Persuasion is all about changing minds and changing actions. If you aren’t buying a product, then the persuasive campaign is designed to get you to buy it. You already bought it? Then, buy more!
To persuade, you have to present a case, that is, determine where others stand, where you want them to stand, and the arguments you have to make to convince them to change. It stands to reason that to make a strong case, your arguments need to be strong.
There are two ways to make your case stronger: spot weaknesses in other arguments and avoid weakness in your own. The problem is that weak arguments masquerade as strong ones, so this can be quite a difficult task.
Breakdown in Logic
Weak arguments are generally weak because there is a breakdown in the logic. Assumptions are made that do not necessarily fit. Unfortunately, they often feel like they fit. It makes sense on some level, and therefore can be quite powerful.
You see everyone panic and sell their shares on Wall Street, so you figure this must be the right thing to do, so…
Someone who is not a doctor (but plays one on TV) tells you that a certain type of medication is better than other leading brands, so…
You wore your lucky shirt the last three games, and your team won all three, so…
Why should I listen to you and stop smoking? You smoke, too, so…
You get the idea. These types of arguments are weak for a number of reasons. Sometimes people all do the right thing and sometimes they don’t. But, making a decision based on their actions is not always a good idea. Also, an actor playing a doctor does not have any medical expertise beyond what the writers tell him to say. Your lucky shirt has less to do with a team winning than their skill level, the amount of years dedicated to the sport, team cohesion, their will to win, or even their ability to avoid injury. And, just because someone gives you advice she can’t take herself doesn’t mean it’s not good advice.
All of these arguments make assumptions about the way the world works that is not necessarily true or else misses some important element. And, yes, there are any number of books that can help you determine logical fallacies. But, there’s an easier way to determine the strength of a case.
The Strongest Argument
Ultimately, the strongest case you can make is determining true benefit to the individual or group that you are trying to persuade. In other words, rather than focus on the arguments or appeals, look to the change itself and determine if that change benefits the audience.
A smoker won’t change if you say, “Because I think it’s stinky” or “because second-hand smoke kills others.” There’s no benefit to the smoker. But, if you show a relationship between smoking and health problems, or how much a smoker can save by not spending money on cigarettes, you stand a better chance of changing their minds or their actions.
The strongest case will always be the one that has arguments that truly benefit to the audience. Think of their good, show them how the change does them good, and they will more likely change.