The art of persuasion

Man-1: I came here for a good discussion!

Man-2: Oh no you didn’t, you came here for an argument!

Man-1: An argument is not just a contradiction.

Man-2: Well, it COULD be!

Man-1: No, you can’t! An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.

Man-2: No, it’s not!

-Monty Python


This is a topic near and dear to my heart. As a graduate of the Faculty of

Communications at Ohio University, I studied interpersonal communications

which I found fascinating and has served me well in my business career. Currently,

I see very little emphasis on sharpening students’ oral skills. Institute

typically spend little time in this area, as do universities (apart from Communications

schools as OU’s). Consequently, we are developing a generation of dysfunctional

people in the workplace who don’t know how to work with other people.

The key to speech is the art of persuasion it takes to lead

people, sell ideas or products, conduct negotiations and simply discuss

to point However, instead of calm rhetorical speech, I have watched heated

discussions in the boardroom, in the office and in life in general, with

personal relationships become victims of such debate. This was

very evident in the last presidential elections, as well as in Congress today.

A substantial part of the problem is that people do not grasp the

foundations of persuasion. For some it’s easy, for others it’s

difficult to assimilate. First, we have to understand that to formulate

a persuasive speech is hard work. For example, Winston Churchill was

well known for his eloquence as a speaker. But few understood the amount

of the effort that Churchill put into his speeches. He would work late at the

night writing and rewriting his talks. It was common for her to carry papers

of paper in his coat pocket to jot down the key phrases he wanted

spent. Furthermore, he rehearsed his speeches over and over again until he managed to

the tone and inflection he thought would have the most dramatic effect. A

strangers, Churchill seemed to be a great extemporaneous orator with

creepy quotes and catchy phrases; Actually, everything was well rehearsed.

in advance.


Preparations and rehearsals are important, but so is the content. Formulate

a persuasive speech, the speaker must be aware of the three basic concepts

ways of speaking: Ethos, Pathos and Logos.


Ethos is simply an appellation based on the character of the speaker. An ethos driven

the speech is based on the credibility and reputation of the speaker. Basically a

discourse based on ethos says, “If you trust me, then you will support my point of view.”

This is why sponsors are important in persuasion. For example,

the reputation of a current or former CEO carries more weight on a board

discussion room than that of an employee. This is also the reason why we bow down to people with

more experience or seniority. However, the only caveat here is that

if the speaker’s integrity is in question, so is his argument. Also, don’t

become dependent on the use of ethos-based arguments, if ever tested

wrong, your reputation and credibility will be tarnished.

“Once a reputation is broken, it may be mended, but the world

always keep your eyes on the place where the crack was.”

-Joseph’s Hall


Logos is a resource based on logic or reason. business proposals and

corporate reviews are often logo-driven, much like an academic thesis.

Basically, a logo-based argument exhibits geometric features, such as:

If A = B

and B=C

So A=C

The danger here is to develop a weak or convoluted argument that is

perceived as illogical or difficult for the audience to understand. For


Communists are people.

Americans are people.

Therefore, all Americans are communists.

Logos is vital to the credibility of your argument which must be carefully

built with basic building blocks of common sense.

Logical speech is an effective way to communicate your thoughts,

but it is important to know your audience when presenting such ideas.

“It is dangerous to be right in matters in which the

the established authorities are wrong.”



Pathos is an appeal based on emotion. Sales and promotional advertising

makes active use of emotional appeal by eliciting human desires, particularly

greed. The intention is to motivate people to take action. As such, a driven pathos

the argument is probably the strongest canon of speech. Even if a logo based

argument is logically sound, it will fall on deaf ears compared to a

argument based on ethos. Motivational speeches are often based on ethos. trainers,

managers and political leaders make extensive use of pathos

speeches. As an example, consider Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside talks” that

assured the American public during the Great Depression and World War II.

The only problem here is that truth is not a requirement for an ethos based on

plot. To illustrate, Adolf Hitler was able to motivate the German people

to develop a military state, but his speech was often full of lies. Also,

advertising often substitutes substance for facade, and as such the public

must exercise “caveat emptor” (buyer beware). Apart of this,

Pathos is a great way to get your point across.

“Whenever you find the humor, you find the pathos close to it.”

-Edwin P. Whipple


Rarely will anyone rely on a single canon of expression. Instead, a good argument

makes use of all three to convey a point. Churchill, for example, often relied

on his reputation as a senior statesman to express his point of view, in addition to presenting

arguments that appeal to logic and emotion. A careful mix of the three canons of

speech, spoken at the right time and place, can work wonders.


Fundamental to all of this is a clear understanding of your audience in terms of

your knowledge, intelligence, “hot spots,” moral values, interests,

and their place in society. The more you know about your target audience,

the better you will be able to prepare an effective argument. never forget that you

speak to communicate As such, you must speak at the level of your

heard, neither above nor below. I seriously doubt that you will impress a

group of grape pickers using a vernacular collected at MIT. If you want

persuade people, choose your words carefully.

“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but much harder

still, stop saying the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”

-Benjamin Franklin


Finally, organize your argument carefully. I am a great believer in

concept of “Tell your audience what you are going to tell them;

Tell them, then; I’ll tell you what you told them.” A speech without

management is going nowhere fast. This means that it must have an Introduction,

a body and a summary to conclude your argument.


Obviously, the above discussion is equally applicable to both writing and

Spoken word. The point here is that the more we know about the

art of persuasion, the better we can adequate oratorical motto or text for

expression of our argument. To recap the points expressed here:

1. Know your audience

2. Develop a conducive speech for your audience, using the three canons

of speech and with some kind of structure.

3. Rehearse

Obviously, situations will arise where you won’t be able to

prepare a formal speech but instead must make an argument about the

place. As long as you are aware of these elements, you will be more

Effective in your speech.

More importantly, stay calm when you make your presentation and stay in

check. The debate must be moderated so that it does not compromise the

the wrath of your audience (unless that is your intention). cruelty must be

left at the door. Organize, prepare and enjoy the trip.

“In a republican nation, whose citizens must be guided by reason and persuasion

and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance”

-Thomas Jefferson

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