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What you gain by improving your English speaking and persuasion skills ED #136
September 17, 2019

Speaking & Persuasive Skills

What can you gain by improving your English speaking skills? A lot, whether you use (or hope to use) English at school, at work, to talk with friends of different nationalities or to persuade people online.

I’ve just written a page on the TOEFL ibt Speaking Test My thoughts have naturally been on the advantages of speaking English better.

I found some fascinating articles and talks about improving your public speaking and persuasive abilities. There are links to a couple of the best below. (The TED article has links at the bottom to several more.)

Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

The first article gives suggestions for the skills you need to become a fearless public speaker.

It starts with learning to “pitch” your idea so that you can get an opportunity to speak about it to the audience you want to reach. (“Pitching” is presenting the idea, briefly and effectively, to the person or people who are organizing the event where you hope to speak.)

Then it discusses what you need to know to prepare an effective speech: your audience, your objective (what you want to persuade them to do), and yourself, as well as what makes a good talk.

It’s worth thinking about even if you never plan to speak in public, because these skills are important for any effective communication.

6 Techniques of Compelling Speech

This article is based on a TED talk (at the end of the page) on learning the techniques to persuade your audience when you speak.

He gives examples (from Churchill to Kennedy & Obama+) of the power of rhetorical devices (techniques to speak persuasively). These include speaking breathlessly, using lists of threes, balanced statements, metaphors, exaggeration, & rhyming. He points out why each works—and why democratic societies need to teach rhetoric, so these powerful techniques aren’t just in the hands of a small elite.

At page bottom there are several links to other TED articles and talks on useful techniques to speak more confidently. One is a 5+ minute TED Ed talk on Aristotle’s principles of rhetoric. After the video there are student questions and ideas for more discussion. There’s also a chance to watch the talk the article was based on.

Vocabulary Practice +

A few definitions, in case any of these most-used words are unfamiliar to you:

Our audience is the people who are listening to us; those we want to convince.

To be authentic is to be true to how we really are; to really be what we seem to be. It’s one opposite of ‘fake.’

To convince is to persuade people to change their minds about something.

To distort is to twist something out of shape.

Fearless is brave—without fear.

A metaphor is a comparison stated as fact: “You are my sunshine” or “You light up my life.” (A simile is similar but uses ‘like’ or ‘as’: “When she walked into the room it was like someone turning on the light.”)

An objective is a goal—what you want to happen or your reason for doing something.

Objective as an adjective has a different meaning—something factual, that can be determined scientifically, rather than someone’s (‘subjective’) opinion or feeling.

To pitch is to try to convince someone to accept a proposal. You can pitch an idea or a business proposal as well as a speech. In each case, you are asking the person with the power to accept or reject it to decide in favor of what you’re offering.

To rehearse is to practice a speech or other performance. The purpose of rehearsals is so that your performance before a live audience will be more effective.

Rhetoric is the study and practice of persuasion, or of using language to move people.

A rhyme is a short phrase with two or more words or lines ending in the same sound. (One more example: the old children’s rhyme “how now, brown cow?”

Essay prompt: To practice these words and ideas, ypu could write a short essay on one effective use of rhetoric that you have heard or read about. It can be about a leader convincing his people to go to war or to keep working toward a difficult goal (like Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech)—or about a salesperson persuading you to buy something you hadn’t been thinking of—or anything in between.

If you do try to write something (even if it’s just an outline of your thoughts), I’m very interested to hear about it!


Catherine Simonton,

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