Whether you are pitching a new business idea, advocating a cause, making oral pleadings, negotiating or simply trying to win someone over to your perspective, mastering the art of rhetoric can give your oral skills the added finesse to sound more convincing and persuasive.

A little history behind the origin of the word rhetoric comes from the Greek term “rhetorikos” which means oratory. Rhetoric is therefore the art of effective communication through persuasion, whereby you appeal to the audience through emotions and logic. Rhetoric  has been studied and practised for centuries, dating back to ancient Greece and Rome. It is the use of language to persuade, influence, or motivate. Some famous personalities well known for their art of rhetoric include St Augustine of Hippo, who before becoming Bishop of Hippo was a skilled orator and lawyer practising in the Roman Empire in today’s Italy, others include Martin Luther King Junior iconised by his I had a dream speech, Frederick Douglas, Barack Obama Winston Churchill to name a few.

At its core, rhetoric consists of three primary elements which you need to effectively  grasp in order to master and achieve your target: ethos, pathos, and logos. Ethos appeals to the credibility and authority of the speaker. Pathos taps into the emotions of the audience, while logos appeals to logic and reason.

Ethos, in summary, are the guiding beliefs and principles we subscribe to as people, a community, an organisation or what have you.  Putting this into perspective this means our actions , our words carry weight and are often defined by the principles we hold. It is the Ethos itself that lends to the persuasive appeal of credibility, which is a cornerstone of effective communication. Establishing credibility is paramount for winning the trust and persuasion of others. This is accomplished through the demonstration of expertise, integrity, and goodwill. Individuals who possess these qualities are more likely to be perceived as knowledgeable and trustworthy, thereby enhancing their ability to influence and persuade. When it comes to credible personalities that are also powerful public speakers, who comes to mind? My own father Dr Olisa Agbakoba , Professor Wole Soyinka, Chief Chimamanda Adichei. When they speak, people listen because they deliver with an air of authenticity and authority that makes their speeches irresistible and engaging.

Pathos: This aspect of rhetoric which appeals to emotion,makes it a potent tool for effective persuasion. You will probably have guessed that motivational speakers, politicians, activists, and religious leaders rely heavily on Pathos. Emotions often sway decision-making, making it crucial to tap into the emotional realm when seeking to influence others. By appealing to the emotions of your audience, you can forge a connection, evoke empathy, sympathy, or even excitement, thereby enhancing the impact of your message.

Through her compelling story and impassioned speeches, Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani education activist and Nobel laureate, effectively appeals to the emotions of her audience, creating a powerful connection with people around the globe. Her courage, resilience, and unwavering commitment to education strike a chord with audiences of all ages and backgrounds, eliciting empathy and admiration.

Logos: Logos which comes from the greek root word for thought or principle, is the use of logical reasoning and evidence. It is essential in persuasive communication. While emotions are important, relying on logic strengthens your case and convinces your audience of the validity of your point of view. Providing evidence, facts, statistics, and logical arguments forms a solid foundation for your argument, appealing to the rational faculties of your audience and fostering critical thinking. As the famous saying goes, ‘the proof is in the pudding’. Unsurprisingly, Logos is frequently used  by categories of professionals such as Barristers, Investigators,  Accountants,The Police, Judiciary, Auditors. One great example of a professional who uses Logos in communication effectively is Taiwo Oyedele former Fiscal Policy Partner and Africa Tax Leader at PwC Nigeria and current Chairman of the Presidential Committee on Fiscal Policy and Tax Reforms. His clear, succint and crisp style of communication and ability to dissect and break down complex subject matters like finance, tax, policy reform makes him very appealing and endearing to his audience.

On a global forum, Angela Merkel, the former Chancellor of Germany, is well known for her pragmatic and analytical approach to governance. She consistently relies on evidence, facts, and logical arguments to support her policies and decisions, particularly during times of crisis such as the European financial downturn and the refugee crisis. In addressing these complex challenges, Merkel consistently presented data, economic analyses, and expert opinions to justify her government’s actions and policies.

Crafting Your Message

Effective rhetoric requires careful consideration of both content and delivery. Here are some key strategies for crafting a persuasive message:

Know Your Audience: Tailor your message to resonate with the values, beliefs, and interests of your audience. Understanding their perspectives and concerns allows you to frame your arguments in a way that is most compelling to them.

Tell a Compelling Story: Humans are wired to respond to stories. Use narratives to illustrate your points, capture attention, and engage emotions. A well-crafted story can make abstract concepts more concrete and memorable.

Use Rhetorical Devices: Rhetorical devices such as metaphors, analogies, repetition, and rhetorical questions can enhance the persuasiveness of your message. These devices add flair and emphasis, making your arguments more memorable and persuasive.

Anticipate Counterarguments: Addressing potential objections before they are raised demonstrates foresight and thoroughness. Acknowledge opposing viewpoints and present counter arguments in a respectful and convincing manner.

Honing Your Delivery

Delivery is just as important as content when it comes to persuasive communication. Here are some tips for delivering your message effectively:

Confidence and Poise: Confidence instills trust and credibility in the speaker. Maintain good posture, make eye contact, and speak with conviction. A confident demeanour can significantly enhance your persuasiveness.

Voice and Tone: Pay attention to your voice and tone, as they can influence how your message is received. Vary your tone to match the emotional nuances of your message, and speak with clarity and emphasis to convey conviction.

Body Language: Nonverbal cues such as gestures, facial expressions, and body language can convey meaning and reinforce your message. Use open and welcoming gestures to engage your audience and convey sincerity.

Practice and Feedback: Like any skill, mastering rhetoric requires practice. Rehearse your speech or presentation multiple times to familiarise yourself with the material and refine your delivery. Solicit feedback from peers or mentors to identify areas for improvement.

Some book recommendations for those who want are serious about developing their oral skills include

  • The Art of Rhetoric by Aristotle
  • Thank you for arguing by Jay Heinrichs
  • The Elements of Eloquencee – How to turn the perfect english phrase by Mark Forsyth

Also I recommend you watch some powerful talks to take cues from for instance The Danger of the Single Story by Chief Chimamanda, I have a Dream by Martin Luther King and Still I rise by Dr Maya Angelou.

I hope you enjoyed this piece and put much of the principles learnt into practice.

Until next time.

Enjoy and Keep Developing Your A-Game.