Chapter 11: Persuasive

11.1 Foundations of Persuasion

Every day we are bombarded by persuasive messages. Some messages are mediated and designed to get us to purchase specific products or vote for political candidates, while others might come from our loved ones and are designed to get us to help around the house or join them for a night out. Whatever the message being sent, we are constantly being persuaded and endeavoring to persuade others. In this chapter, we focus on persuasive speaking. We revisit the three forms of proof including ethos, pathos, and logos in more detail and consider several common flaws in reasoning, called argumentative fallacies. Next, we focus on the ability of persuasion to change or challenge attitudes, values, and beliefs. After discussing two theories of persuasion, social judgment, and cognitive dissonance, we introduce three organizational patterns for making a successful persuasive case.

Learning Objectives

  1. Define persuasion.
  2. Understand three forms of proof.
  3. Identify common argumentative fallacies.
  4. Identify strategies for building a persuasive argument.
  5. Explain a cognitive approach to persuasion.
  6. Understand three organizational patterns for persuasive speaking.

The nature of persuasion has changed over the last fifty years as a result of the influx of new communication technology. People are inundated by persuasive messages in today’s world, so thinking about how to create persuasive messages effectively is very important for modern public speakers. Conversely, by learning how to make effective persuasive arguments, we become better auditors of others’ persuasive appeals.

More than a century ago, public speakers had to contend only with the words printed on paper for attracting and holding an audience’s attention. Today, public speakers must contend with laptops, iPads, smartphones, billboards, television sets, and many other tools that can send a range of persuasive messages immediately to a target audience. However, while the technology for delivering persuasive appeals has changed, all persuasive appeals still rely upon three forms of proof that were in play more than 2,500 years ago.

What Is Persuasion?

Persuasion is an attempt to get a person to behave in a manner, or embrace a point of view related to values, attitudes, and beliefs, that he or she would not have done otherwise.

Three Forms of Proof

Rhetorical scholars all the way back to Aristotle have identified at least three forms of proof: ethos, pathos, and logos. Some of the most ancient knowledge ever taught in Western Civilization, indeed the first pay-for-education lessons, concerned persuasive speaking. There are three forms of “proof,” or reasons for why audiences agree with a speaker-persuader. These forms date back to antiquity, to the ancient Greeks.

Ethos is your credibility as a speaker. It is the degree to which an audience perceives a speaker having its best interests at heart. The Greeks referred to this as the speaker having: Good Will, Good Sense, and Good Morals. Today, part of this perception depends upon whether the speaker’s presentation is well organized and whether the speaker seems knowledgeable about the subject, which includes having credible source material and an engaging speaking style.

Pathos refers to the emotional impact of your message. Indeed, it is not enough that your argument makes sense. Your argument must also resonate with an audience, or help an audience identify with your topic or stance. Pathos also includes appeals to cultural heritage or shared values. For instance, both pro-war and anti-war speakers must appeal to patriotism if their argument has a chance to be successful. Personal stories, or hypothetical stories, are often used for the purpose of helping the audience identify with a speaker’s stance.

Logos refers to the reasoning employed by a speaker. A good argument is logical; it has a correct internal structure, insofar as each point relates accurately to other points, and is complete – “no stone left unturned.” Evidence in the form of statistical data and/or real or hypothetical examples are part of this form of proof. An argument does not have to be “right” to be structurally sound, where a speaker’s claims are backed up by credible evidence. Argumentative Fallacies, or flawed logical appeals, are more common than many of us realize. Argumentative fallacies are embedded in many of the persuasive appeals found in advertisements and political campaigns. We even commit these fallacies in our own lives and relationships. The following is a short list of some of the more common fallacies that we encounter daily:

  1. Ad Hominem: attacking a person’s character instead of the content of that person’s argument. Engaging in name-calling rather than addressing another person’s argument.
  2. Appeal to Authority: appeal to a popular figure that is not an authority in that area.
  3. Bandwagon: going along with the crowd in support of a conclusion.
  4. Begging the Question: implicitly using your conclusion as a premise (reason).
  5. False Analogy: a failure in analogical reasoning that draws an inappropriate comparison between two ideas or situations.
  6. False Cause: a failure in causal reasoning usually relying on coincidence or correlation.
  7. False Dilemma: assumes falsely that a complicated problem has particular choices when there are more.
  8. Hasty Generalization: a failure in inductive reasoning where assumptions (stereotypes) are based on insufficient evidence—essentially making a rushed conclusion without considering all of the variables.
  9. Non Sequitur: drawing a conclusion which does not follow from the evidence.
  10. Red Herring: introduces an irrelevant or secondary subject to divert the attention from the main topic.
  11. Slippery Slope: a string of “if-then” statements that form what may seem like a valid argument; but, typically draws a conclusion that is exaggerated.
  12. Straw Man: distorting an opposing view so that it is easy to refute.


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