Persuasion Techniques Study Guide (page 2)
If you would persuade, you must appeal to interest rather than intellect.
Benjamin Franklin, American writer, statesman, and scientist (1706-1790)
People are always trying to influence your choices and decisions. "Vote for me!" "Buy my product!" Those are out-in-the-open persuasions; you know what someone is trying to get you to do. But there are subtle ways to persuade, and in this lesson, you'll learn to recognize both kinds used in speaking, writing, and advertising. And you'll discover how you can use those same techniques to your advantage.
Persuasion is the art of using argument, reasoning, or influence to change what people do or the way they think. Everyone uses persuasion techniques, even you. As a kid, you may have tried to persuade your parents to let you stay up an hour later, buy you a toy you wanted, or let you sleep later.
As you grew up, you continued to use persuasion. Maybe you decided to ask for a raise because you felt you'd earned it. So you went to your boss with examples of good work you'd done for the company. In other words, you tried to make the boss think a certain way—that you were a great employee who deserved a raise. But instead of agreeing to a raise, the boss explained that things weren't so good at corporate headquarters. He said stock prices were down and, "I know you understand, being one of our best and brightest, why we can't increase your salary at this time." Your boss turned the tables by using persuasion, including evidence and flattery, to change your mind about the raise!
People also use persuasion in more organized ways. Political groups and advertisers try to influence your vote and how you spend your money. Persuasion that is exceptionally systematic and organized is known as propaganda, which uses multiple techniques to attempt to bring about a change in a group of people.
A History of the Art of Persuasion
Aristotle studied and taught philosophy, science, and public speaking in Greece during the fourth century bce. In one of his most famous works, The Art of Rhetoric (meaning "persuasion through language"), he stated that the ideal form of argument was an appeal to reason, called logos. But he acknowledged two other powerful techniques, ethos—an appeal to character—and pathos—an appeal to emotions. These same techniques are still in use today.
- Logos: Appeal to Reason. This works because most people think they are reasonable and logical. Someone makes an argument based on the theory that "any logical, reasonable person would agree!" He or she might contend, "Of course, we all know that if we don't do X now, then Y will surely be the result!"
- Pathos: Appeal to Emotion. Aristotle understood that not everything we do is based on logic. We all have emotions, or feelings, and this kind of persuasion can work in three different ways. First, someone can express his or her own feelings on a subject, hoping to influence others. Second, someone can try to get an emotional reaction from listeners in order to persuade them. Third, someone can both express his or her own emotions and at the same time arouse those feelings in listeners. For example, environmental groups use this approach by saying things like, "Thousands of baby seals are brutally murdered for their skins, in front of their horrified mothers. Shouldn't we act now to save these innocent creatures?"
- Ethos: Appeal to Character. Here, Aristotle refers to the character of a speaker, who must be seen as worthy in the eyes of an audience. In other words, for a person's art of persuasion to work, others must see him or her as trustworthy, honest, and/or intelligent. That way he or she earns credibility as someone who can be relied on and believed. Here's an example: "I spent 12 years in the U.S. Navy, serving our country with honor. I learned how the military operates and am the only candidate with direct, personal contact with our armed services. So I know better than any other candidate how to maintain and improve our military to make it the best in the world."
The most frequently seen of Aristotle's three persuasion techniques is pathos, or emotional influence. For example, using scare tactics is common.
Here's an example of scare tactics: Linda receives a phone call from a stranger, asking if she knows if her local emergency response units are prepared to handle a terrorist attack. He describes the aftermath of a bombing, with all of its destruction and bloodshed, and tells her that her local medical community, fire-fighters, and law enforcement aren't ready to respond adequately. He goes on to describe the chaos that would ensue due to the inadequate response. Then, he asks for a donation to a national organization that he says can provide funding for local emergency response units. Linda is so frightened by the phone call that she gives the caller her credit card number, authorizing him to charge a $50 donation to the organization he represents. The caller persuaded her to give money to a group she never heard of, and which actually might not exist, because he successfully used scare tactics.
If you ever feel afraid after hearing someone speak, watching a TV ad, reading something, or browsing the Internet, put aside your emotions and think logically. Did the material aim at getting this emotional response from you? Did the speaker or writer mean to scare you in order to persuade you to do/buy/think something?
Evoking pity is another example of the pathos technique. Someone tries to make others feel sorry for him or her, hoping they'll do something, give money, or think a certain way out of pity. Some examples are TV and magazine ads that show hungry children surrounded by flies, panhandlers who tell passersby that they haven't eaten in days, and holiday news stories about poor families with no money to buy gifts for their children.
Flattery, another form of pathos, makes people feel good about themselves, by complimenting their intelligence, good taste, or some other characteristic. This form of persuasion is important when trying to make a personal connection, so advertisers use it often. For example, "Because you're smart, you care about your health." The listener or reader is supposed to agree that, "Yes, I'm smart, so I care about my health." Then this smart person is expected to believe that a certain brand of food or over-the-counter drugs is what all smart, healthy people should buy.
Look closely at people's word choices as they try to influence your thinking. Do advertisers say you'll look "slim" or "skinny" in their clothes? Do TV reporters refer to a car crash as an "accident" or a "disaster"? Has there been an "incident" or a "threat"?
Persuasion and the Written Word
Writers use many tactics to persuade their readers. Known as rhetorical devices, these techniques subtly show the reader that the writer's point of view should be theirs, too. Here are six of the most common such devices, with definitions and examples.
- Rhetorical question: implies that the answer is so obvious that there is no answer required. It persuades without making an argument.
- The Rule of Three: based on the theory that people remember things when they are listed in threes, it can be used to repeat the same thing exactly, the same idea said three different ways, or three items that belong together.
- Emotional language: uses adjectives to get the reader to feel a certain way.
- Hyperbole: the use of exaggeration for extravagant effect; often humorous.
- Sound patterns: meant to get the reader's attention and cause him or her to remember content better; some of a number of different patterns are: rhyming, alliteration (repeating the same sound at the beginning of words), consonance (repeating the same consonant sound), and assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds).
- Comparisons: show a relationship between two unlike items by metaphor (uses verb "to be"), simile (uses "like" or "as"), or personification (gives human qualities to animals or objects).
Example: Can we really expect our teachers to maintain a high standard of professionalism when we won't pay them a fair wage?
Examples: "Stop, look, and listen"; "The most important factor in selling real estate is location, location, location"; "Is your car old? rusting? ready to be replaced?"
Example: Management won't stop these cutbacks until all our children go hungry. Then they will close the plant and leave us unemployed and out on the street.
Example: The lines in my bank are so slow. Only the tellers who fail their training get jobs there.
Examples: sweet smell of success; dime a dozen; plain Jane
Examples: His eyes are searchlights, looking for any sign of recognition; She's as quiet as a mouse; The Moon smiled down as we walked away.