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Art & Culture, Business & Politics, Digital Media & Communications, Economics

The Rhetoric of Persuasion and Everything in Between

Here it is folks – The Republican National Convention. What we’ve all been anxiously waiting for. Even for those of us who do not identify as a Republican or perhaps don’t care much about politics, it’s difficult to not take a peek at what’s taking place at this convention. I was too tempted to not take the opportunity to analyze Paul Ryan’s speech, ‘College graduates should not have to live out their 20s in their childhood bedrooms’ found on Yahoo News. Topics such as unemployment amongst college graduates, Obama’s healthcare plan, the housing and financial crisis were covered in this approximately 30 minute video. I paused it periodically and solely observed his facial expressions, bodily movements, and affective mannerisms. Most of us know there is a social psychological component to public speeches. In other words, have you ever asked yourself why so many political speeches sound similar (sort of like company mission statements)? Why is it that they seem to say so much, yet so little simultaneously? And what is the common leadership trait of a successful politician? That’s right, transactional and charismatic leadership.

In comparison to many charismatic religious and cult leaders, politicians utilize a persuasion-emotion based communications approach. They are taught to place a great emphasis on their non-verbal communication and inflection of their voice.

  • Using bodily movements. This makes an impact on what you verbally express by demonstrating your body (being) is connected with your mind.
  • Emphasizing facial expressions. Your face is important given it’s what people pay most attention to as you speak. It reflects how credible and genuine you are in accordance to your words.
  • Inflection of voice. If your voice gets louder when matched with a motivational statement requiring a response such as, ‘We can do this together America’! That provokes a reaction from the audience.

These forms of persuasive strategies are essentially the utilization and execution of physical stimuli. If you deconstruct any human interaction in any context, you are left with the basis of physical stimuli. From an evolutionary psychological perspective, physical stimuli is the basis of all communication and existence. In critical discourse analysis (CDA), “an interdisciplinary approach to the study of discourse that views language as a form of social practice and focuses on the ways social and political domination are reproduced in text and talk” (Fairclough, 1989), essentially analyzes powers structures in relation to language construction. In saying this, although the premise of charismatic leadership lies at the core of physical stimuli, what you say matters as well. However, how much of what a leader verbally communicates actually matters?

In Paul Ryan’s speech, he initially establishes his authority stating:

I accept the duty to help lead our nation out of a jobs crisis and back to prosperity — and I know we can do this.

I accept the calling of my generation to give our children the America that was given to us, with opportunity for the young and security for the old — and I know that we are ready.

The importance of these statements center on: I accept the duty to help lead; I know we can do this; I accept the calling; I know we are ready. A few sentences later he proposes we need change and that Mitt Romney is the man for the job. The audience responds by clapping and loudly expresses their praise. Why? Because of the strategic steps Paul Ryan took in establishing his authority, communicating his purpose, and providing a benefit/solution.

The Effective Introduction:

  • Authority
  • Purpose
  • Benefit

The audience is already excited about being at the convention so all the politician has to do is prove himself even further by executing the 3 simple steps in his introduction. Did Mr. Ryan really say anything substantial in his introductory paragraph? Anything that really made him unique or different from any other politician? Of course not. Political speeches are scripts with differing concepts depending on the political view/s. The same is true for charismatic religious speakers. The approximately 30 minute video of Paul Ryan’s speech at the RNC left me feeling disappointed that political speeches still contain sweeping broad statements, and have not evolved past the basics of physical stimuli tactics, leading to unsubstantiated communication.



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