Something From the Masters Of Persuasion

I never studied the Greek or the Roman empires. Whatever I know about Greek or Roman history has come later in my life. My interest in the Greeks and Romans rests primarily in what they said and wrote about the art and science of persuasion. My current interest is narrow. I know that the Greeks and Romans produced great actors, orators and advocates, so I know the Greeks and Romans figured out a thing or two about persuasion. Since I am in the persuasion business, I’ve tried to make the Greeks and Romans my friends. Here is a sample of what the Greeks and Romans knew at a time just before the birth of Christ.

Aristotle spoke about the importance of knowing one’s audience. He said that an advocate must understand human nature and must know how listeners’ think. He must know listeners’ habits, desires and emotions. A good advocate then is a student of human nature. Aristotle believed to be a good advocate, you needed to show good character. The advocate must gain the trust of his audience. The advocate must project sincerity.

Quintillian taught that the advocate must project with the right character. Whether it was Quintillian or not who said it, I’ve come to learn that the skilled advocate speaks in different voices – and with different tones. There is a voice that teaches. There is a voice that evokes humor. There is a voice that evokes passion. Quintillian believed that the advocate has to bring the audience into the right state of mind. He also believed that the advocate must project intelligence, virtue and good will.

But of all the Masters of advocacy, my favorite is Marcus Tullius Cicero. Cicero lived during the time of Julius Caesar. Cicero was considered the leading barrister in the Roman world – even at a young age. He believed that the advocate’s power depended on three things – delivery, delivery, and delivery. Cute, Cicero. Real cute. Cicero could whip up the feeling of his audience. He used logic and emotion in doing so. It was Cicero who described three styles of rhetoric: the plain style of rhetoric which was designed to teach; the grand style of rhetoric which was designed to move; and the middle style of rhetoric was designed to give pleasure. I will leave you with Cicero’s six maxims of persuasion.

They are timeless words of wisdom. The next time you need to persuade somebody, read these maxims.

It might help. If it does, you can thank Cicero for your success.

1. Understand what reaches the mind and moves the heart.

2. Understand human motives to understand behavior.

3. Move from the particulars of the case to the universal truths.

4. Draw the audience into the story.

5. Expose the illogic of the opponent. 6. Communicate passion and logic in the language of the listener.