The Art of Persuasion

Written by Siddhi Latey (Weloquent)

My philosophy professor had a gaze of warm scrutiny that seemed to see right through your lies. He would balance his half-moon gold-rimmed glasses on the tip of his nose and look at you intently if you were lying about reading up on the philosophy of Descartes or Kant. He had a peculiar way of teaching wherein he would explain contradictory philosophies or statements that were morally complicated and then set up a debate panel for the class to argue on either side and persuade their counterpart to agree. By persuasion he wanted us to influence each other’s opinions so that we could, upon careful consideration, choose for ourselves. He believed that ignorance was a bane.   

On one such occasion when we were studying Socrates, the class was left in an almost blasphemous suspension when our professor revealed that Socrates was pessimistic about democracy and unfortunately for me, I was given the hard task of persuading the students to see Socrates’ point of view of being against democracy in the next class. I researched thoroughly on why Socrates disliked democracy, evaluated the flaws of democracy, and collected the relevant evidence. I was surprised after my presentation to see that I had eventually managed to persuade almost every student, if not for long but definitely, momentarily. Impressed, my professor gifted me a book by Aristotle–The Art of Rhetoric to further master the art of persuasion.   

One of Aristotle’s cardinal discoveries was the knowledge of persuasive speaking, and ever since, it has held great importance. We are at all times either consciously or unconsciously persuading one another–right from politics to permission from our parents. It is considered an essential business skill relevant to job seekers, leaders, salespeople, entrepreneurs, students etc. as a part of their daily life.

Persuasion is not to be mistaken for manipulation, which proliferates counterproductive ideologies by distorting or withholding truth. On the contrary, persuasion aims to empower collective growth through pursuit of truth. Aristotle formalised persuasive speaking through tripartite divisions–Logos, Pathos, and Ethos.

The following are some tools of persuasion, you can employ to present thoughts and arguments convincingly:-

Convincing Through Ethos

Trust is an important factor that cannot be overlooked when addressing an audience and willing them to listen to you. Socrates while arguing against democracy with Adeimantus tried to portray this through an example. Suppose you decided to go on a voyage–who would you want to be in charge of your ship? A commoner who knows nothing about the vessel or a trained sailor who has undertaken various journeys? Naturally, you would demand for the latter. Credibility is extremely important in securing the trust of your audience. Just as you would trust a sailor to take care of your journeys in the seas, your audience would only place their trust in you as a speaker when you demonstrate your credibility. This can be done by showing testimonials of objective validation, or if you are an expert on the subject, have conducted deep research and can answer questions asked without hesitating, etc.

Appealing to Pathos        

As humans are social animals by nature, our decisions rely largely on emotions. It is important to understand what motivates your audience and from there on structure your arguments to sway them in the direction you want. A persuasive orator knows that appealing to the values and the beliefs of your audience is of utmost importance..

Preparing Through Logos

Through Logos you call upon the rational side of your audience’s brain. This is done by providing reliable data and facts to support your statements. Your statements have to be easily understood and at the same time must make logical sense.      

Structuring Your Arguments

A great way to begin is by grabbing the attention of your audience through a “hook.” You could do the same by initiating a question to engage your audience, or an influential statement. Then you move to presenting your side of the argument followed by speaking about the opposing viewpoint that is convincingly refuted. Last but not the least, conclude by reiterating your stance on the topic of the discourse.

Using Metaphors

The creative use of language is of paramount importance so that your speech does not run dry. One simple way to do this is by using metaphors in your talk that – through similarity – have the ability to make ideas concrete. It encourages a clearer understanding of the messages and ideas that you are attempting to convey. 

Keeping Messages Concise

When it comes to speaking, less is always more. Brevity is another important element as there is a limit to how much people can absorb. Lengthy messages distract audiences, and so you have to start with what is most important and work at being concise.