I learned a lot working with the FrackNation team. (Not the least of which is that there’s always time for margaritas.) But one of my favorite lessons came from writing press releases for director Phelim McAleer.
I drafted a release for some summer screenings and sent the text to Phelim for review. He responded:
“Not exciting enough.”
Not a lot to go on, but he got his point across. So I redrafted the release, added some “exciting” language, and sent it back. Phelim’s response:
Agitated but determined to get it right, I typed another draft, filling it with superlative and explosive rhetoric. It was over the top. When my Gmail notifier dinged it was Phelim with his signature pith:
“Good. Punch it up a bit and send.”
What did Phelim know that I didn’t? Something very important about rhetoric and human action: People need motivation. They don’t just want a reason to act. They want an overwhelmingly important reason to act.
They want controversy, intrigue, explosions, destruction, mayhem, wild and crazy good times, deep emotions, once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, romance, passion, etc.
Here’s the final press release and what I learned from Phelim about superlative rhetoric:
“What do you want from me?!” The battle cry of an exhausted rhetor. Whether it’s at work, the kitchen table, or in the bedroom, everyone has felt the frustration of not knowing what an argument is about. Is there anything else in the rhetorical world that makes you feel as helpless? (Aside from bad puns?)
Many times you and your opponent are arguing about different things, so it’s necessary, in order to have a successful debate, to identify the “sticking point” of an argument. What are you really arguing about? What should you be debating? How do you reconcile the difference?
The Greek rhetorician Hermagoras of Temnos theorized that all arguments have four possible sticking points (and scholars later added a fifth):
Hermagoras called each point a “stasis.” Cicero later organized the stases into a method for determining the point of dispute, and called the method “stasis theory.”
Knowing the central point of an argument largely depends on your goals and your audience’s context. Regardless it’s essential to uncover the central dispute if you want to successfully persuade. Let’s see how it plays out with an example argument. Suppose a passenger gets in a debate with a cab driver about the merits of Uber or Lyft…