Persuasion is the work of changing men's minds, making them think as you do. A salesman has been defined as one who gets you to buy something you don't want and many times do not even need. In order to persuade, the speaker is ofttimes obliged to mak,- use of all five of the general ends of speech—clearness, belief, conviction, action, and even entertainment.
The Bible gives us a very definite clue as to how to persuade, in the simple statement, "Out of it [the heart] are the issues of life." Or, to paraphrase: "In order to win the soul, you must first reach the heart." Add to this the part played by the will, and certainly we cannot fail to see the importance of studying the laws of persuasion. If you want others to do something they are not now doing, "you must enlist the will on the side of right," as you see it.
In this discussion of the art of persuasion, we shall limit ourselves to a single step, attention. As to the importance of securing the attention, suffice it to quote William James: "Only those items which I notice shape my mind." In other words, the absence of attention is chaos. Attention has been defined as the selective action of consciousness. Eminent psychologists tell us that if attention can be kept on one thing to the exclusion of all others, action will take place along that line.
Permit me to illustrate this selective action of the will. When a prospective customer visits a restaurant, three things may happen to him. He may go away hungry because of failure to select. He may go away stuffed with a wrong combination, or an unwise choice of food. Or he may go away satisfied. Even in so trivial a thing as buying a meal, it is highly important to employ the selective action of the will. Applying this same principle to social life, one may go through life as a lonely, unhappy recluse, or with relationships which produce only unhappiness, or he may go through life with true, satisfying companions.
Four Kinds of Attention
4. We now come to the fourth and last class, the spontaneous. When the speaker has secured this kind of attention, he, like Dewey's aide, may begin firing. And those who know their history know that when Dewey's task force began operations, the enemy's ships began to slip beneath the waters of Manila Bay until the fleet had disappeared. Spontaneous attention has been defined as the concentration of consciousness upon something which momentarily dominates the mind. The psychologist Gardner tells us how to secure this highly desirable kind of attention : "Stimulate some inclination not opposed to the message so effectively that it will overflow the consciousness with the corresponding feelings, and submerge the opposing inclinations." In other words, pass from the known and the loved, to the unknown and unloved. We shall give three rules to follow in order to secure spontaneous attention:
(I) Say something at once. Don't kill time with banalities or trivia. Get right down to the subject.
(2) Talk from three to five minutes in concrete, nonabstract language. Avoid logic or philosophy. Exclude flights of oratory or panegyric. Keep firmly planted on terra firma.
(3)Stimulate curiosity or the spirit of inquiry in the audience. This may be done by a series of thought-provoking questions or •propositions.
Four Ways to Hold Attention
However important it may be to secure attention, unless it is held, it will be of little avail. We shall now consider how to hold attention.
The first rule is, "Arouse expectation and desire." Humanity is hungry for something that will satisfy. We are to point the audience to the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but it must be real, rather than illusory ! The presentation of the speaker must lure his hearers on and on. The perspective situation arouses the mind to positive activity, and the interest passes beyond the hearers' control. They are in the speaker's hands.
The second law is simply "Variation." Variation has been called "the spice of life," "the life of business," and other names. But its use is based on a sound psychological law ; namely, the tendency of the mind to leap from one thing to another. If an attempt is made to pin it down to one thing, it tends to sink into drowsy extinction. Vary the manner of presentation. Frequently introduce short illustrations, and address questions to the audience.
The third law is "Movement." Every discourse should have movement. Different phases of the subject should be presented with a rapidity corresponding to the rapidity of normal mental movement. And let the movement of the discourse be accompanied by physical movement. The younger the speaker and the more difficult the subject, the more he should avoid standing like a stone statue. Use the pulpit as a fiip.,,ht deck. Take off, and come back to fill the bomb bays with ammunition, and take off again. Don't come to rest behind the pulpit until the close of the discourse.
The last rule is rather precautionary : "Time." Inasmuch as the absolute limit of modern psychological endurance is thirty minutes, don't go beyond that time. If you have to, or think you have to, then break the discourse into two parts by introducing something relaxing or diverting halfway through. Remember that no concert runs an hour without a break, no play is given in a single one-hour act, no sports contest is given in one inning. Let us strive to be as wise as the children of this world, and perhaps our audiences will stay with us longer.
Public speakers, let us aim to be a wing commander of a mighty, individually powered and directed aerial armada, rather than a modern Caesar dragging unwilling captives chained to our chariot wheel.