Persuasion through Public Speaking: Invention

This is the second of a series this month that examines persuasive leadership through public speaking. The president representing this trait is Abraham Lincoln, which can be viewed here. The previous article can be found here.


In the last blog, we delved into the Five Canons of Rhetoric, considering how each plays an important role in public speaking and persuading people through that medium. Today, we’ll dig a little deeper.

Inventio is a Latin word that means “invention” or “discovery.” It’s one of the Five Canons of Rhetoric, and is central to building a persuasive argument. Understanding what it is you seek to do and the means by which to achieve that goal are essential as you begin to craft a compelling argument. There are a few considerations to make when beginning your persuasive journey.

First, the target audience. For whom are you making this argument? What are your goals? Or, more directly, what should the result of the speech be? Knowing the audience will have an impact on how you approach this. Depending on the group or individual to whom you speak, the delivery method could change drastically.

Second, consider the information to be shared. It’s best practice to have an assortment of different ways to prove the arguments you’re making, and to anticipate how skeptics may try to refute your assertions.

Third, timing. Consider when, where and for how long you should speak. Certain circumstances call for longer forms of oration, and others require brevity. Would you give the same length of speech at a dinner toast as you would in a State of the Union address? The situations couldn’t be further apart from one another, so factor that into your preparation.

Think back to Abraham Lincoln. His speech in Gettysburg is one of the most well-known speeches in history. Lost in that history is the fact that the 16th president was not the first speaker. Edward Everett, a renowned orator, spoke first for two hours. Following Everett, Lincoln spoke for no more than five minutes, but the content within his speech was gripping and captured the moment perfectly.

Consider also the three methods of convincing people that Aristotle outlined: Ethos, Pathos and Logos.

Ethos is based on trust and the integrity of the speaker. Again, back to Abraham Lincoln, there is innate trust the president to give speeches of national importance. But it doesn’t need to be someone in a prominent role; ethos plays a part in any speech. Speakers who leverage ethos have to be considered an authority on the subject somehow. Otherwise, why would anyone listen to what they have to say?

Pathos is focused on the emotions of the audience. One way to do this is by focusing on the values of your audience; what do they care about? What excites them? Scares them? Pathos does not always come in a positive form. Speakers may take advantage of a frightened audience in times of national distress, for example. There are positive and negative ways to leverage every tool in rhetoric.

Finally, Logos, which shares an etymological root with the word “logic.” Logos draws its strength from the use of rational argument, fact-based and demonstrable. Scientific evidence, for example, is a great way to levy logos in your speaking. Another is statistics and data, though many can misconstrue and bend quantitative information to say what they want.

So there you have it. From this bedrock of knowledge, you’re well on your way to persuading others through public speaking. Check back next week for another look at how history teaches us ways to persuade.

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