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Weekly 3: Tools for persuading


Idea Journal Weekly 3

April 8 · Issue #29 · View online

We combine 3 ideas to help you think differently and be more creative.

Summary: Listen to the ancients before giving your next speech. Speak your audience’s language to get your point across. Use the “magic power” of persuasion ethically. (~8 min read)

#1. The ancients knew the best way to write a speech.
Author and former advertising executive Michael Parker writes in his book It’s Not What You Say that: “Rhetoric can be defined as the art of persuasion, influencing with words rather than force.”
Parker notes that the below “five canons” of rhetoric are just as valuable today as when they were laid out over 2,000 years ago by the masters of this art Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian. (The Latin term is in parentheses.)
1. Invention (Inventio)
This first step requires you to do research and use your imagination to explore “all the possible avenues of what you might say,” while keeping your audience’s interests in mind.
The goal here is to find a central idea that will serve as a framework for everything that follows, and which will ultimately lead to a “eureka” moment in the minds of your audience.
2. Arrangement (Dispositio)
There are 6 main parts of a speech that help you organize your arguments for maximum impact: 
2a. Exordium: prepare your audience in such a way that they will be willing to listen to you.
2b. Narration: lay out your issue or proposition.
2c. Partition: summarize the arguments you’re about to make, so that your audience can follow you more easily.
2d. Proof: make your arguments.
2e. Refutation: present and destroy any opposing arguments.
2f. Peroration: summarize your key points and build up to “a forceful conclusion, with an emotional appeal as the lasting impression.”
3. Style (Elocutio)
Style here can be defined as the way you come across – “an unusual use of language.”
This can include rhetorical questions, unexpected figures of speech, or clever turns of phrase.
But Parker writes that no matter how brilliant you are, or how compelling your material, your style has to be appropriate for your audience: “If your audience doesn’t feel that you are one of them, speaking their language and therefore worth hearing, they won’t listen.”
4. Memory (Memoria)
Leaving a lasting impression with your audience is crucial to delivering an effective speech.
Here are a few tips:
  • Learn and memorize your speech so that you can deliver it without a script – if you need notes, use key headings as signposts to keep you on track.
  • Be spontaneous – either “apparent or real.”
  • Make “considered pauses” at important points in the speech.
5. Delivery (Actio)
Make eye contact with your audience, use hand gestures, voice variation or other techniques to make your delivery as impactful as possible.
Parker cites the story that when Cicero spoke, the people said “How well he spoke,” but when Demosthenes finished, they said “Let’s march!”
#2. To communicate more effectively with others, speak their language.
Author and political consultant Frank Luntz writes in his book Words That Work that there is a place for beautiful language – words that are timeless and ideal in some abstract, philosophical sense.
But that’s not the world most of us live in.
For Luntz, “We live in an age when the world is no longer ruled as it once was by the Latin of the elites, but by the common, democratic tongues of the people. And if you want to reach the people, you must first speak their language.”
That’s because what matters in the end is not what you say, but what people hear.
To help make your communication more effective, Luntz offers the following 10 rules:
1. Use small words
Luntz points out that the most memorable catchphrases and brand names often contain one- or at most two-syllable words.
And when they don’t start so simply, we tend to shorten them, so that International Business Machines becomes IBM, Macontish becomes Mac, and Federal Express becomes FedEx.
2. Use short sentences
Luntz advises that you should never use a sentence when a phrase will do, and never use four words when three can say just as much.
“Got Milk?” and Nike’s “Just do it” have been some of the most effective advertising slogans, and their messages would’ve been diluted with more words.
3. Your credibility is as important as your philosophy
Luntz writes that people “have to believe it to buy it.”
He argues that one of the reasons BMW’s assertive tagline “ultimate driving machine” has worked so well is that people perceive the performance of the company’s cars as living up to the hype.
4. Be consistent
Repetition works. As Luntz points out, “Good language is like the Energizer Bunny. It keeps going … and going … and going.”
5. Offer something new
Many of us are easily bored – if something doesn’t shock or surprise us, we’re likely to move on.
Luntz recommends a simple test to determine whether your message has followed this rule: “If it generates an ‘I didn’t know that’ response, you have succeeded.”
6. Sound and texture are important
The sound and texture of your language can be just as important as the words you use.
A string of words that have the same sound, or start with the same first letter, or have the same “syllabic cadence” can be more memorable than a more random collection of sounds.
Here’s how this can be applied to the description of previous five rules in this list: simplicity, brevity, credibility, consistency, and novelty.
7. Speak aspirationally
Effective messages speak to what people want to hear.
In a political context, two of most impactful and lasting messages are FDR’s “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself,” and JFK’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
8. Paint a picture
Luntz notes that there’s practical truth behind the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words, and he suggests that, whenever possible you should visualize your point.
M&M’s “Melts in your mouth and not in your hand” tagline is one of the more effective examples of this strategy.
9. Ask a question
Luntz argues that “personalized communication is the best communication,” and asking questions can make delivering your message more interactive.
One of the more effective examples is: What would you do if you were in my shoes?
10. Make the context and relevance clear
For Luntz, this is the most important rule of effective communication, and he offers two tips:
  • You have to give people the why of your message before you can get to the therefore and the so what.
  • Given all the other messages competing for our attention, your target audience must see “individual, personal meaning and value in your words.“
#3. Some words and phrases are more persuasive than others.
In his book How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big, author Scott Adams writes: “If you see persuasion as a form of manipulation, and you see manipulation as a form of evil, that worldview will keep you from being as persuasive as you might be.”
But there’s an important ethical consideration to keep in mind.
While you don’t want to persuade people to do things that aren’t in their best interest, Adams notes that, unfortunately, “we do not live in a world where good arguments always win.”
He points out that in some cases, you may even have a “moral obligation” to be manipulative if you know that it will create a good result for everyone involved. For example, manipulating coworkers to do better work is typically good for everyone.
For Adams, being a good persuader is like having a “magic power” and here are a few of the words and phrases he recommends to help you be more persuasive:
Adams cites research by psychologist Robert Cialdini, which shows that when you ask someone for a favor, they’re more likely to cooperate if you use the word because.
This is the case even when you’re reasoning isn’t particularly strong, as in: May I borrow a hundred dollars, because I don’t get paid until next week?
Would you mind … ?
Asking this question signals both honesty and a concern for the other person, which is a “powerful combination” when you need someone’s help.
I just wanted to clarify …
Adams writes that sometimes you hear statements that are so false, or even mean, “that you know a frontal assault would only start a fight.”
In those cases, it can be more effective by approaching the issue sideways and starting your question with I just wanted to clarify.
For example, I just wanted to clarify: Are you saying you’re okay with an 80 percent chance of going to jail, or did I hear your plan wrong?
As Adams points out, no one likes to be proven wrong, but most people are happy to clarify – even if the clarification is “a complete reversal of an earlier position.”
Quote of the Week
“What is democracy, but the idea that the art of persuasion should be formally enshrined at the center of the political process? What is law, but a way of giving words formal strength in the world, and what is the law court but a place where the art of persuasion gives shape to civil society? And what, in any society where one person or group exercises power over another – which is to say any society at all – is the instrument of that power but words?”
- Author and journalist Sam Leith in his book Words Like Loaded Pistols
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