oratorSince the days of Aristotle, Socrates, and Platyhelminthes, speakers intent on persuading the masses have relied on a tool chest of persuasive tricks to bamboozle, flummox, cajole, and convince. Here are three you can wrest from the evil clutches of politicoes and infomercial hosts, putting them to use For Good. On your next essay test or research paper, for example.

Use lists of three. Whether it’s the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker; the three little pigs; or Winkin, Blinkin, and Nod; some of our earliest memories are of nursery rhymes that present us with threes. Perhaps that’s because it’s a basic principal of persuasion and instruction; threes are easier to mentally grapple with.

Nursery rhymes not convincing? Then check out Obama’s ten minute victory speech; it contained 29 different three part lists, according to communications consultant and author of Speech-Making and Presentation Made Easy, Dr. Max Atkinson. Whether you like Obama’s politics or not, the man knoweth what he’s about when it comes to public speaking.

For my essays, I commonly make three main points each supported by three sub-points.  If you just have to throw in a list of four every now and then, it ain’t the fin del mundo, but stick to threes where possible.

Use Images and Examples. Think real keerful about your most favoritest profs and teachers. Chances are they use donkey-loads of colorful anecdotes, engaging pictures (verbal and/or visual), and hands-on experiments, to zing their arrows of knowledge home.

I still remember that cool experiment “Flash” Lash, my 7th grade earth science teacher, did to demonstrate that projectiles fall at the same speed as everything else. He brought in a kids suction-cup, dart gun. We shot one dart across the room and simultaneously dropped a second dart from the same height. Sure enough, they both touched down at the same time.

I’m 40, and I still recall that experiment. Visuals are powerful! Think of them as thumbtacks to stick your essay on the wobbly-gray bits between your profs’ ears (in a good way). In your papers, make a point. Then tack it to her noodle with an image or example. Pssst! I’m giving you an example right here. It’ll be much easier for you to recall the image of sticking thumbtacks in your profs’ brains later on, than to recall, “Add an image or example to help them remember each point.”

Use Contrasts To Emphasize Key Points. Is this blue circle big or small?

regularWhat about this one? Big or small?

smallAnd this one?

bigI’m sure you realize that all the blue circles are the same size, but you get the point. Big or small are meaningless until we have something with which to compare.

Speakers and writers use this technique all the time. You can too! It ain’t rocket science, after all. There! I just did it. By contrasting the technique with rocket science–which is presumably really difficult–I draw attention to how easy it is to use the contrast technique.

Here’s another example. The total number of American casualties in our ten major wars, including the Revolutionary War, The War of 1812, the Civil War, the World Wars, Viet Nam, all the way up to the Gulf War, is around 2.76 million.

If I want to make that number seem small I might say (this is true, by the way), “The Vietnamese dead numbered a little over 2.7 million during the US-Viet Nam conflict. The US, by contrast, would have to combine the casualty numbers from all ten of its major wars (Revolutionary War, Civil War, World War I and II, Viet Nam, Korea, Gulf War, etc.) to equal that.”

If I want to make the number seem big, I could say, “US war dead since the Revolution number 2.76 million! That’s more than the entire graduating class (male and female) of Americans in 2006. Think of it. Every single high school graduate in 2006 dead!”

Yow! What a difference. The same point seems very different depending on how you contrast it.

Using lists of three, images and examples, and contrasts, can really spice up your writing. Write these down and set a goal to use at least one of each on your very next paper!




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