11.3 Making An Argument

When people argue, they are engaged in conflict, and it’s usually not pretty. It sometimes appears that way because people resort to fallacious arguments or false statements, or they simply do not treat each other with respect. They get defensive, try to prove their own point, and fail to listen to each other.

This is not what we want in a persuasive argument. Instead, when you make an argument in a persuasive speech, you will want to present your position with logical points, supporting each point with appropriate sources. You will want to give your audience every reason to perceive you as an ethical and trustworthy speaker. Your audience will expect you to treat them with respect, and to present your argument in a way that does not make them defensive. Contribute to your credibility by building sound arguments and using strategic arguments with skill and planning.

Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) rhetorical strategy focuses on three main elements, shown in Table 11.1 as claim, data, and warrant.

Table 11.1 Rhetorical strategy.
Element Description Example


Your statement of belief or truth

It is important to spay or neuter your pet.


Your supporting reasons for the claim

Millions of unwanted pets are euthanized annually.


You create the connection between the claim and the supporting reasons

Pets that are spayed or neutered do not reproduce, preventing the production of unwanted animals.

This three-part rhetorical strategy is useful in that it makes the claim explicit, clearly illustrating the relationship between the claim and the data, and allows the listener to follow the speaker’s reasoning. You may have a good idea or point, but your audience will be curious and want to know how you arrived at that claim or viewpoint. The warrant often addresses the inherent and often unspoken question, “Why is this data so important to your topic?” and helps you illustrate relationships between information for your audience. This model can help you clearly articulate a persuasive argument for your audience.

Appealing to Emotions

Emotions are a psychological and physical reaction, such as fear or anger, to stimuli that we experience as a feeling. Our feelings or emotions directly impact our own point of view and readiness to communicate, but also influence how, why, and when we say things. Emotions influence not only how you say what you say, but also how you hear, and what you hear. At times, emotions can be challenging to control. Emotions will move your audience, and possibly even move you, to change or act in certain ways.


photo of a series of yellow balls with sad, happy, and other emotional faces
Image by AsolutVision, Pixabay License

Be wary of overusing emotional appeals, or misusing emotional manipulation in presentations and communication. You may encounter emotional resistance from your audience. Emotional resistance involves getting tired, often to the point of rejection, of hearing messages that attempt to elicit an emotional response. Emotional appeals can wear out the audience’s capacity to receive the message.

The use of an emotional appeal may also impair your ability to write persuasively or effectively. Be cautious about using a personal story, or even a story of someone you do not know, if the inclusion of that story causes you to lose control emotionally. While it’s important to discuss relevant and sometimes emotionally difficult topics, you need to assess your own relationship to the message. While some emotional display may be warranted, and may increase your appeal to your audience, your presentation is not an exercise in therapy; you may sacrifice ethos and credibility, even your effectiveness, if you become angry or distraught because you are really not ready to discuss an issue you’ve selected.

Now that you’ve considered emotions and their role in a speech in general, and a speech to persuade specifically, it’s important to recognize the principles of emotions in communication that serve you well when speaking in public. DeVito (2003) offers five key principles to acknowledge the role emotions play in communication and offer guidelines for their expression.

Emotions Are Universal

Emotions are a part of every conversation or interaction that you have. Whether or not you consciously experience them while communicating with yourself or others, they influence how you communicate. By recognizing that emotions are a component in all communication interactions, you can place emphasis on understanding both the content of the message and the emotions that influence how, why, and when the content is communicated.

Expression of emotions is important, but requires the three Ts: tact, timing, and trust. If you find you are upset and at risk of being less than diplomatic, or the timing is not right, or you are unsure about the level of trust, then consider whether you can effectively communicate your emotions. By considering these three Ts, you can help yourself express your emotions more effectively.

Emotions Are Communicated Verbally and Nonverbally

You communicate emotions not only through your choice of words but also through the manner in which you say those words. The words themselves communicate part of your message, but the nonverbal cues, including inflection, timing, space, and paralanguage can modify or contradict your spoken message. Be aware that emotions are expressed in both formats and pay attention to how your verbal and nonverbal messages reinforce and complement each other.

Emotional Expression Can Be Good and Bad

Expressing emotions can be a healthy activity to build trust in a relationship; trust can also be eroded if emotional expression is not combined with judgment. We’re all different and we all experience emotions. How we express our emotions to ourselves and others can have a significant impact on our relationships. Expressing frustration in a speech may help an audience realize your point of view and see things as they have never seen them before, however expressing frustrations combined with blaming can generate defensiveness and decrease effective listening. When you’re expressing yourself, consider the audience’s point of view, be specific about your concerns, and emphasize that your relationship with your listeners is important to you.

Emotions Are Often Contagious

It is important to recognize that we influence each other with our emotions, both positively and negatively. As a speaker, your emotions can be contagious, so ensure you are enthusiastic enough to raise the level of interest in your topic. Conversely, you may be subject to “catching” emotions from your audience – if your audience is less than enthused, don’t succumb to that energy – instead, draw on all your knowledge and skills, and use emotional appeals and persuasive tactics to help increase engagement!

In summary, everyone experiences emotions, and as a persuasive speaker, you can choose how to express emotion and appeal to the audience’s emotions.

Elevator Speech

An elevator speech is to oral communication what a Twitter message (limited to 140 characters) is to written communication. An elevator speech is a presentation that persuades the listener in less than thirty seconds, or around a hundred words.

Creating an Elevator Speech

An elevator speech does not have to be a formal event, though it can be. An elevator speech is not a full sales pitch and should not get bloated with too much information. The idea is not to rattle off as much information as possible in a short time, nor to present a memorized thirty-second advertising message, but rather to give a relaxed and genuine “nutshell” summary of one main idea. The emphasis is on brevity, but a good elevator speech will address several key questions:

    1. What is the topic, product or service?
    2. Who are you?
    3. Who is the target market? (if applicable)
    4. What is the revenue model? (if applicable)
    5. What or who is the competition and what are your advantages?

The following are the five key parts of your message:

  • Attention Statement – Hook + information about you
  • Introduction – What you offer
  • Body – Benefits; what’s in it for the listener
  • Conclusion – Example that sums it up
  • Residual Message – Call for action

Example Elevator Speech

Person you’ve just met: How are you doing?

You: I’m great, how are you? [ensure that your conversation partner feels the conversation is a two-way street and that they might be interested in hearing your elevator speech]

Person you’ve just met: Very well thanks, what brings you to this conference?

You: Glad you asked. I’m with (X Company) and we just received this new (product x)—it is amazing. It beats the competition hands down for a third of the price. Smaller, faster, and less expensive make it a winner. It’s already a sales leader. Hey, if you know anyone who might be interested, call me! (Hands business card to the listener as visual aid). So what brings you to this conference? [be a good listener]

You often don’t know when opportunity to inform or persuade will present itself, but with an elevator speech, you are prepared!

54. Making An Argument” from Communication for Business Professionals by eCampusOntario is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.


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