Effective communication is essential
to be able to inspire, influence and persuade your audience either one-on-one
or more significant audience. There are tools identified, developed and used to
develop those skills.
The word “canon” is most commonly used
in music to describe a piece in which a melody is introduced in different parts
successively, or in an expression like “the canon of literature”: a collection
of books which comprise a set such as Scripture or the Great Books.
means “a general rule”, “law”, or “principle.”
Rhetoric is the third liberal art, the
top of the trivium, the noble art of persuasion, a skill in the tradition of
Plato and Paul, Cicero and Augustine, which since ancient times has been practised
and applied for noble (as well as ignoble) purposes. From ancient times up
through the early 20th century, most believed learning the art of rhetoric was
a noble pursuit and considered it an essential element of a well-rounded
education. While some saw rhetoric as a vital tool to teach truth more
effectively and as a weapon to protect themselves from those who argued
unfairly and for nefarious purposes, others see rhetoric as the manipulation of
truth or associate it with an overly fastidious concern with how things are
said over what is said.
is simply the art of persuasion through effective speaking and writing.
There are two different views on the teaching
of the trivium (grammar, logic and rhetoric).
The first group argues that;
- When children are young, they can memorise quickly
(“poll-parrot”), so give them lots of memorisation to develop their grammar;
- When children are a bit older and inevitably
begin to argue (“pert”), teach them logic so they can argue well;
- When teenage students have enough knowledge
and skill, they will wax creative (“poetic”), so we should cultivate
eloquence—how to recognise and understand beautiful language as well as how to
write and speak skillfully.
The other group argues that we cannot
follow this “stages of development” approach, lest analytical grammar becomes a
bane to the elementary school student, logic without meaningful application
become a tedious exercise to the middle school student, rhetoric becomes the
exclusive domain of the high school student. Therefore, the skills of the
trivium should be learned and refined throughout one’s life and in parallel.
The Five Canons of Rhetoric give us
five general principles, or divisions, which, when we come to understand and
apply them, will make our communication more effective. Therefore, you can use “five
principles of persuasion” or “five principles of effective communication.” These
principles are commonly known as;
The process of developing and refining
The invention, according to Aristotle,
involves “discovering the best available means of persuasion.” It may sound
simple, but Invention is possibly the most challenging phase in crafting a
speech or piece of writing as it lays the groundwork for all the other phases;
you must start from nothing to build the framework of your piece. During the
Invention phase, the goal is to brainstorm ideas on what you’re going to say
and how you’re going to say it in order to maximise persuasion. Any good orator
or writer will tell you they probably spend more time in the Invention step
than they do any of the others.
So, what sorts of things should you be
thinking about during the Invention phase? Without some direction and guidance,
brainstorming can often be fruitless and frustrating. There are four key things
to consider during this stage:
- Audience: One of
the key factors in crafting a persuasive piece of rhetoric is tailoring your
message to your specific audience. If you identify the needs and desires of
your audience, it will help you to determine which means of persuasion would be
the most effective to employ.
- Evidence: Evidence
could be facts, statistics, laws, and individual testimonies. It’s always good
to have a nice blend, as you can persuade different audiences by different
types of evidence. Therefore, getting to know your audience is figuring out
what kinds of evidence they will find most credible and compelling is essential.
- The means
of persuasion: You probably heard three means of persuasion from Aristoteles; pathos
(emotion), logos (logic) and ethos (credibility). Again, it would help if you
determined, which means of persuasion fits best for your audience. Ideally,
you’d have a nice mixture of all three, but again, different audiences will be
better persuaded by different appeals.
- Timing: Duration of
your speech is essential; in some cases, a long, well-developed, and nuanced
speech is appropriate; other times, a shorter, and more dynamic presentation
will be more effective. It depends on your audience and the context of your
It takes time to develop an idea, or
subject for your speech, do not force yourself to speed up this stage. Once you
have a clear idea of your speech, then you need to develop this raw idea and
organising it into a solid storyline of building your argument. Ancient rhetoricians
develop and a natural structure to create a compelling case which called
Stasis is a
procedure designed to help a rhetorician develop and clarify the main points of
his case. Stasis consists of four types of questions a speaker asks himself.
of fact: What is it exactly that I’m talking about? Is it a person? An
idea? A problem? Does it really exist? What’s the source of the problem? Are
there facts to support the truth of this opinion?
of definition: What’s the best way to define this idea/object/action? What are
the different parts? Can it be grouped with similar ideas/objects/actions?
of quality: Is it good or bad? Is it right or wrong? Is it frivolous or
of procedure/jurisdiction: Is this the right venue to discuss this
topic? What actions do I want my reader/listener to take?
These questions may sound completely
elementary, but trust me, when you’re struggling to get your mind around an
idea for a speech or writing theme, stasis has an almost magical way of
focusing your thinking and helping you develop your argument.
The process of arranging and organising
your arguments for maximum impact.
The arrangement is simply the organisation
of a speech or text to ensure maximum persuasion. Classical rhetoricians
divided a speech into six different parts. They are:
of Facts (narratio)
- Conclusion (peroratio)
If you’ve taken debate or philosophy
classes, you’ve probably seen this format for organising a speech or paper.
a) Introduction: There are
two aspects of an effective introduction: 1) introducing your topic and 2)
Your introduction is crucial for the
success of your speech; your audience will determine whether your speech is
worth listening to in the first few seconds. Therefore, I would suggest starting
your speech by telling a captivating story that draws your audience in and
engages them emotionally.
You have to establish your credibility
by using ethos rules to appeal to your character or reputation to persuade your
audience. Remember, it doesn’t matter how logical your argument is if people
don’t think you’re trustworthy or a credible source, you’ll have no chance to influence
of Facts: The statement of facts is the background information needed to
get your audience up to speed on the history of your issue. The goal is to
provide enough information for your audience to understand the context of your
argument. If your rhetoric is seeking to persuade people to adopt a specific
course of action, you must first convince the audience that there really is a
problem that needs to be addressed. Things to remember, do not just give some
facts and numbers, make your audience to listen by creating a compelling story.
c) Division: After
stating your facts, the most effective way to transition into your argument is
with a partition: a summary of the cases you’re about to make. The division is
your audience’s roadmap; you will take them on a journey of logic and emotion,
so give them an idea of where they are going, so it’s easier to follow you. As an
example, “I have three points to make tonight.”
d) Proof: The proof is the body of your speech; you need
to construct logical arguments that your audience can understand and follow. Your
evidence should relate back to the facts you mentioned in your statement of
facts to back up what you say. If you’re suggesting a course of action, you
want to convince people that your solution is the best one for resolving the
problem you just described.
e) Refutation: It might
be surprising, but when you crafted a strong and convincing argument of your
case, you need to highlight the weaknesses in your argument to your audience. This
tactic would seem to be counterproductive, sharing the gaps of your arguments
will actually make you more persuasive in two ways.
First, it gives you a chance to pre-emptively
answer any counterarguments an opposing side may bring up and resolve any
doubts your audience might be harbouring. Bringing up weaknesses before your
opponent or audience takes the bite out of a coming counterargument.
Second, highlighting the weaknesses in
your argument is an effective use of ethos. No one likes a know-it-all. Recognising
that your case isn’t iron-clad is an easy way to gain the sympathy and trust of
f) Conclusion: The goal
of your conclusion is, to sum up, your argument as forcefully and as memorable
as possible. If you want people to remember what you said, you have to inject
some emotion into your conclusion.
The process of determining how you
present your arguments using figures of speech and other rhetorical techniques.
When we prepare to give persuasive
speeches, the focus is usually on what we are going to say. While it’s essential
that you have something substantive to say, it’s also important how you present
your ideas. The canon of style will help you present your ideas and arguments
so people will want to listen to you.
Five virtues of style developed by Aristoteles
followers would help you to deliver your message in style:
a) Correctness: An effective speaker uses words correctly and follows the rules of grammar and syntax for clear and precise communication. Most importantly, correctly using language establishes credibility (ethos) with an audience because it indicates the speaker or writer is well-educated, understands the nuances of language, and pays attention to details.
b) Clarity: Many people think to be persuasive they need to “look smart” by using big words and complex sentence structures. The reality is that the simpler you write, the more intelligent you seem to others. It’s hard to be persuasive when people can’t even understand what you’re trying to say. A couple of quick tips:
- Use strong verbs. Avoid is,
are, was, were, be, being, been. So instead of saying “Diane was killed by
Jim,” say, “Jim killed Diane.” Shorter, clearer, and punchier.
- Keep average sentence length to about 20
words. Ideas can get lost in super-long sentences.
- Keep paragraphs short. Shoot for
an average of five to six sentences a paragraph. Ideally, each paragraph should
contain just one idea.
c) Evidence: Most people are persuaded more by emotion (pathos) than by logic (logos). One of the best ways to elicit an emotional response from people is to appeal to their physical senses by using vivid descriptions.
For example, let’s say you’re making
the case to your state legislator that your state needs to devote more funds
towards fighting childhood hunger. Instead of starting your speech or letter by
spouting off a bunch of dry facts, it would be more persuasive to tell a story
of a specific child who’s a victim of hunger. In your story, describe the
conditions this child is living in–the smells, the sights, the sounds. Describe
the pangs of hunger that gnaw on his stomach every night while he lies crying
softly, curled in ball on a urine-soaked mattress.
Who wouldn’t want to help this kid?
That’s the quality of evidence in action.
d) Propriety: Propriety means saying the right thing, at the right place, at the right time. It is the quality of style that determines which words could be fit for purpose and appropriate for the specific audience or occasion.
e) Ornateness: It involves making your speech enjoyable to listen by using figures of speech and manipulating the sound and rhythm of words. Classical rhetoricians focused on incorporating different figures of speech to decorate their statements. Here is an example of using Alliteration by Bill Clinton;
“Somewhere at this very moment, a
child is being born in America. Let it be our cause to give that child a Happy
Home, a Healthy family, and a Hopeful future.” — Bill
Clinton, 1992 Democratic National Convention Acceptance Address
The process of learning and memorising
your speech so you can deliver it without the use of notes. Memory-work not
only consisted of memorising the words of a specific speech, but also storing
up famous quotes, literary references, and other facts that could be used in
When people know that a speaker constantly
needs his notes for his speech, it weakens their credibility and the confidence
the audience has in the speaker’s authenticity. Also, notes put distance
between the speaker and the audience. The ancients called memory “the
furnishing of the mind”; one may have a million-dollar mansion, but without
beautiful and useful furniture, it is somewhat useless.
Which one you would prefer; a man with
his nose buried in his notes, reading them behind a lectern or the one who
seemed like he was giving his speech from the heart and who engaged the
audience visually with eye contact and natural body language? It pays to memorise
as St. Basil said, is “the cabinet of the imagination, the treasury of reason,
the registry of conscience, and the council chamber of thought.”
For our communication to be truly
persuasive and effective, we need to ensure that our audience remembers what
we’ve communicated to them. The first step in getting people to remember what
you’ve said is to have something interesting to say.
Once you’ve formulated a compelling
message, follow the basic pattern discussed in the canon of arrangement to make
your speech easy to follow. Give a solid introduction where you set out clearly
what you plan on sharing with your audience. As an example, “I have three
points to make tonight; inspiration, persuasion and leadership.”
Throughout your speech, stop and give
your audience a roadmap of where you’re at in your speech. If you’ve just
finished the first part of your speech, say something like, “We’ve just covered
inspiration. We’ll now move on to my second point, persuasion.” This constant
reviewing of where you’ve been and where you have left to go will help burn the
main points of your speech into the minds of your audience. Use compelling
stories, anecdotes and quotes to add credibility and connect your audience with
The process of practising how you
deliver your speech using gestures, pronunciation, and tone of voice.
Similar to the canon of style, the
canon of delivery is concerned with how something is said. While the canon of
style focuses primarily on what sort of language you use, delivery focuses on
the mechanics of how you impart your message such as body language, eye
contact, hand gestures and how you use your tone of voice during the speech.
Here are a few key tips for increasing
the effectiveness of your oratorical delivery:
pause. The key with a pause is timing; use it only in spots where it
will be effective places where you really want to highlight what comes after
body language. When you’re speaking, your voice isn’t the only thing talking.
Your body is also communicating. Your posture, head tilt, and the way you walk
on stage all convey a message. Some occasions may require a formal while other
occasions will require a more laid back approach.
tone. Nothing will put your audience to sleep faster than a flat and monotonous
voice regardless of the content of the speech. Use inflexions to reveal that
you’re asking a question, being sarcastic, or conveying excitement.
gestures flow naturally. Let your hands flow naturally inline with
your speech and message. If you use it effectively, hand gestures can give
added emphasis to your words. Otherwise, you might lose credibility.
speed with your emotion. How fast or slow you speak can affect the
emotion you’re trying to convey. There are six different speech speeds and the
corresponding emotions they’re meant to elicit;
- Rapid: haste, alarm, confusion, anger,
vexation, fear, revenge, and extreme terror.
- Quick or brisk: joy,
hope, playfulness, and humour.
- Moderate: useful for narration, descriptions,
- Slow: gloom, sorrow, melancholy, grief,
pity, admiration, reverence, dignity, authority, awe, power, and majesty.
- Very slow: use to express the strongest and
force of your voice. Playing with the strength and weakness of
your voice will allow you to express different emotions. You can express anger,
ferocity and seriousness with a strong and loud voice or a softer voice can
convey reverence and humility. Varying the force of your voice can also help
draw listeners into your speech.
Enunciate. It’s easy
to trip over your tongue and slur words together when you’re speaking in
public. But really focus on enunciating your words as this will make you easier
to understand. You can use articulation practices by using tongue twisters.
As an example, if you want to target “s”
and “sh” sounds, say the following tongue twister three times; start slowly and
slightly increase your speed each time.
“The sun was shining on Sharon Street,
where I saw Shane and Sarah sitting near the shoe shop.”
audience in the eye. When you look people in the eye, you make a
connection. You cannot possibly look an entire audience in a big meeting room,
in this case, adapting “W” or “M” method could be very useful; While you are
delivering your speech, scan the entire audience naturally while you are
drawing invisible “M” or “W” word. Maintain contact for a few seconds. If it’s
too short, you’ll seem nervous and shifty. If you look too long, you’ll start
creeping people out.
I hope you find this article useful, by understanding the Five Canons, you can see how each of these fundamental components can help you to develop a lifelong aptitude for effective writing and speaking—hopefully communicating the truth winsomely and persuasively in a world that so desperately needs it.
Harun Dagli – Club President