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14.5: Persuasive Strategies

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    In addition to understanding how your audience feels about the topic you are addressing, you will need to take steps to help them see you as credible and interesting. The audience’s perception of you as a speaker is influential in determining whether or not they will choose to accept your proposition. Aristotle called this element of the speech ethos, “a Greek word that is closely related to our terms ethical and ethnic” (Campbell & Huxman, 2009). He taught speakers to establish credibility with the audience by appearing to have good moral character, common sense, and concern for the audience’s well-being (Beebe & Beebe, 2003). Campbell and Huxman (2009) explain that ethos is not about conveying that you, as an individual, are a good person. It is about “mirror[ing] the characteristics idealized by [the] culture or group” (ethnic), and demonstrating that you make good moral choices with regard to your relationship within the group (ethics).

    While there are many things speakers can do to build their ethos throughout the speech, “assessments of ethos often reflect superficial first impressions,” and these first impressions linger long after the speech has concluded (Zarefsky, 2005). This means that what you wear and how you behave, even before opening your mouth, can go far in shaping your ethos. Be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion and setting in which you speak. Also work to appear confident, but not arrogant, and be sure to maintain enthusiasm about your topic throughout the speech. Give great attention to the crafting of your opening sentences because they will set the tone for what your audience should expect of your personality as you proceed.

    I covered two presidents, LBJ and Nixon, who could no longer convince, persuade, or govern, once people had decided they had no credibility; but we seem to be more tolerant now of what I think we should not tolerate.

    ~ Helen Thomas


    Another way to enhance your ethos, and your chances of persuading the audience, is to use sound arguments. In a persuasive speech, the argument will focus on the reasons for supporting your specific purpose statement. This argumentative approach is what Aristotle referred to as logos, or the logical means of proving an argument (Braet, 1992).

    When offering an argument you begin by making an assertion that requires a logical leap based on the available evidence (Campbell & Huxman 2009). One of the most popular ways of understanding how this process works was developed by British philosopher Stephen Toulmin (Herrick, 2011). Toulmin explained that basic arguments tend to share three common elements: claim, data, and warrant. The claim is an assertion that you want the audience to accept. Data refers to the preliminary evidence on which the claim is based. For example, if I saw large gray clouds in the sky, I might make the claim that “it is going to rain today.” The gray clouds (data) are linked to rain (claim) by the warrant, an often unstated general connection, that large gray clouds tend to produce rain. The warrant is a connector that, if stated, would likely begin with “since” or “because.” In our rain example, if we explicitly stated all three elements, the argument would go something like this: There are large gray clouds in the sky today (data). Since large gray clouds tend to produce rain (warrant), it is going to rain today (claim). However, in our regular encounters with argumentation, we tend to only offer the claim and (occasionally) the warrant.

    To strengthen the basic argument, you will need backing for the claim. Backing provides foundational support for the claim (Herrick, 2011) by offering examples, statistics, testimony, or other information which further substantiates the argument. To substantiate the rain argument we have just considered, you could explain that the color of a cloud is determined by how much light the water in the cloud is reflecting. A thin cloud has tiny drops of water and ice crystals which scatter light, making it appear white. Clouds appear gray when they are filled with large water droplets which are less able to reflect light (Brill, 2003).

    Table \(\PageIndex{1}\): The Toulmin Model
    Basic Argument



    A hard time finding a place to park on campus

    The school needs more parking spaces


    If I can’t find a place to park, there must be a shortage of spaces

    Argument with Backing



    Obesity is a serious problem in the U.S.

    U.S. Citizens should be encouraged to eat less processed foods.


    Processed foods contributed to obesity more than natural or unprocessed foods.


    “As a rule processed foods are more ‘energy dense’ than fresh foods: they contain less water and fiber but more added fat and sugar, which makes them both less filling and more fattening.” (Pollan, 2007)

    The elements that Toulmin identified (see Table above) may be arranged in a variety of ways to make the most logical argument. As you reason through your argument you may proceed inductively, deductively, or causally, toward your claim (See chapter 13). To review, inductive reasoning moves from specific examples to a more general claim. For example, if you read online reviews of a restaurant chain called Walt’s Wine & Dine and you noticed that someone reported feeling sick after eating at a Walt’s, and another person reported that the Walt’s they visited was understaffed, and another commented that the tables in the Walt’s they ate at had crumbs left on them, you might conclude (or claim) that the restaurant chain is unsanitary. To test the validity of a general claim, Beebe and Beebe encourage speakers to consider whether there are “enough specific instances to support the conclusion,” whether the specific instances are typical, and whether the instances are recent (Beebe & Beebe, 2003).

    The opposite of inductive reasoning is deductive reasoning, moving from a general principle to a claim regarding a specific instance. In order to move from general to specific we tend to use syllogisms. If you recall, a syllogism begins with a major (or general) premise, then moves to a minor premise, then concludes with a specific claim. For example, if you know that all dogs bark (major premise), and your neighbor has a dog (minor premise), you could then conclude that your neighbor’s dog barks (specific claim). To verify the accuracy of your specific claim, you must verify the truth and applicability of the major premise. What evidence do you have that all dogs bark? Is it possible that only most dogs bark? Next, you must also verify the accuracy of the minor premise. If the major premise is truly generalizable, and both premises are accurate, your specific claim should also be accurate.

    Your reasoning may also proceed causally. Causal reasoning examines related events to determine which one caused the other. You may begin with a cause and attempt to determine its effect. For example, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010, scientists explained that because many animals in the Gulf were nesting and reproducing at the time, the spill could wipe out “an entire generation of hundreds of species” (Donovan, 2010). Their argument reasoned that the spill (cause) would result in species loss (effect). Two years later, the causal reasoning might be reversed. If we were seeing species loss in the Gulf (effect), we could reason that it was a result of the oil spill (cause). Both of these claims rely on the evidence available at the time. To make the first claim, scientists not only offered evidence that animals were nesting and reproducing, but they also looked at the effects of an oil spill that occurred 21 years earlier in Alaska (Donovan, 2010). To make the second claim, scientists could examine dead animals washing up on the coast to determine whether their deaths were caused by oil.


    While we have focused heavily on logical reasoning, we must also recognize the strong role that emotions play in the persuasive process. Aristotle called this element of the speech pathos. Pathos draws on the emotions, sympathies, and prejudices of the audience to appeal to their non-rational side (Beebe & Beebe, 2003; Reike, Sillars, Peterson, 2009). Human beings are constantly in some emotional state, which means that tapping into an audience’s emotions can be vital to persuading them to accept your proposition (Dillard & Meijnders, 2002).

    One of the most helpful strategies in appealing to your audience’s emotions is to use clear examples that illustrate your point. Illustrations can be crafted verbally, nonverbally, or visually. To offer a verbal illustration, you could tell a compelling story. For example, when fundraising for breast cancer research, Nancy Brinker, creator of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has plenty of compelling statistics and examples to offer. Yet, she regularly talks about her sister, explaining:

    Susan G. Komen fought breast cancer with her heart, body and soul. Throughout her diagnosis, treatments, and endless days in the hospital, she spent her time thinking of ways to make life better for other women battling breast cancer instead of worrying about her own situation. That concern for others continued even as Susan neared the end of her fight.

    Brinker promised her sister that she would continue her fight against breast cancer. This story compels donors to join her fight.

    Speakers can also tap into emotions using nonverbal behaviors to model the desired emotion for their audience. In the summer of 2012, the U.S. House of Representatives debated holding the Attorney General in contempt for refusing to release documents concerning a controversial gun-tracking operation. Arguing for a contempt vote, South Carolina Representative Trey Gowdy did not simply state his claim; instead he raised his voice, slowed his pace, and used hand motions to convey anger with what he perceived as deception on the part of the Attorney General (Gowdy, 2012). His use of volume, tone, pace, and hand gestures enhanced the message and built anger in his audience.

    Speech is power: speech is to persuade, to convert, to compel. It is to bring another out of his bad sense into your good sense.

    ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

    In addition to verbal and nonverbal illustrations, visual imagery can enhance the emotional appeal of a message. For example, we have all heard about the dangers of drugs, and there are multiple campaigns that attempt to prevent people from even trying them. However, many young adults experiment with drugs under the assumption that they are immune from the negative effects if they only use the drug recreationally. To counter this assumption regarding methamphetamines, the Montana Meth project combines controversial statements with graphic images on billboards to evoke fear of the drug (see the Montana Meth Project for some disturbing examples). Young adults may have heard repeated warnings that meth is addictive and that it has the potential to cause sores, rotten teeth, and extreme weight loss, but Montana Meth Project’s visual display is more compelling because it turns the audience’s stomach, making the message memorable. This image, combined with the slogan, “not even once,” conveys the persuasive point without the need for other forms of evidence and rational argument.

    Appeals to fear, like those in the Montana Meth Project ads, have proven effective in motivating people to change a variety of behaviors. However, speakers must be careful with their use of this emotion. Fear appeals tend to be more effective when they appeal to a high-level fear, such as death, and they are more effective when offered by speakers with a high level of perceived credibility (Beebe & Beebe, 2003). Fear appeals are also more persuasive when the speaker can convince the audience they have the ability to avert the threat. If audiences doubt their ability to avoid or minimize the threat, the appeal may backfire (Witte & Allen, 2000).

    I would rather try to persuade a man to go along, because once I have persuaded him, he will stick. If I scare him, he will stay just as long as he is scared, and then he is gone.

    ~ Dwight D. Eisenhower

    All of Aristotle’s strategies, ethos, logos, and pathos, are interdependent. The most persuasive speakers will combine these strategies to varying degrees based on their specific purpose and audience.

    Contributors and Attributions

    14.5: Persuasive Strategies is shared under a CC BY license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by LibreTexts.

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