The Art of Persuasion

This week and next we will be learning about debate and public speaking.

We will learn about political traditions in some English-speaking countries, try out  different persuasive techniques, and use debate as a tool to explore the ideas you have learned about in class this term.


  • Be brave – speak up, test out new ideas, don’t be embarrassed. We learn from our mistakes. 
  • Be supportive – listen attentively to your classmates, show respect for their ideas and opinions (even when you don’t agree).

Political debate in the English-speaking world

Debate in the British House of Commons is often aggressive.

Some people think this is a very democratic tradition. Others say that it gets in the way of serious argument, and turns politics into an upper class sport. 

American politicians use a lot of patriotic rhetoric and often talk about their life story.

This is the speech that made Barack Obama a star:

How similar do British and American conventions compare to political debate in Sweden? 

Hearts and minds

This is not a bad recipe to have in mind:

  • Varied
  • Clear
  • Structured
  • Adapted to the audiencepurpose, and context.

If you want to capture your audience’s imagination, logical reasoning and evidence are not usually enough. You need to speak to their hearts as well as their minds. One way to do this is to tell a story.

Moon speech

Here is a clip of the speech US president John F Kennedy gave in 1961 declaring his intention to put a man on the moon within a decade. This would be one of the most expensive government projects in American history. How does he sell his vision?

The speech, text.

List of rhetorical figures of speech

  1. Alliteration
    The repetition of an initial consonant sound.
  2. Anaphora
    The repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses or verses. (Contrast with epiphora and epistrophe.)
  3. Antithesis
    The juxtaposition of contrasting ideas in balanced phrases.
  4. Apostrophe
    Breaking off discourse to address some absent person or thing, some abstract quality, an inanimate object, or a nonexistent character.
  5. Assonance
    Identity or similarity in sound between internal vowels in neighboring words.
  6. Chiasmus
    A verbal pattern in which the second half of an expression is balanced against the first but with the parts reversed.
  7. Euphemism
    The substitution of an inoffensive term for one considered offensively explicit.
  8. Hyperbole
    An extravagant statement; the use of exaggerated terms for the purpose of emphasis or heightened effect.
  9. Irony
    The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning. Also, a statement or situation where the meaning is contradicted by the appearance or presentation of the idea.
  10. Litotes
    A figure of speech consisting of an understatement in which an affirmative is expressed by negating its opposite.
  11. Metaphor
    An implied comparison between two unlike things that actually have something important in common.
  12. Metonymy
    A figure of speech in which one word or phrase is substituted for another with which it’s closely associated; also, the rhetorical strategy of describing something indirectly by referring to things around it.
  13. Onomatopoeia
    The use of words that imitate the sounds associated with the objects or actions they refer to.
  14. Oxymoron
    A figure of speech in which incongruous or contradictory terms appear side by side.
  15. Paradox
    A statement that appears to contradict itself.
  16. Personification
    A figure of speech in which an inanimate object or abstraction is endowed with human qualities or abilities.
  17. Pun
    A play on words, sometimes on different senses of the same word and sometimes on the similar sense or sound of different words.
  18. Simile
    A stated comparison (usually formed with ”like” or ”as”) between two fundamentally dissimilar things that have certain qualities in common.
  19. Synecdoche
    A figure of speech in which a part is used to represent the whole (for example, ABCs for alphabet) or the whole for a part (”England won the World Cup in 1966″).
  20. Understatement
    A figure of speech in which a writer or speaker deliberately makes a situation seem less important or serious than it is.


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