3 Steps to Persuasive Rhetoric: From Aristotle to Don Draper

The Art of Persuasive Rhetoric: From Aristotle to Don Draper

We all know who comes to mind when someone says “Persuasive, confident, charming and convincing”…but this post isn’t about me. It’s about learning the art of persuasive rhetoric from Greece’s favourite philosopher, Aristotle, and televisions’ slickest mad-man, Don Draper (I have it on good authority that both these guys follow my blog religiously).

Growing up I was always amazed at my father’s ability to walk into a room and within minutes be able to command the attention of everyone around him. It wasn’t that he had a dominating physical presence or a loud voice that turned heads. No, not that. It was more so that the moment he started speaking everyone would listen. In a debate he would immediately disarm his opponent and have them nodding in agreement with him. When telling a story people would hang on his every word in anticipation for what’s coming next. And I have never seen someone put conflict to rest so easily or move conservation in their favour so smoothly.

As a kid I never knew what title to put on it. But the more I observed him, the more I understood his methods. He had mastered the art of persuasive rhetoric. And so as long as you possess the power to persuade with words, you possess the power to sway things in your favour.

So how can we learn the in’s and out’s of persuasive rhetoric?

Well, Aristotle—being the go getter that he is—wrote a brilliant piece of work, Rhetoric, which describes the structure of persuasive rhetoric in human discourse through three steps (this shortly came after he invented the two-step). With these three modes of persuasive rhetoric in hand we can learn how to persuade our audience with ease.

And who better to accompany us on this journey through Aristotle’s work than the man that embodies the aura of persuasion? It’s no other than the well-dressed, smooth talking, Lucky Strike smoking, adulterer…Don Draper.

So let’s take a look at a side-by-side comparison of Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion and three Mr. Draper quotes that put these into action:

Ethos: The appeal to Authority & Character.

Aristotle – “Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker…”

Don Draper – “You’re happy because you’re successful for now. But what is happiness? It’s a moment before you need more happiness…You’re happy with your agency? You’re not happy with anything. You don’t want most of it, you want all of it – and I won’t stop until you get all of it.”

The appeal to authority is like a good game of chess; the last thing you want to do is come across as overbearing and scare your opponent into retreat. Establish authority by establishing yourself as someone with expert knowledge, virtuous character, and most importantly, someone who can be trusted to give answers. Massage your audience’s ego and lure them out with some of that Draper-esque finesse…make them feel comfortable that you have their best interest in hand…and then strike! Tell them what they want and make them believe that you’re the only one they can trust to give it them.

Pathos: The appeal to Emotion

Aristotle: “…persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile.”

Don Draper: “This device isn’t a space ship, it’s a time machine. It goes backwards, forwards. It takes us to a place where we ache to go again. It’s not called a wheel, it’s called a carousel. It lets us travel the way a child travels. Round and a round, and back home again. To a place where we know we are loved.”

Talk to anyone in advertising or marketing and they will tell you that the one key ingredient to convincing an audience is to appeal to their emotions. When emotion comes into play we have this funny habit of tossing logic out the window. We become so encompassed in what we feel that we begin to think with the heart and not the head. If you can find the right heart strings to tug on, you’ll be able to pull your audience in whichever direction you please.

Logos: The appeal to Logic

Aristotle: “…persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.”

Don Draper: (Okay maybe not a quote, but a lesson!) It’s hard to pick just one quote because almost all of Don Draper’s pitches are rooted in some sort of logical argument. But what we can learn most is that even when Don has a weak logical argument, he is able to use emotion and authority to make it seem fortified and concrete.

With your audience caught up in emotion and putting trust in your knowledge, all you need now is to make sure that your point makes sense. The true and tried methods of inductive and deductive reasoning rarely fail; just make sure to avoid circular arguments and ‘straw-man’ setups. Remember…short and sweet is the way to go. Get to your point and show the steps to back it up!

And there you have! Now go out there and persuade someone to give you a raise, pay for your dinner or maybe…you know…use it for a good purpose and persuade people to better themselves.


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