June 4, 2011
Rhetoric is communication with the purpose of influencing others. It therefore encompasses any aspect of communication, even the unspoken and unwritten aspects such as body language and how we present ourselves visually to the world. Just as we adjust our writing or our speaking styles to suit particular audiences, we should adjust how we dress and groom ourselves according to audience and purpose as well.
I know that many people believe how we dress shouldn’t matter, and that it’s our skills, talent, knowledge, and work ethic that should be the bases upon which the world judges us. Too bad. How you dress and groom yourself does matter, whether you like it or not. If you’ve ever watched the TLC show What Not to Wear, you know that the hardest part of Stacey’s and Clinton’s job is often convincing their unwilling clients to accept the fact that what people think of how they look really does matter and that it’s not shameful to look good and feel good about oneself. The benefits extend far beyond what others think, too. The way you carry yourself and interact with others improves tremendously when you feel good about yourself and how you look. I’m a firm believer that it really is worth it. If your personal presentation matches the audience and the venue, you remove one possible barrier to communication and build a level of subconscious trust in those with whom you interact.
I tell my college students all the time that personal branding starts now, and it will have a tremendous impact on their ability to achieve their goals and dreams. The same goes for seasoned professionals who haven’t thought a great deal about how their personal branding is being conveyed through their personal appearance. A well-groomed person whose appearance matches people’s expectations for the role he or she plays sends out rhetorical signals that say “I care,” “I pay attention to details,” and “I will lavish similar care and attention to detail on the product or service I provide to you.”
April 28, 2011
I teach a creative writing class at a nearby college. I asked my students to write flash fiction — short stories in six words or fewer. I was really pleased with the results. For your reading pleasure:
Went to moon; nothing but rocks.
Astronaut wanted. Must have own rocket.
Pinnochio: My nose will grow. Paradox.
I don’t know what to do.
Bad television then. Worse movies now.
Life’s givens: taxes, wet urinal floors.
Chivalry’s dead. Open your own doors.
Can’t think of a good…crap.
It’s just not a good one.
Good news! You’re not the father!
During war, size really does matter.
Space travel…not a damn thing.
Girl likes boy; boy likes boy.
Falling into Heaven, straight through Hell.
The horsemen arise. The end begins.
Guess what? The baby’s not yours!
Dead parents. Orphan. Family. Home.
War on Terror: Futility reigns supreme.
Which ones are your favorites?
April 19, 2011
French artist Rene Magritte once said of what may be his best-known painting:
“The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe? No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe,’ I’d have been lying!”
April 18, 2011
Demagoguery is using emotionalism to distort an issue and manipulate an audience.
For example: A Democrat lawmaker claims that budget cuts proposed by Republicans will kill our grandparents.
Or: A Republican lawmaker claims that if budget cuts do not occur, our children and grandchildren will inherit a nation that has regressed to a third-world standard of living.
April 11, 2011
You know how, when a car alarm goes off, not only does everyone completely ignore it, they actually get annoyed and walk away more quickly? Yeah. Same thing happens with blinking ads, pop-ups, and all-caps shouting in your writing. Create emphasis with more effective word choices instead.
For example, in a cover letter…
Meh: “Experienced account manager”
Better: “Exceptional account management skills”
April 10, 2011
Rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing, particularly for the purpose of persuasion. We are surrounded by language at all times, but surprisingly little of it is powerful and clear, and even less of it manages to spur people to action. The study of crafting the most effective message possible goes back thousands of years, to the ancient Greek philosopher and orator, Aristotle.
Aristotle defined the three primary appeals persuasive speakers and writers use to influence an audience: logos, ethos, and pathos. Logos is the appeal to logic, in which the speaker or writer uses reasoning and factual information to support his or her arguments. Ethos is the appeal to authority, in which the speaker or writer uses credentials or testimonials to bolster his or her claims. Pathos, which can be the most powerful of the three, is the appeal to emotion. As modern advertisers and politicians have discovered, one can forego logic and authority entirely when one grabs the audience by their emotions.
See if you can identify examples of logos, pathos, and ethos in the language you encounter today. The more aware and analytical you are of the messages that bombard you every day, the more effective and purposeful you will become as a writer or speaker yourself.
April 9, 2011
It’s astonishing to me how weak the content is on so many businesses’ web sites. Even many companies that are ostensibly focused on communications themselves, such as PR agencies or advertising firms, often have copy that is inconsistent and riddled with errors. They would never let an unkempt, disheveled receptionist be the face of their company for first-time visitors; why, then, do they allow unkempt and disheveled language to represent them in the much broader realm of the Internet? If your copy is weak, it is costing you customers.
April 8, 2011
Some people hate Twitter because of the 140- character limit. I think it creates a fun challenge as a writer to try to say something meaningful with that much brevity. One way to accomplish it is through the use of metaphors and similes. Remember those? They’re not just for poetry. A metaphor is a direct comparison between two unlike things. A simile does the same thing, but it uses “like” or “as.” Here’s a tweet I wrote that got a few retweets and “likes” on Facebook:
“Cleaning my house lately has been like trying to pay off a high-interest credit card with minimum payments.”
It tells a whole story with a pithy comparison and a little wry humor, and it’s a story we can all relate to. A little simile helps personalize the message and engage the reader far more than a boring statement such as “Cleaning house today.”
What are some of your favorite tweets? What made them so interesting or clever that you saved them or retweeted them?