Getting the Most Out of a Persuasive Speech

Expect Selective Exposure

In theory, people tend to select specific aspects of exposed information based on their pre-existing perspective, beliefs, attitudes, and decisions.

Learning Objectives

Define selective exposure and explain its relation to persuasive speaking

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The selective exposure theory is a concept that refers to individuals’ tendency to favor information that reinforces pre-existing views while avoiding contradictory information.
  • Selective exposure operates by reinforcing beliefs rather than exposing individuals to a diverse array of viewpoints.
  • Perceived usefulness of information, perceived norm of fairness, and curiosity regarding valuable information are three factors that can counteract selective exposure.

Key Terms

  • selective exposure: The selective exposure theory is a concept in media and communication research that refers to individuals’ tendency to favor information that reinforces pre-existing views while avoiding contradictory information.
  • audience: A group of people within hearing; specifically a group of people listening to a performance, speech etc.; the crowd seeing a stage performance.

Introduction

Benjamin Zander plays a piano on stage and connects with the audience.

Does It Conform?: Similar to an audience enjoying a concert, the success of a persuasive speech can depend on people’s pre-existing views.

The selective exposure theory is a concept in media and communication research that refers to individuals’ tendency to favor information that reinforces preexisting views while avoiding contradictory information. This theory suggests that people tend to select specific aspects of exposed information based on their perspective, beliefs, attitudes, and decisions. People can determine the information exposed to them and select favorable evidence, while ignoring the unfavorable.

This theory has been explored using the cognitive dissonance theory, which suggests information consumers strive for results of cognitive equilibrium. In order to attain this equilibrium, individuals may either reinterpret the information they are exposed to or select information that is consonant with their view.

The premise of selective exposure relies on the assumption that information-seeking behavior continues even after an individual has taken a stance on an issue. Previous information-seeking behavior will be colored by various factors of the issue that is activated during the decision-making process. Thus, selective exposure operates by reinforcing beliefs rather than exposing individuals to a diverse array of viewpoints, which is considered an important aspect of a functioning democracy.

There are several factors that persuade one when making decisions. Physical characteristics, age, and more hold power to sway perception, luring people into habits of selective exposure. People often stray away from new information because it conflicts with their own beliefs; because information and resources are critical to learning this habit cripples the ability to learn new concepts and skills.

Selective exposure influences and family, friends, co-workers, even skilled professionals like doctors. Media forms such as the internet, television, and paper sources are also inclined to selective bias.

Selective exposure has been demonstrated in various contexts such as self-serving situations and situations where people hold prejudices regarding out-groups, particular opinions, and personal and group-related issues. The perceived usefulness of information, perceived norms of fairness, and curiosity regarding valuable information are three factors that can counteract selective exposure. Remember this as your prepare your persuasive speech.

How does selective exposure theory affect decision-making?

Selective exposure can affect the decisions people make because people may not be willing to change their views and beliefs. Changing beliefs about one’s self, other people, and the world are all challenges that cause people to fear new information.

A variety of studies have shown that selective exposure effects can occur in context of both individual and group decision making.

Selective exposure can interfere or prevent the gathering of new information. Selective exposure is prevalent in both groups of people and individually. In Jonas et al. (2001) empirical studies were done on four different experiments investigating individuals’ and groups’ decision making. This article suggests that confirmation bias is prevalent in decision making.

Those who find new information often draw their attention to areas where they hold some personal attachment. Thus, information that supports the expectations or beliefs held by the person draw greater attention, in keeping with selective exposure theory. Throughout the four experiments, generalization was reliably considered valid and confirmation bias was always present when test subjects sought new information and made decisions.

Tips for the Speaker

Be prepared. Like it or not, you are going to face selective exposure from your audience as you try to persuade them to accept your stance. When preparing your speech, remember that perceived usefulness of information, perceived norm of fairness, and curiosity regarding valuable information can counteract selective exposure.

Don’t Expect Too Much

The expectations for both the speaker and the effectiveness of the speech should be tailored for each speech.

Learning Objectives

Modify your expectations for your speech and your performance

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • The expected effectiveness of each speech depends on a number of factors, such as the audience, venue, time allotted, and the speaker’s experience.
  • The expected quality of the delivery depends on the speaker’s experience and comfort. Even the most gifted speakers make mistakes, so expecting perfection from a novice is unreasonable.
  • Anxiety of public speaking sometimes is derived from the idea that the audience expects perfection. In reality, most audiences are sympathetic and want the speaker to succeed.

Key Terms

  • persuasion: the process aimed at changing a person’s (or a group’s) attitude or behavior

Persuasion is the influence of beliefs, attitudes, intentions, motivations, or behaviors to convince an audience of something. A persuasive speech should move the audience further along the pathway to believing that the espoused point of view is correct, but not all views can be explained in one speech and not every audience can be swayed at once.

The expectations of each persuasive speech should be tailored to the context of the speech. Factors such as the speech itself, the audience, the venue, the time allotted, and the speaker’s experience all need to be considered. For example, if you are not a doctor but are asked to give a five minute speech to the American Heart Association about why fast food is the best food for heart health, your chances of persuading everyone is pretty low. Even if you are the expert in the room, not everyone will be persuaded because each person requires different processes to be convinced. The purpose of the persuasive speech is to get the audience to think about your point of view and to accept some of the vital points, not necessarily to make them buy everything you’re selling.

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Setting Expectations: Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech is one of the most historic and powerful speeches in history.

Similarly, the expectations for the delivery of the speech should not be set too high. For a novice speaker to expect that he/she will never mispronounce a word, get nervous, or skip a paragraph is unreasonable. Every speaker goes through the process of making mistakes, and few, if any, speakers ever deliver a perfect speech. The expected quality of the delivery of the speech depends on each individual speaker’s experience and comfort level, though even the most gifted orators make mistakes.

Some of the anxiousness that often accompanies preparing for a speech is derived from the idea that the audience expects perfection. However, the surprising truth is that, in most cases, the audience is a sympathetic friend. Whether or not the audience knows who you are, human nature dictates that they are very sympathetic to you and what you have to say. Most people appreciate the difficulty of your role, understand that you have something to say, and want the time they spend listening to you to be worthwhile. In other words, before you start speaking, most audiences have a vested interest in wanting you to succeed, and that translates into an attentive, supportive group.

Employ Empathy and Sensitivity

Appeals to empathy and sensitivity can be exceedingly effective, but only if used correctly.

Learning Objectives

List the benefits and drawbacks of using an emotional appeal in your speech

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Appeals to empathy and sensitivity are called emotional appeals. Emotional appeals seek to impart certain feelings in the audience so that they will act a certain way. They can be much more powerful than logical arguments in some situations.
  • To deploy an emotional appeal you need to share carefully selected information that naturally makes your audience feel a certain way.
  • Audiences can sense inauthentic emotional appeals and react negatively because they feel that they are being negatively. Poorly used emotional appeals can have the exact opposite effect than intended.

Key Terms

  • emotional appeal: An an attempt to make the audience feel certain emotions so that they will be more likely to be engaged by the speech. Also known as pathos.

Appealing to the empathy and sensitivity of the audience is broadly termed an emotional appeal. Emotional appeals can be a powerful rhetorical element of a persuasive speech. They are an attempt to make the audience feel something, and in the process, be persuaded by the speech. A crowd that is feeling something is much more likely to be engaged, give consideration to your arguments, and remember the speech.

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Tapping into Emotions: A speaker can use emotional appeals in an attempt to get audience members to feel a certain way.

Appeals to empathy and sensitivity can create a sense of connection and trust between you and the audience. Since trust and connection are vital elements of being able to persuade an audience, emotional appeals can be incredibly useful.

However, emotional appeals can also backfire if used incorrectly. If taken too far, an appeal to emotion can seem to be forced. Audiences can tell the difference between an honest emotional appeal and an attempt is to manipulate how they feel. Audiences loathe feeling manipulated, so an audience that senses inauthentic motives will strongly reject both the appeal and the speaker.

When the emotional appeal is both authentic and appropriately used, you can develop a much stronger connection to your audience than by using logic alone. However, to misuse an emotional appeal is to completely alienate your audience, and even foster negative feelings.

Using Different Kinds of Appeals

The two primary kinds of appeals are evidential and emotional appeals.

Learning Objectives

Identify the two most prevalent kinds of appeals

Key Takeaways

Key Points

  • Aristotle defined 3 types of appeals: logos (evidential), pathos (emotional), and ethos (based on moral standing). Logos and pathos are the two most common contemporary categories.
  • Evidential appeals (logical appeals, logos) are based entirely on evidence that is then shown to cause a certain outcome based on rationality alone. This is the type of appeal allowed in scientific research and in courts of law.
  • Emotional appeals (pathos) attempt to cause the audience to feel certain emotions in order to persuade them. Stories and metaphors are examples of emotional appeals.

Key Terms

  • evidential appeal: An attempt to show the logical connection between a set of evidence and a consequence. Also known as logical appeal or logos.
  • emotional appeal: An an attempt to make the audience feel certain emotions so that they will be more likely to be engaged by the speech. Also known as pathos.

Use Different Kinds of Appeals

According to Aristotle, there are three primary types of appeals:

  1. Logos: A logical appeal. Also known as an evidential appeal.
  2. Pathos: An appeal to the audience’s emotions.
  3. Ethos: Moral expertise and knowledge.

For the purposes of this section, we will explore the two broadest and prevalent appeals, logos and pathos.

Logos (Evidential or Logical Appeal)

From a rationalist’s point of view, evidential appeals are the only type of appeal that truly matter. Evidential appeals are formed by defining the evidence and then explaining how the evidence must logically prove that a certain conclusion must be true. Evidential appeals are the only type of persuasive speech allowed in a court of law; the evidence must prove that the defendant has committed the crime in order for that person to be found guilty.

An empty courtroom.

Evidential Appeal: The only type of rhetorical appeal accepted in a courtroom in an evidential appeal.

Evidential appeals are also the basis for scientific research. A scientist must be able to show the connection between evidence and a conclusion in order for his/her work to be accepted. In persuasive speaking, the speaker must first explain the evidence in a way that is comprehensible to the audience, yet complete. Then the scientist must explain how that evidence logically leads to a consequence that supports his/her proposal.

Pathos (Emotional Appeal)

An emotional appeal is intended to cause the audience to feel a certain way so that they will be convinced by the speaker. Emotional appeals can manifest in a number of ways. Metaphors, stories, and passionate delivery are all emotional appeals because their effectiveness lies not only in the words, but in the emotions they evoke in the audience. Ultimately, the effectiveness of an emotional appeal is determined only by the audience. If the audience does not feel the intended emotions, by definition, the appeal has failed.