A persuasive speech is a weapon that the speaker uses in order to influence and convince the audience to accept an idea, a belief, an attitude or an action. Just like many other speeches, persuasive speech contains a greeting, an introduction to the topic, body paragraphs and the final conclusion. The components of pathos, ethos and logos can be observed in the speech. Rhetorical devices, tones, and dictions are the basic conventions of a persuasive speech. The target audience of the speech can be specific to a particular group of people based on its topic and it also can address the general public.
Writing persuasive speeches is an important skill for anyone who wishes to communicate their ideas and arguments to an audience. A persuasive speech not only allow the audience to see the surface cause of an issue, but more importantly, it goes further to make the audience understand about why they should care and take action with a certain issue. The key to making a successful persuasive speech is the effective understanding and application of the various rhetorical devices.
Persuasive speech is an important genre because the majority of people use this type of genre to write about a concern and address it to the public. It is also the most effective speech genre and yet the most difficult to write because the author has to be very concise and convincing. In our daily life, people tend to use persuasive speech subconsciously. Even we people are infants, they already know how to use persuasion through the methods of laughing, crying or insisting doing something to express their ideas.
In later phases of life, when we try to defend our beliefs, when we hope to sell an idea or a product, when we want to persuade our parents to allow us to do something, and when we argue about a problem with our friends, we would always use persuasive speech in these processes. The necessity of learning persuasive speech is significant, for it can help people know how to negotiate when they don’t want to compromise and effectively express their opinions to others.
A persuasive speech writer may start a speech by giving a personal anecdote, allusions to art and history or a rhetorical question so he or she is able to create a suspense, building up audience’s expectations and forming a gap to stimulate audience’s interest. In The danger of a single story, by storyteller Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Adiche employed many personal experiences to persuade her audience who may have a false interpretation of the world around them, who judge a person or a thing based only on a single story.
She told her story during childhood that all the characters in the western books she read had the similar characteristics: “All my characters were white and blue-eyed. They played in the snow. They ate apples…” By presenting this example, she demonstrated that there is a false impression that black people couldn’t make contributions to literature since writing books is white people’s privilege. Using a personal story makes it much easier for the audience to grow into the author’s perspective.
While forming the arguments, the speaker may often apply celebrity or authority’s quotations to add credibility to the argument. The speech I Have A Dream by Dr. Martin Luther King is one of the most famous persuasive speeches in the world. King not only addressed the problem that black people still faced racial discrimination today, but also called out for people to fight for equal human rights and racial unity. King started off his speech by eloquently reciting the Gettysburg Address, “Five score years ago, a great American, whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the emancipation proclamation.” By referring to Lincoln’s action, to the historical event of signing the Emancipation Proclamation, King brought example of authority to appeal to the audience’ ethos and made his speech more credible.
In order to appeal to logos, a writer utilizes evidence, statistics and research studies. Giving out the specific number of the cause of a certain issue, the speaker provides solid and concrete reasons to make the arguments better supported and make the speech more reliable. In I Have A Dream, King also referenced the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence to show the gap between the Declaration and the reality. King appealed to logos by analogy. He compared civil rights against the “insufficient funds” to remind people of the existence of inequality.
Pathos is also a very common stylistic and persuasive element in a speech. For example, the author can effectively utilize repetitive phrases and certain styles to highlight the emotions and make it easier for the audience to sympathize with him or her. Pathos is an effective technique that King utilized to engage the emotion of the audience. Parallelism is a powerful strategy in this speech. The author included the phrases “I have a dream”, “we could never be satisfied as long as”, “let the freedom ring from” and so on.
The parallelism reinforces the speaker’s hope of equal rights for all African American people. It forms a pattern and lyrical style, expressing author’s strong emotions vividly. The sentence structure is easy to read and has a power to enhance the expression of the speech. Even after the speech is over, when people think back, they can still remember these phrases in their head freshly.
What’s more, diction also plays an important role in delivering author’s idea. The author would often use personal pronouns “we” and “our” instead of using “I” or “you” because he or she wants to reduce the sense of alienation and show that all audience should be engaged. Diction choices is also wisely used in I Have A Dream, as King used the words “my friend”, “my people”, “our”, “we”, which makes the distance between him and the audiences closer. By using the first-person pronouns, King aimed to tell the audience that all people should be involved in this movement and it cannot succeed with a single race. Overall, King was able to address the concerns for African Americans and make people care more about this movement through his writerly choices at the same time.
The tone of persuasive speeches may differ due to the author’s purpose as there are different tones like sarcastic, humorous, zealous, casual, patriotic, condescending, etc. When Adichie was talking about her own single story about Fide and her previous impression of the Mexican people, she used a more narrative and relaxed tone to let the audience be submerged in the story. A more matter-of-fact and formal tone is then adopted as she wanted to point out the importance to recognize and correct a single story.
Adichie deliberately compared a student’s view that “Nigerian men were physical abusers” to “American Psycho” that “young Americans were serial murderers”, using her humor and irony to clarify that the impression on a group of people based on stereotype is often wrong. It is also through the utilization of rhetorical questions “what if” that Adichie evoked the reader’s empathy and encouraged them to think what might happen if there is no single story. Through the application of and switching between multiple tones, she successfully persuaded the audience to believe that the world will be better if people don’t form a single story.
Rhetorical devices often appear simultaneously in one speech and complement each other to achieve the maximized effect. A successful example of persuasive speech is Emma Watson’s speech in the UN. Emma Watson began her speech by calling for help “Today we are launching a campaign called “HeForShe.” She built ethos by pointing out her status as UN Women Goodwill Ambassador, which adds credibility to the further arguments. She appealed to emotions by repeating the phrase “when at” to emphasis gender issues she faced at different ages and effectively sent her message to the audience. The word “you”, “me”, “us”, and “we” are used to indicate that everyone plays a significant role.
Watson clearly understood that the audience was both men and women and effectively engaged both genders. She gave important statistics “suicide is the biggest killer of men between 20 to 49” to draw a logical path to show that man also faces gender issue. At last, she applied with rhetorical question “If not me, who? If not now, when?” inviting audiences to think and reflect on this issue themselves. Through the smart combination of all these rhetorical devices, the speaker effectively engaged audience of both genders to care about gender equality and to join her cause.
From all the examples analyzed above, we can see that a persuasive speech cannot be effective without the smart use of multiple rhetorical devices. Narration is a smart way to start a persuasive speech and reduce the distance between the speaker and the audience. Pathos exist to resonate audience’s emotion; a logical evidence makes the arguments better supported; and ethos help the audience sympathize with the speaker. Tones and diction are also important as they are critical tools to manipulate the audience-speaker dynamic. Effective use of rhetorical devices helps the speaker to view things from the audience’s point of view and make them feel more relevant to the issue and follow the speaker more actively. It is through the critical rhetorical elements that the speaker promotes his or her point successfully and make the audience want to engage and care more about the issues raised.