your best call to action ideas will likely come to you after you’ve become more familiar with the process. Take the time to perform writing exercises, coming up with different ways to instruct your audience and drive them towards your brand’s end goal.
What sort of calls to action do you find to be effective in your printed material? What calls to action have you yourself acted upon in the past? Here’s a call to action for you: share your responses, tips and examples in the comments!
Posted in Copywriting