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 believe that anyone can — and should — learn to speak effectively.
Verbal persuasion also plays an essential role in the proper functioning of a healthy democracy. Government “by the people” requires that the people be involved — that they possess some basic understanding of how to speak to one another, and how to evaluate what others are saying. Debate — even sometimes contentious, unpleasant debate — is the way we hash out ideas.
The 2016 presidential campaign season is upon us, offering the perfect laboratory for examining the inner workings of verbal persuasion. The party conventions, political debates and various campaign speeches are exercises in rhetoric. The candidates and their supporters will try to persuade you of the wisdom of their positions; you may engage in a little political debate of your own with friends and family. If you understand rhetoric, you will be better positioned to evaluate the political campaigning that you hear, and to make successful arguments yourself.
What can you learn about rhetoric from the 2016 presidential race? Has this race changed all the rules? Our answer: No.
From time to time, we will offer rhetorical analysis on this blog. The point of this exercise is not to express opinions about the candidate’s political positions; instead, we will evaluate how the candidates express and explain their ideas.