Looking to elevate your language? Learn to leverage rhetorical choices to make your business communications stronger and more memorable
“Friends, Romans, Countrymen, lend me your ears!”, is an example of what many of us think of when we hear the term “rhetorical strategies.” In fact, rhetorical choices are in use every time anyone delivers a speech, gives a pitch, or makes an argument.
Advertisers make use of rhetorical choices all the time. It's how they figure out how to phrase advertising slogans, design campaigns, and make creative decisions. “Four out of five dentists surveyed recommend Trident sugarless gum for their patients who chew gum.” That's using the rhetorical strategy ethos, banking on the credibility of dentists to show that Trident chewing gum is good for your teeth, and the rhetorical device deduction, implying that the dentists are recommending their gum, but not the others.
Politicians also make rhetorical choices - some more masterfully than others - to craft speeches that tug on heartstrings, inspire an audience, and leave memorable phrases stuck in their heads. Remember “Ask not what your country can do for you - ask what you can do for your country?” That's the device chiasmus, repeating a phrase while switching the order of the syntax, inside the strategy pathos, or the appeal to your patriotic emotions.
Having a deeper understanding of rhetorical choices and how to use them in pitches, team meetings, and even email campaigns, can help you to develop the power to persuade, tell better stories, and impress your audience.
So what exactly are rhetorical choices and how can you leverage them to improve your speech?
What are the 3 main examples of rhetorical strategies?
A rhetorical strategy is the path chosen when building an argument. The three most commonly known are logos, ethos, and pathos. Aristotle defined these as the three modes of persuasion. Sometimes also called rhetorical appeals, each appeals to a unique sensibility in making a convincing argument – namely an appeal to the logic of an argument, to the credibility of the speaker or supporter, or to the audience's emotions.
Let's take a look at each of their definitions.
Logos is the appeal to logic. This strategy looks to persuade your audience by using logic and reason. Logos means to make your point through logical arguments, facts, documented evidence, and literal analogies.
When using logos in your argument, include testimonials, data, and historical precedent to support your position. But logical causality - otherwise known as if/then statements - is also a great use of logos.
- “The data shows that this investment consistently turns a profit year-over-year”
- “If our constitution calls equality self-evident, why, then, should I have been denied my due process because of my status?”
- “After thousands of hours of research, the science on climate change is clear”
Ethos is the appeal to ethics. Not in the sense of the morality of the argument, however, but rather in the trust we place in the speaker. The word ethos, in ancient Greek, means “character.”
This rhetorical strategy appeals to an audience's sense of ethics by having the idea presented or supported by someone who appears to have a strong character. In other words, the argument comes from a source that the audience will deem trustworthy. It's the same reasoning behind ads using celebrity spokespeople to sell products.
But it works in rhetoric as well. To make use of ethos in your writing, demonstrate that you're a trustworthy source of accurate information. As the saying goes, before they trust what you say, they have to trust you. Highlight your background, education, or insight to solidify your credibility on the topic. If your own credibility on an issue isn't strong enough, bringing attention to experts who support the position is also a form of ethos.
Ethos can also be used in language and presentation choices to make the overall presentation more trustworthy. For example, not exaggerating, not straining inductive reasoning, and not using stories that seem unlikely.
- “As a doctor who has performed the procedure many times, I can tell you that this course of treatment will lead to the best results”
- “Bob, who has three decades of experience in this sector, and who has seen many plans try and fail, agrees that my strategy will solve this issue”
“If my years as a plumber have taught me anything, it's that these pipes won't last the winter”
Pathos is the appeal to emotions. Emotions are powerful motivators. Getting an audience to feel sad, happy, angry, nostalgic, or even proud is a great way to inspire them to action. The pathos rhetorical strategy capitalizes on this by attempting to persuade the audience through an appeal to their feelings. In ancient Greek, pathos referred to both “suffering” and “experience.” We use this word today as the root of empathy, meaning to feel what someone else is feeling. An audience that connects with someone on an emotional level is more receptive to being persuaded by them.
To use pathos in your writing, find areas to elicit particular emotions in your audience. Common experiences like childhood, family, aspirations, and failures, are all rife with shared emotions. Try using stories with a protagonist who experiences the same struggles that your audience faces. Following the protagonist's journey through hope, frustration, and success will allow the audience to see themselves in that journey, inspiring them to find the same success - usually provided by the argument you're about to present.
We often associate pathos with feelings of joy or sorrow, but it can also be used to elicit fear or anger. Fear of missing out, fear of pain or death, and anger at being exploited or forgotten, are all common goals of advertisers, politicians, influencers, talk show hosts, and others.
- “If we miss this investment opportunity, we'll be dead in our market in less than a year. It's a mistake that could destroy everything we've built.”
- “There's nothing more important than keeping your family safe. Our security system will protect your loved ones from the dangers that lurk outside.”
- “We've been through so much together. Brenda has guided us like a mother through the lean years. Firing her would be like losing the heart of our group.”
What are rhetorical devices?
Where rhetorical strategies are about the general pathway for building an argument, rhetorical devices are language tools used to enhance speech. Figurative language elements - like similes, alliteration, and metaphors - are all rhetorical devices. Beyond that, other rhetorical devices include elements like word choice, speech rhythm, and storytelling tools.
Let's look at a few rhetorical devices and see how they're used.
10 rhetorical devices with examples
- Aphorism. A concise statement designed to illustrate a commonly held belief. "Early to bed and early to rise, make a man healthy, wealthy, and wise."
- Paradox. A statement that seems contradictory, but is actually true. "Nobody goes to that restaurant; it's too crowded.”
- Juxtaposition. Placing two items side by side to create a certain effect, reveal an attitude, or accomplish some other purpose. “That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”
- Hypophora. Raising a question and then immediately providing an answer. “Will we stand for this? No, we will not!”
- Chiasmus. A figure of speech by which the order of the terms in the first of parallel clauses is reversed in the second. “Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”
- Deduction. Deductive reasoning (If a=b and b=c, then a=c) allows you to lead the audience to a conclusion by pointing out “facts” that they already agree with. “The last two rollouts were our bestsellers. Both were developed in a new cooperation with two teams. This cooperation leads to bestselling rollouts.”
- Anaphora. The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive phrases or clauses. "We shall fight in the trenches. We shall fight on the oceans. We shall fight in the sky."
- Euphemism. Substitution of a milder or less direct expression for one that is harsh or blunt. The family dog didn't die; they went “over the rainbow bridge.”
- Consonance. The repetition of two or more consonants with a change in the intervening vowels. “Splish-splash” or “click-clack.”
- Assonance. The repetition of identical or similar vowel sounds, usually in successive or proximate words. “Easy, breezy, CoverGirl” or “teeny-weenie.”
How can I integrate rhetorical choices into my business communications?
Marketing, advertising, and copywriting are obviously prime opportunities to employ rhetorical devices and strategies to elicit moods, persuade, and inspire. But there's a slew of situations in the workaday world where wielding the linguistic knives of rhetorical devices with surgical precision can carve your message into tasty tidbits - from bite-size memos to your team, to a full presentation to persuade your supervisors. See how many rhetorical devices you can count in that sentence!
The first step is knowing your audience and what rhetorical strategy - or mode of persuasion - will work best with them. Are they an emotional bunch or do they demand facts? The second is to know your subject. Is it a topic that is easier to explain with a good story or is comparing and contrasting a better tactic?
Once your strategy is laid out, see if you can use rhetorical choices to pepper up the language of your presentation. Rhythms, repetitions, and mnemonics can make your presentation not only persuasive but memorable.
If you're looking for more advice on bolstering your business language skills, check out our other articles on all things career.