As I taught our Speech Class Refresher course last week, I was helping some of our participants with the main points or arguments they wanted to make for their sample persuasive presentation.
The principle that we taught them was parallelism. That is, that the points or arguments should begin with the same part of speech, such as an action verb. A bonus to that is alliteration, which means that the points begin with the same sound. The example I gave was:
- With a smart phone, you can text.
- With a smart phone, you can talk.
- With a smart phone, you can travel.
It hit me this week that organizing and wording points or arguments is the visible cousin to the invisible reasoning that goes behind them. A speaker must reason his or her arguments before organizing and wording them. There are two types of reasoning: inductive and deductive.
Deductive reasoning typically takes two forms. One Is syllogistic:
- Republicans control the House of Representatives, which votes on proposed legislation.
- The President of the United States, who submits legislation for consideration, is a Republican.
- Therefore, the President should be able to pass legislation he proposes in the House since the majority of voters are from his own party.
The other type is enthymematic. An enthymeme is deductive, but omits one of the major premises. It is either an truncated syllogism, or one that simply allows the listener to reach a conclusion through implied, rather than stated reasoning.
In his work, Rhetoric, published in 350 B.C.E., Aristotle said, “the enthymeme must consist of few propositions, fewer often than those which make up the normal syllogism. For if any of these propositions is a familiar fact, there is no need even to mention it; the hearer adds it himself.” He believed that they enthymeme was the strongest form of proof available to a speaker.
So, converting the example above from a syllogism to an enthymeme, we would say:
- The President of the United States should be able to pass legislation he proposes because the House that votes on it is Republican.
Notice that we omit the premise that the President is a Republican. It is only implied.
Important as it is, we rarely teach enthymematic reasoning. I do not cover it at all in public speaking courses. I have not seen it in a speaking textbook for many years.
Frankly, since reasoning is not visible to audiences, we have simply stopped talking much about it. Yet, it is one thing to word and arrange arguments. It is completely another to properly reason a case with them. Reasoning is first – wording and arranging is second.