If you’ve ever had a conversation with someone who thinks the opposite of you, then you know how challenging it is to persuade them. Even when addressing a receptive audience, having people join your side takes skill and precision. Persuasion is far from an exact science, but influential leaders know how to weave different rhetorical strategies together to create a compelling argument. Their rhetorical choices form the backbone of their persuasion technique, which you can emulate to perfect your own skills. Whether preparing a speech or writing an article, you can use these strategies to move people closer to your point of view.
In this article, find out what rhetorical strategies are and some of the most common ones you can utilize right away.
What Are Rhetorical Strategies?
Rhetorical strategies (AKA rhetorical devices or persuasive strategies) consist of the word choice you use to persuade, initiate a response, or show meaning. While some may associate these strategies with formal situations, many people use them in casual conversation without realizing it. Any time you seek to persuade someone, you will likely use a rhetorical strategy of some type. Keep this in mind as you look at the following rhetorical strategies list.
Common Rhetorical Strategies
1. Similes and Metaphors
One common rhetorical strategy is to use similes and metaphors throughout your attempt to persuade. Both of these techniques aim to compare two different items and indicate how they are alike. This makes the comparison much clearer and imparts added meaning to what you’re trying to say. People use similes and metaphors all the time, even in everyday conversation. The main difference between the two is that similes use the words “like” or “as” within the comparison, while metaphors simply say the two things are equal.
Examples of Similes
- You’re as straight as an arrow.
- The two brothers are like peas in a pod.
- The teacher has been busy as a bee.
- The pain felt like a knife stabbing him in the side.
- Her hands were as cold as ice.
Examples of Metaphors
- They considered him the black sheep of the family.
- America is a melting pot of different cultures.
- All the world’s a stage.
- She went to the conference with an army of students.
Sometimes when making a persuasive argument, you need to reference something unpleasant or even disturbing. Doing so may cause your intended audience to feel uncomfortable. They may decide to tune you out when this happens instead of listening to what makes them uneasy. To avoid this problem, you can choose to use a euphemism instead. This rhetorical device replaces the unpleasant word or phrase with something more acceptable and easier to hear. Euphemisms can sometimes go too far, especially if misused, but speakers and writers tend to use them to sidestep a topic to focus on their core message.
Examples of Euphemisms
- “Collateral damage” instead of “civilian deaths.”
- “Mature” instead of “old.”
- “Passed away” instead of “died.”
- “Between jobs” instead of “unemployed.”
- “Comfort food” instead of “junk food.”
You want your persuasive argument to stick with people long past the point of when you stop talking or writing. One of the best ways to do that is by using chiasmus. This rhetorical strategy can elicit an emotional response by simply changing the order of words to mirror each other. One of the most often cited examples comes from the inaugural address of John F. Kennedy, who told the people of the United States, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Notice how the sentence has two parts to it, with the second half mirroring the first half. It’s the sort of phrase that remains with you long after you first hear it.
Examples of Chiasmus
- “It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that counts, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” —Dwight D. Eisenhower
- “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” —Knute Rockne
- “You must eat to live, not live to eat.” —Socrates
4. Cause and Effect
Another key component in making a persuasive argument is to show the relationship between cause and effect. The point you want to make will help you determine what receives the most focus. For example, if you’re going to discuss why employees suffer from work burnout (the effect), you’ll want to look at the causes. When you look at causes, that shows an interest in what will happen. On the flip side, looking at effects looks at what could happen in the future. Analysis of cause and effect is a useful way to craft a historical narrative, such as what policies led to a business like Apple succeeding. It’s also an effective way to provide solutions as you show the relationship between causes and what can change to prevent undesirable effects.
Logos is the use of logic or reason to argue a point. The two types of rhetorical appeals used in this way include deductive and inductive reasoning. Logos rhetoric with inductive reasoning looks at specific facts, then uses them to create a larger generalization. Here’s an example of inductive reasoning: the practice of prioritizing tasks helped this worker become more productive, so all workers would benefit from prioritizing their tasks. Logos rhetoric with deductive reasoning, on the other hand, starts with the generalization before using it for specific instances. So an argument using deductive reasoning would look like this: reducing the number of meetings has helped companies the world over, so it could improve one specific company. With logos, you’re appealing to people’s logical thinking to convince them you’re right.
You can also use ethos to convince people of your opinion. This rhetorical device involves appealing to others’ sense of ethical values by showing your credibility, reliability, and good character. This isn’t always a simple feat to pull off, especially when people have little familiarity with you. However, establishing that you’re trustworthy helps sway people to your side.
How to gain the audience’s trust:
- Portray opposing viewpoints accurately.
- Organize the argument so it’s easy for people to follow.
- Use reliable third-party sources.
- Ensure all information you use is accurate.
- Indicate why the subject interests you.
- Meet the audience on common ground by indicating shared beliefs and moral values.
- Check your argument for any spelling or grammatical mistakes.
The pathos rhetorical strategy involves appealing to others’ emotions. Utilizing pathos can be tricky to do well. After all, the goal should be to persuade people based on facts, logic, and reasoning. However, pathos can add to an argument, presenting a real human element that avoids sticking to numbers and statistics like a robot. For example, a story about a woman who sacrificed time and money to get her business off the ground will likely resonate with an audience more than citing the number of people who start a business every year. The statistic is still valid, but it may not capture the actual cost. Take care not to misuse pathos as well. Don’t turn your argument into a sensational piece. You should also make sure pathos pertains to the subject, as some people will use pathos to distract from the issue at the heart of the debate.
Narration, which is essentially storytelling, is another strategy you can use to connect with your audience. People identify with stories more than they do statistics, even in academic writing. The best storytellers seamlessly incorporate their evidence and arguments into the stories they share. That doesn’t mean an entire speech or article should consist of one or multiple stories, but they can back up the central point of your argument. The right story at the right time can serve as the exclamation point of your persuasive piece, whether it’s real or a rhetorical situation. It’s a powerful strategy that helpfully places issues in perspective.
Avoid Logical Fallacies
One way to hurt your argument is by using a logical fallacy. A logical fallacy is a false, illogical statement said with the intent of persuading an audience. Using this type of rhetoric ultimately weakens your chances of successfully influencing someone. As such, you should avoid them as much as possible. The following are just several logical fallacies you should take care to reject.
- Straw Man: A straw man argument misrepresents an opponent’s argument, often through oversimplification or distortion.
- Ad Hominem: This involves attacking the person who makes the argument rather than the argument.
- Appeal to Majority: Also known as the bandwagon fallacy, an appeal to majority indicates that your position is correct because more people agree with you.
- False Dilemma: This fallacy places two—and only two—choices for people to consider when more options are out there.
- Appeal to Nature: The appeal to nature fallacy indicates that because something is natural, it automatically makes it better.
- Circular Argument: When someone engages in a circular argument, they repeat what they already assumed before because they believe it is proof enough.
The Power of Persuasion is Yours
The above rhetorical strategies can help you craft an argument that persuades people to come to your side of the fence. In business, the power to influence others through assertive communication is essential once you know what course you want to take. No matter the debate, also show respect and courtesy and don’t let arguments become personal. Through a healthy and polite discourse, you’ll eventually reach an agreement that both sides can appreciate.
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