by Paul Schaeffer
Current educational trends either ignore public speaking altogether or attempt to teach it by making the student do it repetitively. However, this approach does not seem to be working. Look at the people who make their living by speaking to the public: talk show hosts try to persuade their listeners by shouting more than their opponent while others bore their audiences to death with long, drawn-out monologues. The fruits of our education beg us to find out what current trends miss.
Aristotle defines rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Observation is active by its very nature. It requires processing and analysis. So then it must be concluded that rhetoric is not about flailing your hands as you speak, nor is it just a wild attempt at public speaking. It is a deliberate effort to decide which method would be most apt to convince your audience of your point. It is therefore a conscious process (something largely ignored in modern public speaking classes). In classical rhetoric, there are three methods of persuasion: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos is the quality the speaker holds as a respectable person. Because he is good, we listen to him. Logos is persuading by means of logical argument. Because it makes sense, we agree with it. Pathos is using the audience’s emotions to convince them of your point. Because we feel attracted to it, we like it.
While the speaker must take these aspects into account, it is very advantageous for the audience to be aware of the art of rhetoric. A listener equipped to “observe in any given case the available means of persuasion” will be able to glean the truth or falsity of arguments based on ethos, logos, or pathos. Whether or not a student will ever be in a situation where he needs to speak to a large group of people, it is worth teaching him rhetoric. It will make him a better speaker and a better listener.