Understanding Position in Persuasion

April 27, 2012 | | Comments Off on Understanding Position in Persuasion

I am often asked by students to approve their persuasive topic. Unfortunately, I run into the problem of vague topic ideas, such as “exercise” or “charity.”

“Is this topic persuasive?” I am asked.

My answer: That’s too vague to respond either way. It’s like me saying, “I want to persuade you on computers.” What specifically are you trying to persuade me to believe or do?

Understand Where You Stand… and Where They Stand

In order to persuade, two people have to have differing opinions regarding the topic. To assess this, answer the following questions:

This is how I feel (about whatever topic, let’s say “donating to a charity organization”): ___________________________________________________________

This is how others feel (about the topic): ___________________________

(source that proves this is true?) _________________________________


Are they different? If you find that some trusted source states that everyone donates $100 a month to this charity and is really happy about it, it will be difficult to convince them to donate $100 a month to that charity… because they already do!

Let’s try again:

I think people should donate to Charity X

People don’t often donate to Charity X (SomeTrustedSource.com states that Charity X only receives about $40 a year toward helping others).

Now, you can begin to persuade people to adopt your belief and/or act upon it.

Does that make sense? Otherwise, here’s the path you’ll end up on:

“Do you like giving to charity? Well, I do, and I think you should give more for charity. Tonight, I’ll talk about what it is, how you can help, and where to go sign up.”

There’s no evidence that we don’t already give time and resources to charity (or Charity X in particular). The service itself is not clearly defined. Which one? How much? How often? And, the main points suggest an informative speech. Not one of these points addresses “why” I should do as you say.

Make the Point, Make It Real

My point is for you to be very specific. Don’t say, I want to talk about “charity” and then eventually talk about a specific foundation. Go right into that foundation.

Once again, any topic is fine IF you have evidence to support your claim. You can’t say that lots of people fail to donate to charity organizations. How many is “lots of people?” Where did you get that idea? How do you KNOW this is true?

Remember, saying so doesn’t make it so. Where’s the evidence that convinces me that your claim is correct? Make sure that’s in the speech.

It’s important to establish that position (I’m here and they are there, and I want them to come over here), but “they” have to be real people (rather, clearly defined people).

As always, I hope this has been insightful. let me know how else I can help in develop your speeches!

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