Democratic Convention, Day 4: Hillary Clinton, Gender, and Yelling

Democratic Convention, Day 4: Hillary Clinton, Gender, and Yelling

The first three days of the Democratic National Convention were filled with stand-out speakers—Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Barack Obama. They did an excellent job supporting their candidate, but they also raised the bar for Hillary Clinton.  It’s tough to be the person who has to follow some of the strongest orators of this generation.  When compared to Trump, though, Clinton carried the day. In terms of logos (persuasion through logic), Clinton held her own when measured against her famous supporters…

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Democratic National Convention, Day 4: The Surprise Star of the Night, Khizr Kahn

Democratic National Convention, Day 4: The Surprise Star of the Night, Khizr Kahn

On the final day of the Democratic National Convention, a Muslim father whose son died in combat stole the show with an electrifying six-minute speech. Khizr Kahn, with his wife Ghazala Khan by his side, spoke of their son, U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Kahn.  He was an American soldier who died in Iraq saving his fellow soldiers from a car bomb.  Kahn and his family are Muslin immigrants: “If it was up to Donald Trump, he would never have been…

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Democratic National Convention, Day Three: Barack Obama

Democratic National Convention, Day Three: Barack Obama

If you want to learn to speak effectively, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are powerhouse role models.  Here’s what you can learn from President Obama.  To read about President Clinton’s speech, see our analysis here. Logos: Make Your Best Case Succinctly Barack Obama’s speech was as inspiring and uplifting as we have come to expect him to be.  We (the authors) have sometimes felt that Obama does not like to make the case for his own record—that he could be…

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Democratic National Convention, Day Two: Bill Clinton

Democratic National Convention, Day Two: Bill Clinton

If you want to learn to speak effectively, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama are powerhouse role models.  Here’s what you can learn from President Clinton: Pathos: Tell a Vivid Story Clinton is a master storyteller.  The primary purpose of his speech was to make Hillary Clinton appealing, to get America to fall in love with her as he himself did so many years ago.  So he told story after story about his wife, each vignette painting a picture you could…

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Democratic National Convention, Day One: Michelle Obama

Democratic National Convention, Day One: Michelle Obama

The most effective speakers use positive emotions to persuade.  You can witness this truism in action in Michelle Obama’s speech from the first day of the Democratic National Convention. The convention got off to a rocky start.  Many were outraged at revelations over the weekend stoking the darkest suspicions of Bernie Sanders’ supporters that the Democratic National Committee unfairly favored Hillary Clinton’s campaign.  The leaked e-mails hit squarely at Clinton’s Achilles heel—the sense that she isn’t trustworthy.  Some Sanders supporters…

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Trump’s Acceptance Speech, Republican National Convention, Day Four

Trump’s Acceptance Speech, Republican National Convention, Day Four

THE CHALLENGE Donald Trump confronted an unusually daunting task in this speech:  to satisfy his supporters, eager to see a show of strength; to unify the Republican party behind him, including its moderate establishment members; and to persuade undecided voters, perhaps followers of Bernie Sanders, to back his candidacy.  His address was given against the background of a vituperative primary race and a convention characterized by dark, angry speeches. ETHOS According to Aristotle, a speaker persuades through inspiring trust and…

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The First Three Days of the Republican National Convention

The First Three Days of the Republican National Convention

The Republican National Convention is in full swing. Here are a few rhetorical lessons from the first three days.  (Remember, we are not trying to take political positions in this blog.  Instead, we are taking positions about who speaks well—and who doesn’t.) Patricia Smith: Care about your topic, but don’t let your emotions overwhelm you. Patricia Smith, the mother of Sean Smith, who was killed in the 2012 terrorist attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi, gave an emotional speech…

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Does Inflammatory Rhetoric Work?

Does Inflammatory Rhetoric Work?

In the 2016 presidential race, Donald Trump seems to have rewritten all the rules. Imagine Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy or Ronald Reagan calling women “fat pigs” or making comments about their menstrual cycles, disparaging a federal judge for being “of Mexican heritage,” or calling for a blockade on Muslims entering the United States because “Islam hates us.” Trump could make his arguments without cloaking them in this inflammatory language. He could object to a reporter’s questions, critique…

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Lessons from Aristotle: How to Judge Political Rhetoric

Lessons from Aristotle: How to Judge Political Rhetoric

What should you watch for in the coming debates between the two presidential candidates? Here’s what Aristotle might say. Aristotle is one of the first people on the planet to write about how verbal persuasion works, and his formulation in “The Rhetoric” continues to provide useful guidance to aspiring orators. Aristotle said a speaker persuades using three tools: • Ethos, or credibility. Aristotle wrote, “Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character, when the speech is spoken as to make…

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Tongue-Tied Applied: The 2016 Presidential Election

Tongue-Tied Applied: The 2016 Presidential Election

Verbal persuasion is an empowering skill. If you know how to speak persuasively, you can shine both professionally and personally. There is nothing quite like the feeling of speaking well and being heard. This blog, and our book, “Tongue-Tied America: Reviving the Art of Verbal Persuasion,” examine how rhetoric works. We are law school professors from the University of Virginia who teach advocacy, rhetoric, and negotiations. But our interest in oratory is not limited to the world of lawyers. We…

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Second Presidential Debate: Obama Gets Focused

Second Presidential Debate: Obama Gets Focused

The second presidential debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney proved to be another clash between two expert rhetoricians. The winner of the debate depends on which poll you read, indicating that this continues to be a tight political race. Viewed in terms of pure rhetorical skill, however, the night goes to President Obama.

The Vice-Presidential Debate: What Will You Remember?

The Vice-Presidential Debate: What Will You Remember?

That “whoosh” you may have heard last night was a collective sigh of relief, as Democrats across the country watched their vice-presidential candidate come out swinging. After President Obama’s low-energy performance during the first presidential debate, Democrats were itching for a show of strength from their ticket, and Joe Biden did not disappoint. But this morning, you may be hearing a different noise—a buzz of commentators asking, “Did he go too far?”

First Presidential Debate

First Presidential Debate

Last night’s presidential debate was a pleasure to watch. President Obama and Governor Romney have extensive debate experience—over 50 debates between them—and the wonky political knowledge that a candidate must master to exude credibility. Both were able to project power, articulate complicated ideas clearly, and engage the audience. But Romney’s performance had a little extra pizzazz, a more deftly crafted message, and the energy that comes when a speaker knows that he is doing well, which let him carry the…

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The Debates Are Coming…

The Debates Are Coming…

Tonight at 9:00 EDT you can watch the first round of the presidential debates between President Obama and Governor Romney. Here is our list of what each candidate should do in order to be at his rhetorical best:

Plato, YouTube and Muhammad: When the Rules of Rhetoric Clash with Free Speech

Plato, YouTube and Muhammad: When the Rules of Rhetoric Clash with Free Speech

Plato hated rhetoric.  He worried that it made the “worse appear the better reason,” that it was a form of “flattery” designed to pull the wool over the eyes of the ignorant multitudes. He conceded that rhetoric could be done well if the speaker was careful to speak the truth about what he said, if he took the time to explain his terms, if he paid attention to structure, and if he designed his speech to be appropriate for his…

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Romney’s Criticism of Embassy Statement Misfires

Romney’s Criticism of Embassy Statement Misfires

In the midst of protests at the American embassy in Egypt and violence on the American embassy in Libya that left four people dead, including the American ambassador, Mitt Romney made news of his own.  He spoke out about what he described as the Obama administration’s reaction to the crisis, pointing to a release by the American embassy in Egypt.  His statements have gotten him into trouble, illustrating the importance of accuracy to effective rhetoric.

The Democratic National Convention, Day Three: The Main Attraction — Barack Obama

The Democratic National Convention, Day Three: The Main Attraction — Barack Obama

The build-up was intense: Eloquent speeches by Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton and others; then a moving video tribute narrated by George Clooney. The expectation was high. Obama has already delivered some of the most memorable speeches of his generation. The president did not disappoint. Here’s how he came through:

The Democratic National Convention, Day Three: Joe Biden Learns It’s Hard to Follow Clinton

The Democratic National Convention, Day Three: Joe Biden Learns It’s Hard to Follow Clinton

Joe Biden is capable of delivering a moving, inspiring speech. This was not his best. Biden tried to establish an emotional connection with his audience by starting the talk as many of the speakers at these conventions have, by describing his love for his family. His declaration of love for his wife, whom he called “Kitten,” seemed oddly out-of-place for a formal speech, and went on for far too long. You can watch it here: 

The Democratic National Convention, Day One: Starting With a Bang

The Democratic National Convention, Day One: Starting With a Bang

The first day of the Democratic National Convention was a pleasure for fans of rhetoric to watch. Many of the presentations were emotionally powerful and delivered superbly. (The terms that you’ll see in parentheses are Aristotle’s concepts of effective persuasion: ethos, or credibility; pathos, or emotional engagement; and logos, or logic. See our previous posts for more about these concepts.) Note how many of these hit some of the arguments that we listed in our previous post.  Speeches worth noting:

Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch Problem: Why it is Difficult to Change Stories Mid-Campaign

Mitt Romney’s Etch A Sketch Problem: Why it is Difficult to Change Stories Mid-Campaign

You may recall a memorable moment in the Romney campaign back in March, when senior advisor Eric Fehrnstrom described the transition from the primaries to the general election as an opportunity for his candidate to reinvent himself:  Everything changes. It’s almost like an Etch A Sketch. You can kind of shake it up and restart all over again. Admitting to this plan was roundly criticized as folly, but candidates traditionally must fine-tune (or even significantly overhaul) their messages as they…

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Using “Women” in the Republican National Convention

Using “Women” in the Republican National Convention

It was striking how many of the key speakers at the Republican National Convention reached for the theme of the importance of women.  In speech after speech, we heard about the dominant role that mothers have played in shaping the lives of these political figures: Chris Christie’s Sicilian mom, “the enforcer,” who taught him to speak “the truth, bluntly, directly and without much varnish”; Paul Ryan’s mom, who demonstrated true grit by earning a degree and starting a business after…

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The Republican National Convention, Day Three: Mitt Romney Accepts the Nomination

The Republican National Convention, Day Three: Mitt Romney Accepts the Nomination

The Republican National Convention, Day Three: Mitt Romney Accepts the Nomination The first half of Day Three of the Republican National Convention (or at least the part that was actually broadcast on network TV) was a bizarre train-wreck. Surprise guest Clint Eastwood may prove to be the most vivid memory that many viewers will take away from Mitt Romney’s big day, with his incoherent speech that included a strange (and off-color) dialogue with an invisible, imaginary Barack Obama. Florida’s Marco…

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