3 reasons why rhetoric is the ultimate model for communication

Did you know that rhetoric, and not ‘communication’, is this the ultimate model for public speaking and speech writing? I guess you don’t. We will fix that.

1. Rhetoric was born with democracy and for democracy

Imagine a world where citizens had a real and direct impact on all important issues: taxes, war, justice, education… Rhetoric was born in classical Greece with the first experience of direct democracy. For the first time, citizens became responsible for their destiny. What was right or wrong was not anymore determined solely by tradition or religion. It had to be debated and voted in democratic assemblies.

In this context, the first teachers of rhetoric, the Sophists, offered to train citizens for speech writing and public speaking. Their basic rhetorical exercise was Dissoi logoi (twofold arguments): arguing as persuasively as possible for both sides of an issue. Let us begin with an easy one:

Lying is wrong.

Well, trust is our most valuable asset…every single time you lie, you damage your reputation, and so on. Now, how would you argue that lying is good? Give it a try. It should demand a bit more effort…

What if you father was sick and refused to take his medicine? Would it be wrong to put it in his tea? I’m sure you found a comparable strategy. How about this one:

The source of all the troubles in the middle east is religious fundamentalism.

Give it a try!

You might find it more difficult: we are likely to have a strong bias on this one. This is precisely where the workout becomes useful. In the short term, its develops your ability to anticipate an opponent line of argument. In the long run, it makes you more confortable with people expressing views that are radically different from yours. In a word, it shapes your democratic mindset. This old rhetorical truth was recently backed by empirical research.

Now, there are numerous rhetorical exercises you can practice to master specific speech situations, part of speeches and dimensions of communication (ethos, pathos and logos). You can check my research project to learn more about it. The most exciting part of rhetorical training is probably epideictic rhetoric. It gives speakers the skills to make a huge audience feel, decide and act like one body. You will find more about epideictic, week after week on Rhetorical Craft.

2. Rhetoric is a craft and rhetoricians are not ashamed of it

What is a craft? A craft is right in the middle between art and science. You learn a craft by acquiring theoretical principles, by exercising and by getting feedback from a master. The first teachers of rhetoric understood that learning to speak in public was not different from learning to draw, learning to paint or learning to sing. The point is that rhetoricians know that rhetoric is the craft. They will not make you loose your time by pretending that their is a science of persuasion, a science of sale, a science of good marketing. They will make the best out of your time by sharing it evenly between theory, practice and feedback

3. Rhetoric is rooted in a realistic conception of human nature

Ethos, pathos, logos. Does it ring a bell? This three-dimensional model is based on the fact that humans are made of character, feelings and reason. If you want your communication to speak to whole humans, you should take those three dimensions into account. I am sure you knew it. I am also sure that you didn’t heard much about rhetoric in your communication studies or from the ‘communication’ specialists. At least we met!

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