Chapter Sixteen – Speaking to Persuade

On the first day of class, your instructor provided you a “lay of the land.” They introduced you to course documents, the syllabus, and reading materials.

“It’s important that you read your textbook,” they likely shared. “The material will allow you to dive deeper into the course material and, even if you don’t initially realize its importance, the reading material will build throughout the semester. The time spent reading will be worth it because without that knowledge, it will be difficult to complete assignments and receive full credit. The time spent reading will benefit you after you leave for the semester, too, and you’ll have critical thinking skills that will permeate your life out of the classroom.” Sound familiar?

This is persuasion. Your instructor is persuading you that reading the textbook is a good idea—that it’s an action you should take throughout the semester. As an audience member, you get to weigh the potential benefits of reading the textbook in relation to the consequences. But if your instructor has succeeded in their persuasive attempt, you will read the book because they have done a good job of helping you to conclude in favor of their perspective.

Your instructor may have even gone a step further, introducing themselves and including their credentials, such as degrees earned, courses taught, years of teaching, books published, etc. That sounds like what Aristotle called ethos, right? This is another key to persuasion, which we will discuss further in Chapter 17.

Persuasion is everywhere. We are constantly inundated with ideas, perspectives, politics, and products that are requesting our attention. Persuasion is often positively paired with ideas of encouragement, influence, urging, or logic. Your instructors, for example, are passionate about the subject position and want you to succeed in the class. Sadly, persuasion can also be experienced as manipulation, force, lack of choice, or inducement. You might get suspicious if you think someone is trying to persuade you. You might not appreciate someone telling you to change your viewpoints.

In this chapter, we explore persuasive speaking and work through best practices in persuasion. Because persuasion is everywhere, being critical and aware of persuasive techniques will allow you to both ethically persuade audiences and evaluate arguments when others attempt to persuade you. We’ll start with the basics by answering the question, “what is persuasion?”

Introducing Persuasive Speaking

Persuasion is “the process of creating, reinforcing, or changing people’s beliefs or actions” (Lucas, 2015, p. 306). Persuasion is important in all communication processes and contexts—interpersonal, professional, digital—and it’s something that you do every day. Convincing a friend to go see the latest movie instead of staying in to watch TV; giving your instructor a reason to give you an extension on an assignment; writing a cover letter and resume and going through an interview for a job—all of these and so many more are examples of persuasion. In fact, it is hard to think of life without the everyday give-and-take of persuasion. In each example listed, Lucas’s definition of persuasion is being implemented: you are asking a person or group to agree with your main idea.

When using persuasion in a public speech, the goal is to create, change, or reinforce a belief or action by addressing community problems or controversies. Remember that public speaking is a long-standing type of civic engagement; when we publicly speak, we are participating in democratic deliberation. Deliberation, or the process of discussing feasible choices that address community problems, is important in resolving community concerns because it allows all perspectives to be considered. Persuasive speaking means addressing a public controversy and advocating for a perspective that the speaker hopes the audience will adopt. If the issue isn’t publicly controversial – if everyone agrees or if there are not multiple perspectives – you are not persuading. You’re informing.

So, what’s a public controversy? Public controversies are community disputes that affect a large number of people. Because they involve a large number of people, public controversies often have multiple perspectives, leading to public deliberation and debate to resolve each dispute.

We experience public controversies daily. Through our social media feeds, we continuously scroll past shared articles, comments, or posts that provide different perspectives on community problems and potential solutions. You might, for example, join your local neighborhood (or dorm) Facebook group where neighbors share information and collaborate on solutions to specific problems facing the community. Each problem has consequences for different neighbors, and Facebook allows a space to deliberate and organize to address community priorities. They are controversial, however, because not all neighbors agree what which problems should be solved first or what those solutions are.

Sadly, there is no shortage of public controversies, and advocating for solutions to key community problems can feel overwhelming.

“How do I figure out one controversy to speak out about?” you may wonder.

Identify public controversies by listening and engaging with your community. What issues are affecting them? What are priorities? Once you’re able to locate a key community dispute, ask yourself:

  • What is it? What is the problem? Are there more than 1? Is this the key problem or are there other hidden issues?
  • What is the impact? What will happen if the problem is not resolved?
  • Who’s affected? Who’s being affected or implicated by this problem? Who are the audiences or stakeholders affected? Are the stakeholders a part of my formal audience?
  • What can solve it? Are there suggested solutions?

Controversies arise when a community experiences a problem, so your job is to decipher the breadth and depth of that problem. It’s impossible to address all issues in one speech, so researching and prioritizing are key to identifying what advocacy you find most urgent. For any controversy that you can address in a persuasive speech, keep context and power in mind.


Your public speaking context always informs what’s possible to accomplish during a speech. Remember, the public speaking context refers to both the physical space and cultural context.

The physical context will influence how much information you can provide to your audience. In other words, “Do I have time to talk about this issue?” “What is the most essential information to cover in a limited timeframe?” The broader cultural context can help you in situating your advocacy alongside other community conversations. What else is happening? Have other communities experienced this problem?


As persuasive speakers, you are attempting to influence an audience. What you select and how you present that information will alter how audiences understand the world, and that’s a pretty powerful thought. When you select an advocacy that addresses a public controversy, you are asking the audience to trust your perspective. To uphold that trust, it’s key to examine who is empowered or disempowered by our perspective.

When you’re considering a position toward a public controversy, you might ask, who’s empowered or disempowered by this problem? Who’s left out of the research? How are communities being represented? What am I assuming about those communities? Who is affected by my advocacy?

We can be well-meaning in our advocacies, especially when we select a persuasive insight based on our own experience. We become passionate about issues that we have seen, and that’s OK! Such passion can also, however, mean that we represent information in ways that are stereotypical or lead to the disempowerment of others.

If your city, for example, is deciding where to place a landfill, you may advocate against the plant being placed in your neighborhood. That advocacy, on face, makes sense!

“This will reduce our property values and just be plain stinky,” you might argue.

When we think about the issue reflexively and with power in mind, however, we may find that landfills are much more likely to be placed in neighborhoods that are predominant people of color (Massey, 2004). Advocating against placing the plant in your home may inadvertently mean the plant is placed in more vulnerable neighborhoods. Those neighbors become disempowered in your attempt to empower your own community.

In this example, practicing reflexivity might include asking: What are the potential solutions? What options do I have to avoid disempowering groups? Using sound research skills, considering other alternatives or perspectives, and listening can be mechanisms to answer these inquiries

There are no easy answers, but we are confident that you can select advocacies that are meaningful and worthwhile.

Formulating Persuasive Propositions

Once you feel comfortable and confident about a controversial issue that is ethical, timely and contextually relevant, you will need to identify what type of persuasive proposition that you’ll use in your speech. There are three types of persuasive propositions: propositions of fact, value, or policy. Each type will require different approaches and may have different persuasive outcomes for your audience.

Propositions of Fact

Propositions of fact answer the question, “is this true?” Speeches with this type of proposition attempt to establish the truth of a statement. There is not a sense of what is morally right and wrong or what should be done about the issue, only that a statement is supported by evidence or not. Imagine these questions as true or false. 

These propositions are not facts like “the chemical symbol for water is H20” or “Barack Obama won the presidency in 2008.” Propositions or claims of fact are advocacies with evidence on different sides and/or spark disagreement. Imagine that you are a lawyer in the courtroom arguing if something is true or false, with evidence. Some examples of propositions of fact are:

  • Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.
  • John F. Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald working alone.
  • Coal exacerbates global warming.
  • Climate change has been caused by human activity.
  • Granting tuition tax credits to the parents of children who attend private schools will perpetuate educational inequity.
  • Watching violence on television causes violent behavior in children.
  • William Shakespeare did not write most of the plays attributed to him.
  • John Doe committed the crime of which he is accused.

Notice that no values—good or bad—are explicitly mentioned. The point of these propositions is to prove with evidence the truth of a statement, not its inherent value. Your goal is to persuade the audience to update their understanding or belief about the topic in question. Because you are likely not asking the audience to overtly act, it’s necessary to embed arguments that highlight how or why this factual information is meaningful for them or how the factual statement resolves a public controversy.

Propositions of fact are meaningful persuasive claims when new evidence or scientific observations arise that your audience may not know. Facts, statistics, definitions, or expert testimony are common evidence types for these propositions.

Propositions of Value

Propositions of value argue that something is good/bad or right/wrong. When the proposition has a word such as good, bad, best, worst, just, unjust, ethical, unethical, moral, immoral, advantageous or disadvantageous, it is a proposition of value. Some examples include:

  • Hybrid cars are the best form of automobile transportation available today.
  • Homeschooling is more beneficial for children than traditional schooling.
  • The War in Iraq was not justified.
  • The United States is not the greatest country on earth.
  • Capital punishment is morally wrong.
  • White supremacy is wrong.
  • Running is the best form of exercise.
  • A vegan diet is the healthiest one for adults.

Communication is a key vehicle in understanding values because communication is how communities collectively determine what is right or wrong. Because values are culturally situated and not universal, as a speaker, you must ground and describe what value or moral judgement you’re utilizing. If a war is unjustified, what makes a war “just” or “justified” in the first place? What makes a form of transportation “best” or “better” than another? Isn’t that a matter of personal approach? For different people, “best” might mean “safest,” “least expensive,” “most environmentally responsible,” “most stylish,” “powerful,” or “prestigious.”

Effective propositions of value rely on shared beliefs held by your audience. Developing confidence about your audience will allow you to determine what value systems they rely on and how your proposition relies on similar belief systems. We’ll talk more about appealing to your audience below.


Exercise. Photo by Lara Jameson.

Propositions of Policy

Policy propositions identify a solution to correct the problem. These propositions call for a change in policy (including those in a government, community, or school) or call for the audience to adopt a certain behavior.

Speeches with propositions of policy try to instigate the audience to act immediately, in the long-term, or alter their perspective on an issue. A few examples include:

  • Our state should require mandatory recertification of lawyers every ten years.
  • The federal government should act to ensure clean water standards for all citizens.
  • The state of Georgia should require drivers over the age of 75 to take a vision test and present a certificate of good health from a doctor before renewing their licenses.
  • Wyeth Daniels should be the next governor of the state.
  • The Supreme Court should rule that migrant detention centers are unconstitutional.

These propositions are easy to identify because they almost always have the word “should” in them.

Many policy propositions advocate for a solution through a specific organization or government agency. In the examples above, the federal government, the state, and the Supreme Court are all listed as relevant actors to resolve the problem.

Alternatively, you could advocate for your audience to make specific behavioral changes that lead to solutions. If you’re addressing the consequences of climate change in your local community, do solutions require government or non-profit action? Could your audience make in-roads to reducing the negative effects of climate change alone? Thorough research will assist you in determining what actors – organizations or your audience—are best suited to implement your policy solution.

Policy propositions commonly embed a specific call-to-action. What should the audience do if they are persuading by your perspective? What actions can and should they take that can support your policy proposition? This can include “call your senator” (though more specificity is often helpful), but your call-to-action should be crafted with audience adaptation and information in mind.


Maya Angelou speaking at Burns Library at Boston College

Organizing Persuasive Propositions

Organization plays a key role in comprehending an argument. While we have previously discussed organization, in this section, we discuss organizing persuasive speeches with a focus on propositions of policy.

Once you’ve identified your main argument, ask, “what organizational pattern best suits my argument?”

For propositions of fact or value, you might select a categorical organization. Essentially that means that you will have two to four discrete, separate arguments in support of the proposition. For example:

Proposition of Fact: Converting to solar energy can save homeowners money.

  1. Solar energy reduces power bills.
  2. Solar energy requires less money for maintenance.
  3. Solar energy works when the power grid goes down.

For propositions of policy, the problem-solution organization pattern is commonly used. We do not typically feel any motivation to change unless we are convinced that some harm, problem, need, or deficiency exists, and even more, that it affects us personally. As the saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” In a problem-solution pattern, you can spend ample and organized time outlining the consequences to inaction, i.e. the problem.

Although a simple problem-solution organization is permissible for a speech of actuation, you will probably do well to utilize the more detailed format called Monroe’s Motivated Sequence.

This format, designed by Alan Monroe (1951), is based on John Dewey’s reflective thinking process to consider audience listening patterns. This is one of the most commonly cited and discussed organizational patterns for persuasive speeches. The purpose of Monroe’s motivated sequence is to help speakers “sequence supporting materials and motivational appeals to form a useful organizational pattern for speeches as a whole” (German et al., 2010). Each step is described below and fully developed following:

  • Attention. This is the introduction, where the speaker brings attention to the importance of the topic as well as their own credibility and connection to the topic. To gain an audience’s attention, we recommend that you think through three specific parts of the attention step. First, you need to have a strong attention-getting device. As previously discussed, a strong attention getter at the beginning of your speech is very important. Second, you need to make sure you introduce your topic clearly. If your audience doesn’t know what your topic is quickly, they are more likely to stop listening. Lastly, you need to explain to your audience why they should care about your topic.
  • Need. Here the speaker establishes that there is a specific need or problem. It is important to make the audience see the severity of the problem, and how it affects them, their family, or their community. The harm or need can be physical, financial, emotional, educational, or social. It will have to be supported by evidence. In Monroe’s conceptualization of need, he talks about four specific parts of the need: statement, illustration, ramification, and pointing. First, a speaker needs to give a clear and concise statement of the problem. This part of a speech should be crystal clear for an audience. Second, the speaker needs to provide one or more examples to illustrate the need. The illustration is an attempt to make the problem concrete for the audience. Next, a speaker needs to provide some kind of evidence (e.g., statistics, examples, testimony) that shows the ramifications or consequences of the problem. Lastly, a speaker needs to point to the audience and show exactly how the problem relates to them personally.
  • Satisfaction. A need calls for satisfaction in the same way a problem requires a solution. Not only does the speaker present the solution and describe it, but they must defend that it works and will address the causes of the problem as well as the symptoms. Within this step, Monroe (1935) proposed a five-step plan for satisfying a need:
    1. Statement
    2. Explanation
    3. Theoretical demonstration
    4. Reference to practical experience
    5. Meeting objections

    First, you need to clearly state the attitude, value, belief, or action you want your audience to accept. The purpose of this statement is to clearly tell your audience what your ultimate goal is.

    Second, you want to make sure that you clearly explain to your audience why they should accept the attitude, value, belief, or action you proposed. Just telling your audience they should do something isn’t strong enough to actually get them to change. Instead, you really need to provide a solid argument for why they should accept your proposed solution.

    Third, you need to show how the solution you have proposed meets the need or problem. Monroe calls this link between your solution and the need a theoretical demonstration because you cannot prove that your solution will work. Instead, you theorize based on research and good judgment that your solution will meet the need or solve the problem.

    Fourth, to help with this theoretical demonstration, you need to reference practical experience, which should include examples demonstrating that your proposal has worked elsewhere. Research, statistics, and expert testimony are all great ways of referencing practical experience.

    Lastly, Monroe recommends that a speaker respond to possible objections. As a persuasive speaker, one of your jobs is to think through your speech and see what counterarguments could be made against your speech and then rebut those arguments within your speech. When you offer rebuttals for arguments against your speech, it shows your audience that you’ve done your homework and educated yourself about multiple sides of the issue.

  • Visualization. According to Monroe, visualization can be conducted in one of three ways: positive, negative, or contrast (Monroe, 1935). The positive method of visualization is where a speaker shows how adopting a proposal leads to a better future (e.g., recycle, and we’ll have a cleaner and safer planet). Conversely, the negative method of visualization is where a speaker shows how not adopting the proposal will lead to a worse future (e.g., don’t recycle, and our world will become polluted and uninhabitable). Monroe also acknowledged that visualization could include a combination of both positive and negative visualization. In essence, you show your audience both possible outcomes and have them decide which one they would rather have.
  • Action. In the action step, the goal is to give specific steps for the audience to take as soon as possible to move toward solving the problem. Whereas the satisfaction step explains the solution overall, the action step gives concrete ways to begin making the solution happen. For understanding purposes, we break action into two distinct parts: audience action and approval. Audience action refers to direct physical behaviors a speaker wants from an audience (e.g., flossing their teeth twice a day, signing a petition, wearing seat belts). Approval, on the other hand, involves an audience’s consent or agreement with a speaker’s proposed attitude, value, or belief.

When preparing an action step, it is important to make sure that the action, whether audience action or approval, is realistic for your audience. Asking your peers in a college classroom to donate one thousand dollars to charity isn’t realistic. Asking your peers to donate one dollar is considerably more realistic. In a persuasive speech based on Monroe’s motivated sequence, the action step will end with the speech’s concluding device. As discussed elsewhere in this text, you need to make sure that you conclude in a vivid way so that the speech ends on a high point and the audience has a sense of energy as well as a sense of closure.

The more concrete you can make the action step, the better. Research shows that people are more likely to act if they know how accessible the action can be. For example, if you want students to be vaccinated against the chicken pox virus (after establishing that it is a key public controversy), you can give them directions to and hours for a clinic or health center where vaccinations at a free or discounted price can be obtained.

Now that we have discussed Monroe’s motivated sequence, let’s look at how you could use Monroe’s motivated sequence to outline a persuasive speech:

Specific Purpose: To persuade my classroom peers that the United States should have stronger laws governing the use of for-profit medical experiments.

Introduction (Attention): Want to make nine thousand dollars for just three weeks of work lying around and not doing much? Then be a human guinea pig. Admittedly, you’ll have to have a tube down your throat most of those three weeks, but you’ll earn three thousand dollars a week.

Main Points:

  1. Need: Every day many uneducated and lower socioeconomic-status citizens are preyed on by medical and pharmaceutical companies for use in for-profit medical and drug experiments. Do you want one of your family members to fall prey to this evil scheme?
  2. Satisfaction: The United States should have stronger laws governing the use of for-profit medical experiments to ensure that uneducated and lower-socioeconomic-status citizens are protected.
  3. Visualization: If we enact tougher experiment oversight, we can ensure that medical and pharmaceutical research is conducted in a way that adheres to basic values of American decency. If we do not enact tougher experiment oversight, we could find ourselves in a world where the lines between research subject, guinea pig, and patient become increasingly blurred.

Conclusion (Action): In order to prevent the atrocities associated with for-profit medical and pharmaceutical experiments, please sign this petition asking the US Department of Health and Human Services to pass stricter regulations on this preying industry that is out of control.

This example shows how you can take a basic speech topic and use Monroe’s motivated sequence to clearly and easily outline your speech efficiently and effectively.

While Monroe’s motivated sequence is commonly discussed in most public speaking textbooks, we do want to provide one minor caution. Thus far, almost no research has been conducted that has demonstrated that Monroe’s motivated sequence is any more persuasive than other structural patterns. We add this sidenote because we don’t want you to think that Monroe’s motivated sequence is some kind of magic persuasive bullet. At the same time, research does support organized messages being perceived as more persuasive, so using Monroe’s motivated sequence to think through one’s persuasive argument could still be very beneficial.


Another format for organizing a persuasive speech is the problem-cause-solution format. In this specific format, you discuss what a problem is, what you believe is causing the problem, and then what the solution should be to correct the problem.

Specific Purpose: To persuade my classroom peers that our campus should adopt a zero-tolerance policy for hate speech.

Main Points:

  1. Demonstrate that there is distrust among different groups on campus that has led to unnecessary confrontations and violence.
  2. Show that the confrontations and violence are a result of hate speech that occurred prior to the events.
  3. Explain how instituting a campus-wide zero-tolerance policy against hate speech could stop the unnecessary confrontations and violence.

In this speech, you want to persuade people to support a new campus-wide policy calling for zero-tolerance of hate speech. Once you have shown the problem, you then explain to your audience that the cause of the unnecessary confrontations and violence is prior incidents of hate speech. Lastly, you argue that a campus-wide zero-tolerance policy could help prevent future unnecessary confrontations and violence. Again, this method of organizing a speech is as simple as its name: problem-cause-solution.


Comparative Advantages

The final method for organizing a persuasive speech is called the comparative advantages speech format. The goal of this speech is to compare items side-by-side and show why one of them is more advantageous than the other. For example, let’s say that you’re giving a speech on which e-book reader is better:’s Kindle or Barnes and Nobles’ Nook. Here’s how you could organize this speech:

Specific Purpose: To persuade my audience that the Nook is more advantageous than the Kindle.

Main Points:

  1. The Nook allows owners to trade and loan books to other owners or people who have downloaded the Nook software, while the Kindle does not.
  2. The Nook has a color-touch screen, while the Kindle’s screen is black and grey and noninteractive.
  3. The Nook’s memory can be expanded through microSD, while the Kindle’s memory cannot be upgraded.

As you can see from this speech’s organization, the simple goal of this speech is to show why one thing has more positives than something else. Obviously, when you are demonstrating comparative advantages, the items you are comparing need to be functional equivalents—or, as the saying goes, you cannot compare apples to oranges.


Before we continue with the potential barriers to persuasive speaking, consider this TEDEd talk: How to Use Rhetoric to Get What You Want.

Barriers to Effective Persuasive Speaking

Persuasive speaking can provide opportunities to advocate for important community solutions. But persuasion is really difficult, and there are often barriers to effectively persuading our audience to change their beliefs or act in a new way.

Persuasion is hard because we have a bias against change. As much as we hear statements like “The only constant is change” or “Variety is the spice of life,” the evidence from research and from our personal experience shows that, in reality, we do not like change. Recent risk aversion research, for example, found that humans are concerned more with what we lose than what we gain. Change is often seen as a loss of something rather than a gain of something else, and that’s stressful. We do not generally embrace things that bring us stress.

Given our aversion to change, audiences often go out of their way to protect their beliefs, attitudes, and values. We (as audience members) selectively expose ourselves to messages that we already agree with, rather than those that confront or challenge us. This selective exposure is especially seen in choices of mass media that individuals listen to, watch, and read. Not only do we selectively expose ourselves to information, but we also selectively attend to, perceive, and recall information that supports our existing viewpoints (referred to a selective recall).

This principle led Leon Festinger (1957) to form the theory of cognitive dissonance, which states, among other ideas, that when we are confronted with conflicting information or viewpoints, we reach a state of dissonance, or tension between ideas and beliefs. It often occurs when we’re presented information that’s out of line with our values or experiences. This state can be very uncomfortable, and we will do things to get rid of the dissonance and maintain “consonance.” We don’t want to accept that our beliefs may be wrong or inconsistent; we want to remain harmonious.

In a sense, not changing can outweigh very logical reasons to change. For example, you probably know a friend who will not wear a seatbelt in a car. You can say to your friend, “Don’t you know that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2009) says, and I quote, ‘1,652 lives could be saved, and 22,372 serious injuries avoided each year on America’s roadways if seat belt use rates rose to 90 percent in every state’?” What will your friend probably say, even though you have cited a credible source?

They will come up with some reason for not wearing it, even something as dramatic as “I knew a guy who had a cousin who was in an accident and the cop said he died because he was wearing his seatbelt.” They may even say, “Well I am a good driver, so you only need seat belts if you’re driving poorly.” You may have had this conversation, or one like it. Their argument may be less dramatic, such as “I don’t like how it feels” or “I don’t like the government telling me what to do in my car.” For your friend, the argument for wearing a seat belt is not as strong as the argument against it, at least at this moment. Ideally, at least for a public speaker, the dissonance is relieved or resolved by being persuaded (changed) to a new belief, attitude, or behavior.

So, what is a speaker to do to overcome these barriers? We suggest making reasonable requests, articulating the benefits or consequences, and answering oppositional arguments.

Make Reasonable Requests

Setting reasonable persuasive goals is the first way to meet audience resistance. Since we resist change, we do not make many large or major changes in our lives. We do, however, make smaller, concrete, step-by-step or incremental changes every day. Over time these small shifts can eventually result in a significant amount of persuasion. Aim small, especially within a time constraint, and work to find future room to build.

Focus on Benefits and Consequences

When problems aren’t resolved, there are consequences. When problems are resolved, there are positive benefits for the community. Because you are asking the audience to change something, they must view the benefits of acting as worth the stress of the change. A speaker should be able to engage the audience at the level of needs, wants, and values as well as logic and evidence.

Identify the benefits, advantages, or improvements that would happen for the audience members who enacted your advocacy. If you do good audience analysis, you know that audiences are asking, “What’s in it for me?” “Why do I need this?”

Alternatively, you could outline the short and long-term consequences of inaction and detail how the problem would negatively affect the audience and/or their community. In other words, you’re identifying what would occur if the audience did nothing, if they choose not to act. Using Monroe’s Motivated Sequences can assist in organizing these arguments.

Answer Oppositional Arguments

During a persuasive speech, audience members are holding a mental dialogue, and they are thinking through rebuttals or oppositional arguments to your advocacy. These mental dialogues could be called the “yeah-buts”—the audience members are saying in their minds, “Yeah, I see what you are arguing, but—”. Reservations can be very strong, since, again, our human bias is to be loss averse and not to change our actions or beliefs.

If you’re advocating a claim that humans are the primary cause of climate change, your audience may think, “yeah, but these consequences won’t happen for a long time,” or “yeah, but we have time to resolve these problems.”

As a speaker, address these! Refute the arguments that may prohibit your audience from changing.

It’s common to call oppositional arguments “misconceptions,” “myths,” or “mistaken ideas” that are widely held about the proposition. You may answer oppositional arguments around climate change by saying, “One common misconception about climate change is that we won’t see the negative impacts for decades. A recent study determined that consequences are already upon us.”

After acknowledging oppositional arguments and seeking to refute or rebut the reservations, you must also provide evidence for your refutation. Ultimately, this will show your audience that you are aware of both sides of the issue you are presenting and make you a more credible speaker.

Additionally, keep in mind that you may be asking your audience for passive agreement or immediate action. Each is described below.

Gain Passive Agreement

When we attempt to gain the passive agreement of our audiences, our goal is to get our audiences to agree with what we are saying and our specific policy without asking the audience to do anything to enact the policy. For example, maybe your speech is on why the Federal Communications Commission should regulate violence on television like it does foul language (i.e., no violence until after 9 p.m.). Your goal as a speaker is to get your audience to agree that it is in our best interest as a society to prevent violence from being shown on television before 9 p.m., but you are not seeking to have your audience run out and call their senators or congressmen or even sign a petition. Often the first step in larger political change is simply getting a massive number of people to agree with your policy perspective.

Let’s look at a few more passive agreement claims:

  • Racial profiling of individuals suspected of belonging to known terrorist groups is a way to make America safer.
  • Requiring American citizens to “show their papers” is a violation of democracy and resembles tactics of Nazi Germany and communist Russia.
  • Colleges and universities should voluntarily implement a standardized testing program to ensure student learning outcomes are similar across different institutions.

In each of these claims, the goal is to sway one’s audience to a specific attitude, value, or belief, but not necessarily to get the audience to enact any specific behaviors.

Gain Immediate Action

The alternative to passive agreement is immediate action, or persuading your audience to start engaging in a specific behavior. Many passive agreement topics can become immediate action-oriented topics as soon as you tell your audience what behavior they should engage in (e.g., sign a petition, call a senator, vote). While it is much easier to elicit passive agreement than to get people to do something, you should always try to get your audience to act and do so quickly. A common mistake that speakers make is telling people to enact a behavior that will occur in the future. The longer it takes for people to engage in the action you desire, the less likely it is that your audience will engage in that behavior.

Here are some examples of good claims with immediate calls to action:

  • College students should eat more fruit, so I am encouraging everyone to eat the apple I have provided you and start getting more fruit in your diet.
  • Teaching a child to read is one way to ensure that the next generation will be stronger than those that have come before us, so please sign up right now to volunteer one hour a week to help teach a child to read.
  • The United States should reduce its nuclear arsenal by 20 percent over the next five years. Please sign the letter provided encouraging the president to take this necessary step for global peace. Once you’ve signed the letter, hand it to me, and I’ll fax it to the White House today.

Each of these three examples starts with a basic claim and then tags on an immediate call to action. Remember, the faster you can get people to engage in a behavior the more likely they actually will.


  1. Lucas, S. E. (2019). The Art of Public Speaking (13th edition) Boston, MA: McGraw-Hill.
  2. German, K. M., Gronbeck, B. E., Ehninger, D., & Monroe, A. H. (2010). Principles of public speaking (17th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon, p. 236.
  3. Micciche, T., Pryor, B., & Butler, J. (2000). A test of Monroe’s motivated sequence for its effects on ratings of message organization and attitude change. Psychological Reports, 86, 1135–1138.
  4. Monroe, A. H. (1935). Principles and types of speech. Chicago, IL: Scott Foresman.




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