Posted by: George E Burney | June 28, 2013

Convincing By Reasoning

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“A man convinced against his will remains unconvinced still.” Perhaps you’ve heard that expression, or some variant of it. It suggests a sensible thought … that conclusions a person chooses to reach carry more weight with him than those he  prefers to ignore.

How We Resist

When someone else states something as a fact, we may or may not accept it. Even if he presents reasonable supporting data, we may still reject the conclusion he reaches.  One way we do this is by suspending judgment until we see where he’s going with his argument. This allows us wiggle room, an “out” if we want one.

That process gives us the freedom to reject the entire argument he presents, simply because we don’t want to arrive at the conclusion he seems to be driving at. While doing so, we believe our position to be perfectly objective and reasonable.

What  enables us to deceive ourselves like that? The fact that we didn’t commit ourselves to any of the points he made along the way, and certainly not to a series of points. If we had done so, we would, in spite of ourselves, sense the inconsistency in our thinking and begrudgingly acknowledge that his viewpoint has some merit.

We’re not alone in doing this, others do the same when you’re speaking. So the antidote is to get your audience to commit themselves to an unbroken chain of ideas, of their own volition and in their own minds, along the way. If you do that, you’re well on your way to a successful presentation. When they finally arrive at the final, overall conclusion you want them to reach, they’ll do so without resistance.

How can you make practical use of that observation in public speaking? By using devices that stimulate thinking and reasoning by the members of your audience. For example, consider rhetorical questions.

Rhetorical Questions

Timely rhetorical questions, followed by appropriate pauses, can be very effective. They make people take a stand on the issue you’re discussing, even though it’s only in their own minds. The person who mentally answers your question  (as most do) is committing. A series of such commitments can lead them to an unavoidable conclusion.

Pausing briefly after asking your question is essential. You have to allow people time to think and arrive at a decision. Then, without supplying the answer, you simply move on to your next point.


Illustrations are also excellent devices to get your listeners to make mental commitments to the points you make. You may make a point, or several points, and then say, “Let’s illustrate this … ” or, “We could illustrate it this way …” Then, use an appropriate illustration. As you present it, if the parallels are obvious, your audience is already beginning to see how it relates to the discussion.

The beauty of this approach is that when you state the connection, your audience is already there. Your application simply states something they’ve already concluded. The key point is that they reached this conclusion themselves. As a result, they are thoroughly convinced.

For additional information, please see my e-book entitled How to Master Public Speaking, Quickly and Easily, at:



  1. Those are really wonderful ways I must say.

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