Man-1: I came here for a good argument!
Man-2: Ah, no you didn’t, you came here for an argument!
Man-1: An argument isn’t just contradiction.
Man-2: Well, it CAN be!
Man-1: No it can’t! An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.
Man-2: No it isn’t!
– Monty Python
This is a subject near and dear to my heart. As a graduate of the College 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 the speaking skills of students. High Schools
typically spend little time in this area, as do the colleges (aside from Communications
schools such as OU’s). Consequently, we are developing a generation of dysfunctional
people in the work place who do not know how to work with other people.
Key to speech is the art of persuasion which is needed in order to lead
people, sell ideas or products, conduct negotiations, and to simply argue
a point. Instead of calm rhetorical discourse though, I’ve observed heated
arguments in the board room, in the office, and life in general, with
personal relationships becoming casualties of such debate. This was
very obvious in the last presidential election, as well as in Congress today.
A substantial part of the problem is that people do not grasp the
fundamentals of persuasion. To some it comes easily, to others it is
difficult to assimilate. First, we have to understand that formulating
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 effort Churchill put into his speeches. He would work late into the
night writing and rewriting his talks. It was common for him to carry slips
of paper in his coat pocket to jot down notes of key phrases he wanted to
use. Further, he would rehearse his speeches time and again until he got
the tone and inflection he thought would have the most dramatic effect. To
outsiders, Churchill appeared to be a great extemporaneous speaker with
flippant quotes and catch phrases; In reality, everything was well rehearsed
THE THREE CANONS OF SPEECH
Preparations and rehearsals are important, but so is content. To formulate
a persuasive speech, the speaker should be cognizant of the three basic
modes of speech: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.
Ethos is simply an appeal based on the character of the speaker. An ethos-driven
speech relies on the credibility and reputation of the speaker. Basically, an
ethos-based speech 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 in a board
room discussion than a clerk’s. This is also why we bow to people with
greater experience or have seniority. The only caveat here though, is that
if the speaker’s integrity is questioned, so is his argument. Further, do not
become dependent on using ethos-driven arguments, if you are ever proven
wrong, your reputation and credibility will be tarnished.
“A reputation once broken may possibly be repaired, but the world will
always keep their eyes on the spot where the crack was.”
– Joseph Hall
Logos is an appeal based on logic or reason. Business proposals and
corporate reviews are typically logos-driven, as is an academic thesis.
Basically, a logos-based argument exhibits geometric characteristics, such as:
If A = B
The danger here is developing a weak or convoluted argument which is
perceived as either illogical or is difficult for the audience to grasp. For
Communists are people.
Americans are people.
Therefore, all Americans are Communists.
Logos is vital to the credibility of your argument which should be carefully
constructed with basic building blocks of common sense.
Logical discourse is an effective way of communicating your thoughts,
but it is important to know your audience when presenting such ideas.
“It is dangerous to be right in matters on which the
established authorities are wrong.”
Pathos is an appeal based on emotion. Sales and promotional advertising
makes active use of emotional appeal by teasing human desires, particularly
greed. The intent is to motivate people to take action. As such, a pathos-driven
argument is probably the strongest canon of speech. Even if a logos-based
argument is logically sound, it will fall on deaf ears when compared to an
ethos-based argument. Motivational speeches are typically ethos-based. Coaches,
managers, and political leaders make extensive use of pathos-driven
speeches. As an example, consider Franklin Roosevelt’s “fireside chats” which
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
argument. To illustrate, Adolph Hitler was able to motivate the German people
to develop a military state, but his discourse was often laced with lies. Also,
advertising often substitutes facade for substance and as such, the public
should exercise “caveat emptor” (let the buyer beware). Aside from this,
pathos is a great way to get your point across.
“Whenever you find humor, you find pathos close by his side.”
– Edwin P. Whipple
Rarely will anyone rely on a single canon of speech. Instead, a good argument
makes use of all three to get a point across. Churchill, for example, often relied
on his reputation as elder statesman to get his point across, as well as presenting
arguments appealing to logic and emotion. A careful blend of the three canons of
speech, spoken at the right time and place can work wonders.
KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE
Critical to all of this is a clear understanding of your audience in terms
of their knowledge, intelligence, “hot buttons,” moral values, interests,
and their place in society. The more you know about your intended audience,
the better you can prepare an effective argument. Never forget that you
speak to communicate. As such, you must speak at the level of your
audience, not above or below it. I seriously doubt you will impress a
group of grape pickers using a vernacular picked up at MIT. If you want to
persuade people, choose your words carefully.
“Remember not only to say the right thing in the right place, but far more difficult
still, to leave unsaid the wrong thing at the tempting moment.”
– Benjamin Franklin
THE NEED FOR ORGANIZATION
Finally, organize your argument carefully. I am a big believer of the
concept of, “Tell your audience what you are going to tell them;
Tell them, then; Tell you what you’ve told them.” A speech with no
direction goes nowhere fast. This means you should have an Introduction,
a Body, and a Summary to conclude your argument.
Obviously, the above discussion is equally applicable to both the written and
spoken word. What is important here is that the more we know about the
art of persuasion, the better we can devise suitable oratory or text for
expressing our argument. To recap the points expressed herein:
1. Know your audience
2. Develop a speech conducive to your audience, using the three canons
of speech and with some form of structure.
Obviously, situations will arise where you will not be able to effectively
prepare a formal speech but, instead, must formulate an argument on the
spot. As long as you are cognizant of these elements, you’ll be more
effective in your discourse.
More importantly, keep your cool when making your pitch and stay in
control. Debate should be tempered so that you do not engage the
ire of your audience (unless that is your intent). Viciousness should be
left at the door. Be organized, be prepared, and enjoy the ride.
“In a republican nation, whose citizens are to be led by reason and persuasion
and not by force, the art of reasoning becomes of first importance”
– Thomas Jefferson