Tag Archives: rhetoric

Reasoning Underlies Organizing and Wording for Persuasive Speeches

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.

AristotleIn 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.

Chreiai – An Important and Ignored Term

The term “chreiai” is ignored and grossly underdeveloped in our professional literature.

Chreiai is a term that describes memorable statements or useful sayings that speakers use as topics that they can expand into rhetorical presentations.

I found this definition from Emory University website.  You can access the site here.

chreia: A chreia (pl. chreiai) is a brief statement or action aptly attributed to a specific person or something analogous to a person. If a chreia features a brief statement, that statement may be a thesis. There are three types of chreiai: sayings chreiai, action chreiai, and mixed chreiai. A chreia may be expanded, elaborated, or abbreviated.

In his book, The Gnostic Discoveries (Harper Collins, 2005), Marvin Meyer states:

Chreiai continued to be used in the Middle Ages and beyond by students of rhetoric and grammar, but eventually among Christian rhetoricians chreiai lost much of their Cynic cleverness and wit and became domesticated.  They turned into the serious statements of those engaged in the business of Christian theology and ethics, where there may be little room for cleverness and wit” (p. 60).

Not so fast!  I think the examples he uses on the same page are pretty witty.  I reproduce these here:

“Marcus Porcius Cato, when asked why he was studying Greek literature after his eightieth year, said, ‘Not that I may die learned but that I may not die unlearned.'”

“The Pythagorean philosopher Theano, when asked by someone how long it takes after having sex with a man for a woman to be pure to go to the Thesmophoria (the festival celebrated in honor of Demeter and Kore), said, ‘If it is with her own husband, at once, but if with someone else’s, never.'”

Meyer notes that even the words of wisdom offered by Jesus in Christian texts qualify as chreiai.

I am surprised how buried this term has been.  Even our fellow blogger, Randy Mayeux, who went through seminary, then graduate training in rhetoric, and then in the ministry for twenty years, had never come across this term.

Yet, I find it descriptive, and perhaps useful as we look at clever sayings in contemporary books.

What about you?  Does this interest you?

Let’s talk about it really soon!


Starved For The Practical, The Rejection Of All Things “Liberal” Now Spreads To Disdain For The “Liberal Arts” – Not A Good Thing!

Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression.
Victor David Hanson


People are starved for the practical.  They want to know what to put into practice now to build a better, more successful tomorrow.  They are impatient; they have little time to reflect, ponder…  they want to “do it,” they want to “just do it,” and they want it done by this afternoon.

And they are impatient in every way.  Like…  why spend all those semesters studying subjects in school that do not have immediate, practical application?

As a result, the “liberal arts” are in trouble.  And, in my opinion, this is a bad development, maybe a devastating one.

Andrew Sullivan has treated this as a recent major theme on his blog, with multiple posts,  with excerpts from opinion leader and readers responses.  With his post The Use of Uselessness, Andrews linked to this article in the National Review OnlineIn Defense of the Liberal Arts:  the therapeutic Left and the utilitarian Right both do disservice to the humanities, by Victor David Hanson.  I really do encourage you to read the entire article.  Here are a number of excerpts – worth reading for a Sunday reflection:

In such a climate, it is unsurprising that once again we hear talk of cutting the “non-essentials” in our colleges, such as Latin, Renaissance history, Shakespeare, Plato, Rembrandt, and Chopin. Why do we cling to the arts and humanities in a high-tech world in which we have instant recall at our fingertips through a Google search and such studies do not guarantee sure 21st-century careers?

But the liberal arts train students to write, think, and argue inductively, while drawing upon evidence from a shared body of knowledge. Without that foundation, it is harder to make — or demand from others — logical, informed decisions about managing our supercharged society as it speeds on by.

Without links to our heritage, we in ignorance begin to think that our own modern challenges — the war in Afghanistan, gay marriage, cloning, or massive deficits — are unique and not comparable to those solved in the past.

And without citizens broadly informed by the humanities, we descend into a pyramidal society. A tiny technocratic elite on top crafts everything from cell phones and search engines to foreign policy and economic strategy. A growing mass below has neither understanding of the present complexity nor the basic skills to question what they are told.

On the other hand, pragmatists argued that our 20-year-old future CEOs needed to learn spreadsheets rather than why Homer’s Achilles did not receive the honors he deserved, or how civilization was lost in fifth-century Rome and 1930s Germany. But Latin or a course in rhetoric might better teach a would-be captain of industry how to dazzle his audience than a class in Microsoft PowerPoint.

The more instantaneous our technology, the more we are losing the ability to communicate. Twitter and text-messaging result in economy of expression, not in clarity or beauty. Millions are becoming premodern — communicating in electronic grunts that substitute for effective and dignified expression. Indeed, by inventing new abbreviations and linguistic shortcuts, we are losing a shared written language altogether, in a way analogous to the fragmentation of Latin as the Roman Empire imploded into tribal provinces. No wonder the public is drawn to stories like The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, in which characters speak beautifully and believe in age-old values.

I teach Speech at the Community College Level.  I lead Presentation Skills training sessions for corporate clients.  I start both in the same way – with Aristotle’s definition of rhetoric (“finding the available means of persuasion”), and the centrality of logosethos, and pathos.  This foundational understanding of persuasion is still the best there is – and it always will be.  Understanding the foundations really is important.  And, after that, we can get to the practical, the “how to…”  Skipping the foundations is simply skipping too far ahead.

I think we need to save some time for something deeper than, more timeless, than, the immediately practical.  Don’t you?


Aristotle Called it “Ethos,” referring to the credibility of the messenger — I think Toyota has an “ethos” problem

(yes, I have posted on this earlier.  I keep learning more, as we all do.  And it is a big, big deal.  Actual people died.  And there is quite an important business lesson in here).

It is Rhetoric 101.  A speaker has to be both qualified and trustworthy.  Lose either, and you have a bad/failed messenger.

So let’s start by listening to the words:

Here’s the key excerpt from the commercial:

“History has shown a good company will fix its mistakes.  But a great company will learn from them…  We’re working to restore your faith in our company by providing you with safe, reliable vehicles, like we have for over 50 years.”

So says the new Toyota Commercial.  I hope it is true.  But I’m not sure they have yet learned from their mistakes.  Because the mistake is not “we had a deficiency in our cars,” the mistake was “we had a deficiency in our cars, we knew about it, and we kept selling them and let people keep driving them.”  The mistake was not the deficiency, the mistake was that they kept it pretty quiet and did not act.

And cars crashed… and people died.

News item:  State Farm warned the NHTSA about Toyota’s acceleration problems in 2007.  Toyota certainly got the word then.

State Farm insurance said it noticed an uptick in reports of unwanted acceleration in Toyotas from its large customer database and warned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in late 2007. NHTSA officials said the report was reviewed and the agency issued a recall later that month.

News item:  Oops – State Farm has now double-checked, and the NHTSA was first notified in 2004.  Toyota got the word then.

In the latest development in the Toyota recall crisis, State Farm, the US insurer, said it had reviewed its records and found it had contacted safety regulators in 2004.

News item:  Toyota finally issues actual recall, January 21, 2010

Toyota said Thursday it is recalling 2.3 million vehicles in the U.S. to fix accelerator pedals that can become stuck, the latest in a string of quality problems that have bedeviled the Japanese automaker.

Am I sure that they kept it hidden?  Just look at the time line demonstrated above.  For at least part of those “50 years,” they kept dangers hidden – dangers they knew about.

Now, I don’t run a big company.  I don’t know what I would do if I had a problem on my hands that would cost billions of dollars.  But I am certain that there are families who lost loved ones in the crashes that occurred because Toyota knew of the problem and did not deal with it.  For at least 5+ years.  (The first warning came at least as early as 2004.  And call me a cynic, but don’t you think someone within Toyota might have known something before the first State Farm notification?!)

Ask these grieving families what Toyota should have done, and I’m pretty sure they would have said this:  “Toyota should tell people not to drive these cars until we figure it out, and fix it!”

Here’s my problem – why should we trust a company, even after watching such a nice commercial, when they knew about the problems, and violated people’s trust, for at least half-a-decade?

For a company, credibility is the gold standard.  That standard is quite tarnished for Toyota.  And, on a personal note, I come close to resenting their commercial.

(And — on a better note — maybe State Farm really is like a good neighbor!)

Do You Communicate Clearly? Words that Work may be Lesson # 2

At the First Friday Book Synopsis, we have chosen books that touch on every aspect of business life and success.  A recurring theme seems to be communication.  Getting your message out, clearly, concisely, without confusion — this is one tough assignment.  I have presented synopses of Words that Work by Frank Luntz, and Made to Stick:  Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.  Both of these books are good, useful, practical.

In Made to Stick, the authors commend six principles for successfully communicating messages that will stick:

Principle 1 Simplicity 
Principle 2 Unexpectedness
Principle 3 Concreteness
Principle 4 Credibility
Principle 5 Emotions
Principle 6 Stories

(By the way, remembering Aristotle and the ancient rhetoricians is always useful:  of the six principles, ethos, pathos, and mythos are clearly evident, and logos is never far behind).

In Words that Work, Luntz proposes 10 Rules for Successful Communicators.  (Yes, there is some overlap in these two lists).

The Ten Rules of Successful Communication:

Rule 1 Simplicity:  Use Small Words
Rule 2 Brevity:  Use Short Sentences
Rule 3 Credibility is as Important as Philosophy
Rule 4 Consistency Matters
Rule 5 Novelty:  Offer Something New
Rule 6 Sound and Texture Matter (alliteration)
Rule 7 Speak Aspirationally
Rule 8 Rule Eight – Visualize
Rule 9 Ask a Question
Rule 10 Prepare Context and Explain Relevance

And in this book, the conservative Luntz quotes from the liberal Warren Beatty for a really great piece of insight: “People forget what you say, but they remember how you made them feel.”

So, yes, you can learn a lot about successful communication from these and other books.  But recently, I was re-reading my handout from an early year from the First Friday Book Synopsis. I presented the classic work by Robert Greenleaf, Servant Leadership:  A Journey into the Nature of Legitimate Power and Greatness.  (To my knowledge, Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership).  And, as usual, the greatest piece of advice is found in such a jewel.  Here it is — you can almost forget everything else, and communicate this way.  Let’s call Words that Work Lesson #2, and call this Lesson #1:

“If you have something important to communicate, if you can possibly manage it, put your hand over your mouth and point.”

It simply does not get any clearer than that.

(To purchase my synopses of Made to Stick and Words that Work, with handout + audio, go to our 15 Minute Business Book site).