Rhetoric: Mastering The Art of Persuasion

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To keep the audience at the edge of their seat, every informed communicator has to master the art of storytelling. However, if they wish to persuade their audience, they also have to be skilled when it comes to rhetoric. But what is rhetoric exactly?

According to Aristotle, founder of the rhetorical system, rhetoric is “a faculty of finding the available means of persuasion”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, it is “the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people”.

This 2,500-year-old discipline that suggests persuading (which refers to intellect) your audience rather than convincing it (which refers to emotions) is a good tool for anyone who wishes to better express, analyze, understand, construct and deconstruct arguments. It’s not surprising that our justice system was built from the rhetorical system. 

Being skillful with persuasion is crucial in many fields outside the courtroom. Politicians, publicists, spokespeople, as well as business leaders all have to express their opinions and arguments in a persuasive way to be able to, for example, win votes, manage a crisis, properly represent a brand or build success for their company.

To defend a topic, arguments have to be built strongly and expressed clearly. The right one of three types of rhetorical discourse has to be chosen (see details below), arguments have to be properly set up, and the chosen figures of speech have to support the statements.

Here are three examples of arguments for each type of rhetorical discourse, using as a sample topic the issue of physical inactivity among young people.

1.  Deliberative discourse

Deliberative discourse aims to determine whether it is useful or harmful to take action. This type of discourse uses inductive reasoning, which is when a particular fact leads to a general law.

Example: I noticed that a teenager in my neighbourhood was not doing enough physical activity, therefore all teenagers in my neighbourhood are not physically active enough.

2.  Demonstrative discourse

Demonstrative discourse is used to praise or to blame a person, a thing, a situation, etc. Amplification is often used with this type of argument.

Example: All teenagers in Quebec are incredibly sedentary. The teenagers from my neighbourhood are Quebecers. Therefore, the teenagers from my neighbourhood are incredibly sedentary.

3.  Judicial discourse

Judicial discourse aims to discuss what is fair and what is unfair. In this type of discourse, facts are established, qualified and judged in order to accuse or defend. The standard argument used is the deductive one; it is the reasoning principle that goes from general to particular. 

Example: If sedentariness among teenagers in Quebec is a serious problem, then it follows that physical inactivity among teenagers in Quebec is a scourge.

Learning to structure your ideas, putting forward your arguments and being able to refute those of your opponents to persuade an audience requires a lot of practice, but it can be a major asset. In communications, our main tools are our writing and our speech, two things that have to be well mastered to ensure success.

If you are looking for experienced communicators, we can help!