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Public Speaking: Principles of Persuasive Speaking


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  • Type: Video Tutorial
  • Length: 14:42
  • Media: Video/mp4
  • Use: Watch Online & Download
  • Access Period: Unrestricted
  • Download: MP4 (iPod compatible)
  • Size: 158 MB
  • Posted: 07/01/2009

This lesson was selected from a broader, comprehensive course, Public Speaking. This course and others are available from Thinkwell, Inc. The full course can be found at The full course covers getting started, preparing a speech, presenting the speech, audience considerations, types of speeches, small group communication, and more. The course features three renowned professors: Jess K. Alberts of Arizona State University, Brenda J. Allen of the University of Colorado at Denver, and Dan West of Ohio State University.

Jess K. Alberts is a professor of communication at the Hugh Downs School of Human Communication at Arizona State University, where she was Director from 1995 until 2004. She currently serves as Director of the Conflict Transformation Project and is an associate with Project for Wellness and Work-life. Her research appears regularly in academic journals, and she recently co-authored “Human Communication in Society”. Undergraduates at Arizona State honored her classroom teaching skills with a "Last Lecture Award," and she has twice been a finalist for Professor of the Year at ASU. A nationally known speaker on interpersonal communication, Professor Alberts has given numerous presentations across the country on humor, conflict, and developing and maintaining a passionate life.

Brenda J. Allen is departmental chair and a professor of communication at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, where she teaches organizational communication. She has published numerous articles and book chapters on organizational communication and diversity and she serves on the editorial boards of several communication journals. In 2004, she authored the book “Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity”. While at the University of Colorado at Denver and Health Sciences Center, she has been recognized with the First Annual Award for Outstanding Achievement for Commitment to Diversity and she received the Francine Meritt Award for Outstanding Contributions to the Lives of Women in Communication from the Women’s Caucus of the National Communication Association. Professor Allen is frequently invited to speak at community and professional events.

Dan West is the John A. Cassese Director of Forensics at Ohio University. Previously, he was a distinguished lecturer at Rice University, where he also acted as Director of Forensics. Under his direction, the team consistently placed in the top ten at national debate tournaments. While at Rice, Prof. West won the Outstanding Faculty Associate for Brown College (1999) and the award for Outstanding Teaching in the Humanities and Social Sciences (four times). He is well known for using his engaging speaking style in a variety of settings; his annual presentation of the Rice University Alcohol Policy to the freshman class was always a hit.

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All day, every day, we are bombarded with persuasive messages from a variety of sources. From advertisers in various media, including print, television, radio, to film, to our friends, relatives, co-workers, and so forth. Politicians trying to get us to vote for them--all of these indicate the prevalence of persuasion in our lives.
For example, we try to persuade others: "May I borrow your car?" "Can I get an extension for this assignment?" "Would you go out with me?" "I'm the one you need to hire." Then others try to persuade us: "Come on, go out with me. You can do that paper a little later on." "Hey, look, just five dollars. I swear I'll get it back to you in three days." "Please stay with me and finish this project. It'll only take us an hour. If I have to do it by myself it's going to take two hours."
So, you see, persuasion is everywhere. It's an important element of our democratic society. We have freedom of speech as guaranteed by the 1st Amendment of the Constitution. There are many places on this earth where people don't have that kind of liberty. So learning to develop and deliver persuasive speeches is an invaluable aspect of your life. You can reap benefits in ways that you really cannot anticipate right now.
The main purpose of a persuasive speech is to get your audience to revise or reinforce their beliefs or their behaviors. To introduce this topic, I'm going to talk with you about two primary principles that undergird the persuasive process. First of all, persuasive speaking is designed to influence. Second, persuasive speeches require special attention to ethical issues.
Let's think about this notion of speeches designed to influence. What are you trying to influence? Attitudes, beliefs, values. And there are three things you might attempt to do in your speech. One thing you might try to do is to shape, revise, or reinforce your audience's feelings or beliefs. What you do is set forth a proposition; say, tofu is better than beef. So there you're just trying to get your audience to agree with you. That's all you want from them. Some of them may kind of believe that already, so you reinforce it. Others of them may have not really thought about it and could not care less, so you're trying to get them to that point. And still others may say, "Uh-uh." Right? So you're just trying to get them to think about it and accept what you're saying.
A second thing in terms of influence is you want to urge them to action, get them to do something specifically. For example: "The next time you're hungry for a burger, have a tofu patty instead."
The third thing you do is refute an opposing argument. And here what you do is you make a case against the position that the audience may have. And by the way, you've done your homework, so you know that most of them have this position, that they'd rather have beef than tofu, so you take the position that you want to refute their argument. Their argument will be beef not tofu, so you will refute that argument. Those then are ways that you will try to influence an audience with a persuasive speech.
And it's important that you remember those distinctions as you develop your presentation. Well, in addition, in terms of influence being an important part of persuasive speaking, this requires you to do more with the audience than when you do an informative speech, so it requires a different type or level of interaction. Remember, all speeches are audience-centered, and since in this case you want to ask the audience to change a belief or to do something that they otherwise might not do, then you've got a really serious job before you. You're asking them of much more of a commitment than if you were describing something, explaining something, demonstrating something.
Therefore, you need to be aware of the audience's characteristics and things relevant to them in order to achieve your stated goal. You need to think about their needs and their wants; that is to say, their motivation. Furthermore, because you're seeking to influence the audience, your role is also different than when you do an informative speech. When you do a persuasive speech you are an advocate, a leader, rather than a teacher or a trainer. You also will need to be much more systematic and methodical about laying out your claims, supporting them, providing evidence. In addition, your credibility is going to be much more at stake because as they listen to you they're going to look to see, "Well, why should I believe him?"
Now, asking them to do something, you also may need to appeal more to their emotions as you invite them to make the decision that you would prefer. However, you're going to be very ethical throughout all of this process, so let's talk a little bit about that, which is the second principle of persuasive speaking.
That principle is that persuasive speaking requires special attention to ethical issues. Now, I'm sure you hear this word, "ethical," but have you really thought about what it means? Ethical. First of all, it comes from the Greek ethos, "character." And ethical means involving or expressing moral approval or disapproval.
There are many things you should think about when it comes to ethics and public speaking. The first thing you need to think about is you have to live with the consequences of your speech. Granted, maybe you're doing this for a class assignment. You may be tempted--"Let me just get something that... Okay, I found this stuff in the library. I think I can support my claims, you know, the mechanical aspects of it." But there's so much more to it than that, and I really ask you just to stop and think about what you're doing. Don't compromise your convictions. Choose something that really matters to you and I'll bet you $3.39 that there's something that matters to you. I'll bet there is, and this is an opportunity for you to think that through, to do your homework, to develop an argument, and guess what? Not only is this going to be helpful then for an assignment, but later in your life--please, trust me on this--you don't know what this is going to do in terms of being a tool that you can use in a lot of different situations. So I think it's very important for you to think about it.
You also should demonstrate goodwill for the audience. Keep their best interests in mind and at heart. Could you live with yourself if you convinced the audience to do something that wasn't in their best interest but was something that you figured, "Okay, I can do this; I can say this"? I mean, back to that point, this is a very serious position, a serious role that you'll be taking. So you want to demonstrate good will for the audience.
Related to that, you want to present a worthwhile proposition, and a proposition is your overarching main claim that you're trying to get them to respond to. Again, pick a topic that matters to you and that you believe they, for whatever reason, might disagree. And, of course, one way you know that is through doing your homework, your audience analysis. But also, don't pick some frivolous topic, or don't pick a topic where really you know they probably feel the same way that you do. You know, they call that "preaching to the choir."
Another point is to document your sources. The audience needs to know where did you get that evidence? Who said that? So give verifiable, reputable evidence. The source also needs to be recent. Don't give them something that was so 40 years ago and has changed since then. It needs to be credible, and it also needs to be representative. Sometimes people will find an obscure fact from a good source that is recent, but really doesn't reflect the actuality that most of the other sources would reflect. So don't do that.
You also want to avoid fallacy. Fallacy is an error in reasoning that can weaken or destroy your argument. There are over a hundred different fallacies. Let me explain one of them. It's kind of interesting, and maybe you've heard about it before. It's called "red herring." A red herring is when you introduce something inflammatory that has nothing whatsoever to do with your actual argument. Well, I looked it up and I found two sources that cite different and yet, in some ways, similar origins of the term. The first story says that farmers in England used smoked herring, a type of fish, along the edge of the fields to prevent foxhunters and hounds from galloping through their crops because of the smell. The second story says that prison escapees smeared themselves with herring--ugh--to put dogs off their track. A contemporary example of this is when during the Monica Lewinsky scandal people would routinely say something like, "President Clinton is doing a great job for the economy, so why charge him with sexual impropriety." Can you see why that's a red herring? Well, on the one hand you're talking about doing a great job for the economy to try to throw you off the scent of charging him with sexual impropriety.
Another thing to keep in mind in terms of ethics is to separate opinions from facts, and for that all you have to do is indicate if it's an opinion--"In my opinion"--rather than emphatically stating it as if it were a fact.
Avoid name-calling. When you sling mud, you can't help but get dirty, too. Avoid inappropriate emotional appeals, such as scare tactics. If, however, it feels right that you use some type of fear appeal--and sometimes it will, especially if you take this assignment to heart and dig deep and find something that you're concerned about, and maybe you're concerned about the audience's welfare. Sometimes you have to hit people where it kind of hurts and feels scary, right? But, if you do that you need to incorporate in your presentation ways that they can protect themselves from whatever you're talking about or avoid it.
Finally, avoid coercive tactics, such as physical force, boycotts, or threats. This is a basic principle in terms of ethics, but as you and I both know, sometimes it comes down to that, where at least we feel that that is the best option in terms of what we're confronting.
Keep these two principles in mind--persuasive speaking is about influence, persuasive speaking is an ethical endeavor--as you prepare and deliver your persuasive speeches. Oh, you can believe it's going to require more time and energy than when you do an informative speech, but you also can believe that the effort is going to be worth your while. Because not only will you succeed in this situation of doing that persuasive speech, but also--well, you're likely to succeed. I don't want to promise you that. I think you'll feel good about the experience, and you'll learn something from it, but the skills that you develop will also be useful in other life situations. For example, filtering out those persuasive messages that are everywhere around us, being able to respond to your co-worker, "I'm sorry. I've got to go." Or asking that person out for a date, figuring out what's the best way to do it, and feeling confident in the process. Those are just some examples.
Let's take a look now at a really powerful persuasive speech that embodies many of the issues that I've been addressing.
I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it--and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.
And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you--ask what you can do for your country.
Types of Speeches ! Principles of Persuasion [page 5 of 5]
Principles of Persuasive Speaking
Copyright © 2001, Thinkwell Corp. All Rights Reserved. 82964/8/02
Types of Speeches ! Principles of Persuasion [page 1 of 5]
Principles of Persuasive Speaking
Copyright © 2001, Thinkwell Corp. All Rights Reserved. 82964/8/02

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