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Methods of Persuasion

We typically are persuaded by a combination of three “modes of proof.”

Appeals to Reason

  • Reason ought to be the backbone behind all effective speeches. As this course is largely about critical thinking, much of the course’s content will teach the students how to use sound and valid reasoning, while avoiding fallacies and other manipulative attempts, to persuade others.

Appeals to Emotion

  • Humans are not always wholly rational beings, and there is nothing wrong with admitting that we help others because we are driven by compassion, not logic or the good reasons of traditional arguments, to do so. Additionally, we often respond much more strongly to emotional appeals, so devising appropriate and fair ways to appeal to our senses of hope, fear, happiness, sadness and so forth certainly can enhance the odds of successfully persuading others.

Appeals to the speaker’s own credibility, trustworthiness and character

  • Much more so than when persuading with the written word, audiences judge the source (the speaker). In fact, if audiences don’t trust a speaker or perceive that the speaker is not actually knowledgeable, then the persuasion often fails before it’s even truly listened to or examined critically.

Thus, speakers must do a lot of work to indicate to audiences that they are knowledgeable and passionate about the topic (it’s best to do so in the introduction), and they must demonstrate that the content of the speech is being delivered for the audience’s benefit. This is done both with content and with delivery. Speakers should overtly explain to the audience why they are experts. Then, demonstrate that expertise with a confident, practiced, fluid delivery. Reading destroys one’s credibility; stumbling excessively, using too many verbal influencies (such as “um,” “ah” or “like”) also harms a speaker’s credibility.

Ideally, speakers would find an appropriate mixture of these three methods of persuasion to construct a compelling argument.

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