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Pump up Your Persuasion

Posted on Oct. 28, 2015 at 7 p.m.
by Luke Thomas.

PR and persuasion are two peas in a pod. And I just used it on you. Alliteration (the repeating of initial consonant sounds) is a rhetorical device. While that might trigger flashbacks of AP English class, learning about the 2,500 year old art of persuasion can improve your writing, your branding and how much say you have in whose side of the family you’re spending Thanksgiving with (no hard feelings, mothers-in-law).

According to San Diego State University, rhetoric investigates how language is used to organize and maintain social groups, construct meanings and identities, coordinate behavior, mediate power, produce change and create knowledge. Now, doesn’t that sound like something worth learning?

Photo courtesy of Martha Soukup (Flickr

There are four main components to constructing any rhetorical message. The first, and this applies to arguments with friends and lovers as well, is to know what you want to get out of your argument. Note that in the rhetorical sense, argument doesn’t mean squabbling – it’s simply the act of trying to persuade an audience. Before you write a blog, send an email blast or confront Suzie for leaving pretzel crumbs all over the break room again, you must know what you want the end goal to be in order to be effective. Most of the time, it comes down to changing a person’s mind, mood or willingness to do something. As for the techniques, they can be sorted into three main groups: ethos, logos and pathos.

Ethos is all about street cred. Well, maybe not always, but it does concern credibility as well as values. If you want people to listen to your messages and trust your brand, it’s important that they see it as being credible. But there’s another way you can slip ethos into your persuasion. If you understand your audience, you can tailor your messages to their specific “code words.” Think about your group of friends. Chances are, there are plenty of inside jokes, secret references and made-up words that will have your friends crinkling with laughter, while to an outsider, they just seem like nonsense. These types of words and phrases are found in the professional world too – think jargon, acronyms and doctors writing in Latin. Tuning into these insider phrases will instantly up your ethos and make your message more appealing than someone who doesn’t speak the lingo.

Every brand needs great logos. No, I’m not talking about a symbol here. Logos is the logical component of persuasion. Logos is usually the meat of the persuasive sandwich. It’s the facts – the black and white that can’t be disputed. You don’t have to just start reciting numbers here, though. Deductive reasoning is a great device you can use to combine a little ethos with your logos. To do this, take a generally held belief or concept and use it to arrive at a fact. For example, most people believe that the color and even the word “green” mean healthy. This is why brands that market as healthy or natural often will use this color or term in packaging. The mental process goes like this: green things are healthy things; this item is green; therefore, this item is healthy. The technical term for this process is an enthymeme. But it doesn’t matter what you call it; if it quacks like a duck, it is therefore a duck.

Feelings are powerful things. And when you can turn up the feels, your persuasive prowess is at its prime. The quintessential example of this would be the American Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA)’s tear-jerking “In the Arms of an Angel” commercial. While every argument you make shouldn’t have your audience scrambling for the Kleenex box, there are more subtle ways to up your effectiveness with pathos. Storytelling and imagining are two ways this can be done. Using a relatable tale lets your audience identify with you while at the same time mentally placing themselves in the scene of the action. Imagination works all the same. Adding a call to action lets your audience imagine the advantageous outcome they would get by making the choice you want them to. Doing so places them in the driver’s seat and can make that choice seem like it was their idea all along. And as we know, our own ideas always seem the best.

So, practice these techniques. Use them in your writing, your speaking and your daily interactions. Life gets easier the more persuasive you are. You can sell more, win more and do it in a way where everyone’s happy. Imagine that.

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