For more than two decades, I have advised executives across a wide variety of industries – at both for-profit and nonprofit organizations – on how best to communicate their messages. In many cases, these messages were designed to do more than simply communicate information; they were intended to spur action. But surprising as it may sound, creating an effective call to action is no small feat.
In my experience, an effective call to action includes three key components: 1) clarity of a need, 2) suggestion of a response, and perhaps most importantly, 3) a means to respond. Let’s discuss each in turn.
Clarity of need
It’s incumbent on the speaker to create a sense of urgency around a topic. If there’s no urgency, why is there a speech in the first place? An example will help here. Let’s say the executive is speaking on the topic of homelessness. It’s not enough to acknowledge that homelessness exists. The executive must make it clear why the audience should do something in response. Whether this is approached from a humanitarian perspective, a safety perspective, a business perspective or some other point of view depends entirely on the speaker. But, no matter what, clarity of a need must be established.
Suggestion of response
Having established a clear need, the executive must then suggest a response – a way to address that need effectively. Depending on the speaker’s perspective, this could take many forms. For example, an executive approaching the topic of homelessness from a humanitarian perspective might suggest a response based on establishing additional shelters. In that case, the speaker needs to make a strong case that this particular response is the best available option.
Means to respond
With both the need established and a potential response suggested, what remains is for the executive to make audience response as easy as possible. In our example, a speaker hoping to prompt audience action would need to provide an easy way for them to participate in the building of more shelters. This might mean a financial or materials contribution, or the volunteering of labor. Maybe it’s writing a check, or contributing electronically to a fund. Perhaps it’s calling a phone number, or using a QR code to visit a web site landing page with more information. Regardless, a clear path to participation is essential.
You might be surprised how many executives have identified a need and suggested a response withoutproviding an easy means for their audience to act. In such instances, the audience is left wondering what to do next, which is never a good thing. The successful call to action will include all three of the elements outlined here: clarity of a need, suggestion of a response, and a means to respond. The speaker who successfully includes all three will dramatically increase the chances that the audience will indeed answer the call to act.