The Art of Persuasion: How to Win Arguments Through Claims

Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike
The Art of Persuasion: How to Win Arguments Through Claims

What do you think of when you hear the word “argument?” People raising their voices, hurling words at each other back and forth? Well, yes, too often this is the case. However, the word argument also means “providing reasons with the aim of persuading others that an action or idea is right or wrong.”

Great speeches usually have several arguments that are reasons to support the speaker’s position on a topic. Look to the following example from a speech by Leonardo DiCaprio, an American actor, and environmentalist who spoke at the 2014 United Nations Climate Summit, with the goal of getting nations to fight climate change:

[Every week, we’re seeing new and undeniable climate events, evidence that accelerated climate change is here now. We know that droughts are intensifying, and our oceans are warming and acidifying, with methane plumes rising up from beneath the ocean floor. We are seeing extreme weather events, increased temperatures, and the West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets melting at unprecedented rates, decades ahead of scientific projections. None of this is rhetoric, and none of it is hysteria. It is fact. The scientific community knows it, industry and governments know it, and even the United States Military knows it.]

Notice how his argument includes facts and explanation, and not just a sentence or two stating his opinion. This is because the main purpose of persuasive public speaking is to convince the audience, or the judge, to change their minds on a topic, or to take action on a problem. Thus, every successful persuasive speech should consist of one or more complete arguments that are logical and easy to understand. In this article, you’ll learn about the difference between claims and full arguments, and how to add emotional appeal and credibility to your argument through personal and non-personal examples.

The most important thing to keep in mind when making arguments is the difference between a claim and a complete argument. If you’re asked what your argument is, you might be tempted to respond with a one-sentence summary. This might sound like: “Laziness actually promotes innovation and is a good habit for all human beings,” or, “Mobile phones are useful as active learning tools and are not a distraction.” While these are essential parts of the argument, neither of them is actually a complete argument. Rather, these are what we call “claims.” A claim is a statement that is either true or untrue. A speaker can use a claim to support their opinion on a topic. Claims should be simple, clear, and arguable sentences. Arguable means that the claim is not a fact, but an opinion that can be challenged. A claim that is not arguable is that “Cats are mammals.” This is a fact. An arguable claim would be that “Cats are the best pets.” A complete argument, however, is a claim that is backed by some type of proof that it is true. A complete argument can be as short as a paragraph or as long as an entire book!

Now that you know the difference between claims and arguments, let's learn how to increase your credibility – that is, how to make your audience believe what you say, by using both facts and emotions.

Since an argument is a claim that is backed by some type of proof that it is true, this means that all arguments should include some type of explanation, supported with examples and/or evidence in order to be convincing and believable.

Generally speaking, there are two types of examples you can use to support an argument: personal and non-personal. Personal examples are stories or anecdotes from your own life that supports your claim. Personal examples are a great way to create an emotional appeal. Emotional appeal is when an argument touches the hearts of the audience and inspires them to agree with the speaker or even be inspired to take action on an issue. In general, personal examples are relatable to audiences and can create sympathy when you are trying to justify your claim.

Non-personal examples usually come from newspapers or journals and not from your personal life. Imagine you were giving a speech on why all school lunches for children should be vegetarian. You might find an example from an article about famous athletes who only eat vegetables and are very healthy. However, you might also find university research that showed that schools with vegetarian lunches for students saw an increase in productivity and a decrease in obesity within a six-month period. This type of study by experts can be considered credible evidence.

At this point you are probably asking, “So when do I use personal examples and when should I prefer non-personal examples?” For this question, there is no one fixed answer. Some speakers will favor just one method, and others will use a balance of both. This really depends on who your audience is and what your purpose is. Also, some formats of public speaking and debating require that you use specific types of evidence and examples. However, each type of example has some unique advantages and disadvantages. Personal examples can help a speaker connect to an audience emotionally and move or inspire them. But since they are specific to one person’s life, they don’t necessarily represent the broader public’s experience. On the other hand, non-personal examples may leave the audience feeling less emotionally connected with the speaker, but they are generally more accurate and represent a wider variety of people.

So, let’s recap! First, a claim is not the same thing as an argument; arguments are claims that some type of proof that they are true. Second, to support your argument, you can use either or both personal and non-personal examples and evidence, depending on your goal and the rules of the event you are speaking at.

I leave you with a quote from the famous South African human rights activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Desmond Tutu: “Don’t raise your voice, improve your argument.” And now you know how to. Good luck!

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Coach Mike
Post by Coach Mike