Two Kinds of Persuasive Speeches

October 30, 2012 | | Comments Off on Two Kinds of Persuasive Speeches

The previous posts show a definite trend toward tackling the problem of framing a persuasive speech. Term after term, the idea of persuasion is simple enough to grasp, but seemingly difficult to execute. I can’t tell you how many students come to me with an idea for persuasion that sounds something like this:

“I’m going to persuade you to know how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich…”

(By the way, the previous speech– an informative speech– I will get the same student telling me that he is going to inform me on why peanut butter and jelly sandwiches are better than turkey on rye (yep, that’s actually persuasion!))

So, you can see that showing us how to make something is not at all about persuasion– it’s skill acquisition (i.e. informative). It’s clear to me that I need to simplify things.

(Disclaimer to all the rhetoricians out there: I am not pretending this is the end all be all of persuasive speeches. This is merely a clearer way toward understanding the basic mechanics of persuasion. You got a problem with it: take it up with the National Council on Public Speaking Standards!)

Two Kinds of Persuasive Speeches

For the sake of developing speeches, there are really only two kinds for you to develop:

1. Proving the problem exists

2. Proving the solution works

That’s about as simple as it gets. All you have to do is what you normally do: make some claim to the truth. If you want examples, listen to politicians assert all kinds of so-called truths. It’s even better when they square off at a debate. You can hear both parties make claims that are diametrically opposed to each other, and both parties may actually believe what each is saying! Give it a try:

  • Going Green will bring jobs to America! (Claim that the solution of “Going Green” will work versus not “Going Green”)
  • We don’t have enough money to sustain our business (claim that there’s a financial problem which may be unknown or not believed to be true)
  • Our educational system sucks! (claim that there’s a problem with how our children are educated… is it true?)

I think you get the idea. Now, the next step is to prove your claim is true. For that you need solid arguments, which we are going to call “proofs.”

Show Me the Evidence!

Now that you’ve made the claim, how do we know it’s true? Will Going Green bring jobs to America? Are we really running out of money? Does the educational system really “suck?”

Prove it. Show me the evidence.

There are different ways of going about this. While not an exhaustive list, I have provided a few means of proving your claim. You might note that some of these methods are weak, if not completely invalid. If you want to persuade, make sure your proofs are strong.

1. Pure assertion— This is really just making the claim with the implied “because I say it’s true” or “everybody knows it’s true.” Um, I hope you think this is weak, because I do. And because I think it’s weak, it must be weak, right?!

Be careful. As silly as this sounds, we often fall prey to this “proof” when someone assigns the title of “expert” next to their name. Fancy titles, awards, or endorsements from celebrities or other so-called experts should often be a red flag that you are simply getting the opinion of another person who may or may not be qualified to make that assertion. Be particularly cautious when that “expert” is making claims about something outside his or her field of expertise. A brain surgeon may well be smart, but that expertise and intelligence do not necessarily qualify him or her to discuss matters regarding the economy.

2. Case— Sometimes a personal account (“this actually happened to me”) or a third party (“Joe Public had it happen to him!”). This can be persuasive, particularly if you are able to connect the story/case with the audience on an emotional level. This is where you talk about a poor, injured puppy not getting medical attention last month because the Humane Society isn’t receiving enough financial support.

3. Statistics— Instead of citing one case, you use many cases (hundreds or thousands). For example, you might find that grade point averages for students have dropped from 3.6 to 2.4 over the last 30 years (according to some excellent source that you will cite in the speech, right? I don’t need to remind you about that, right? Right!). This would be a “proof” that the educational system “sucks” as you claimed. (And, no, it does not conclusively prove anything, but it shows you are trying to support your claim, which is the essence of persuasion. Whether you are actually right or actually wrong or using good or bad reasoning is a completely separate issue!)


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