How do I begin? That’s a troubling question for many rhetors. With the truck loads of content being produced on a second-to-second basis, there’s a certain anxiety to creating your own. It’s more than “blank page syndrome.” It’s wondering, “Why would someone want to listen to me? What could I say that would make them want to listen?”
Luckily for modern rhetors, classical rhetorical scholars can give us some important insights about attention grabbing and introductions. They even had a special name for this part of your discourse: exordium. Basically, it means “the beginning.” The great thinker and rhetor Cicero explained:
An exordium is an address bringing the mind of the hearer into a suitable state to receive the rest of the speech; and that will be effected if it has rendered him well disposed towards the speaker, attentive, and willing to receive information.
Cicero lays out three goals for the exordium: Make the audience attentive, open (“teachable”), and/or favorable. While these aren’t the exhaustive ends of a good introduction, they’re a good place to start.
Let’s have a look at each goal…
It has become a cliché that the first rule of rhetoric is “know your audience.”
That rule is !#@$.
OK, that’s a bit excessive. (I blame coffee.) The rule itself is fine—great, even. What I take issue with is the order of importance. Most rhetoricians are obsessed with audience analysis…and for good reason. Understanding your audience’s context is vital for being a successful rhetor.
But even more important is a rule that people don’t usually consider. And it should be the new cardinal rule of persuasion:
Not only is knowing yourself essential for establishing genuine ethos (the most important rhetorical appeal), it’s also the foundation for the construction of every argument: What do you want to accomplish?
Sounds easy, right? Yet entering an argument without a clear goal is the most common mistake I see rhetors make across the board—from amateur to professional—and it only leads to frustration, anger, and name-calling. The Dark Side of the rhetorical Force.
Most people assume that “to win” is the goal of every argument. But what does it mean to win? And what if you could get what you want without “winning”? #CharlieSheenNotHappy
Before spending energy in an argument, consider these broad rhetorical outcomes: