How to Analyze Public Speakers

During my senior year of high school, I attended a weekly seminar on Media, Politics, and Public Speaking. Every week, we would have a politician from the Portland area, such as Brad Avakian or David Wu, speak to us for the first half of class. Not only did these interactions serve as great exposure to local politics, but our instructors used the time to help us become more media savvy by asking us to reflect upon and analyze what we heard after the speaker had left.

One of the tools we were given for analysis was a worksheet written by Aloha High School teaching legend James Barlow. It provides four pages detailing various categories of argumentation that a speaker might use to persuade his audience, such as “folksy appeal” or “tabloid thinking”. I found that using it just a few times really helped me to see through these tactics, which are ubiquitously used by public speakers, and also enabled me to better challenge their arguments.

I came across the document recently while sorting through some old papers, and thought that the world might benefit from its presence on the internet. All of the definitions don’t seem entirely accurate, but the content is all perfectly valid. There’s a pdf of all four pages available here, and a transcribed version is below the fold.

Speaker Analysis

Not clearly expressed or not with precise meaning. Use of words such as Freedom, Democracy, and Communism without clearly expressed meaning.

Capable of being understood in two or more possible ways.

Shift of Meaning
Like making conclusions about the theory of Marxism and then shifting all of the remarks to apply to the Soviet Union.

Degrees & Titles
Reference to degrees and titles as if that means the speaker knows what he is talking about.

As if repeating gives validity where none exists.

An attention getting phrase; or a phrase used to express a characteristic position or stand with the implication that everyone should agree with it.

Appeal to Flattery
Excessive praise to influence the listener, which has nothing to do with the issue.

Appeal to Ridicule
To make fun of something in a negative way.

Appeal to Prestige
To give undue standing or high esteem, thus creating an illusion about a person’s importance.

Appeal to Prejudice
An appeal to an irrational attitude that the listener has, which tends to get in the way of logical judgement.

Folksy Appeal
Informal or casual, and in a manner that will cause the audience to react favorably from an emotional standpoint.

Join the Bandwagon Appeal
Join because everyone is joining. It is a movement that attracts people because of its timeliness, showmanship, or momentum, but not because of its logic.

Hasty Generalization
To derive or induce a general conception or principle from specific particulars, which generalization may not be applicable.

Faulty Analogy
Inference that if two or more things agree with one another in some respects they will probably agree in others. An example would be that if the United States has a Social Security Program and the Soviet Union has a similar program, they are both Socialist nations. You go from the specific to the general.

Name and Quote Dropper
Use names or quotes as if their use somehow gives credence to the argument.

Non Sequitur
The conclusion does not follow logically. An example would be: “Put an end to corruption, Vote Democratic.”

Disproving by Minor Point
Disprove a minor point and thus say the whole issue is false.

Ad Hominem
Appealing to a person’s feelings or prejudices rather than his intellect. Marked by an attack on a person’s character.

Leading Question
As in, “Don’t you believe that a man should be honest?” Then the speaker goes on as if an individual was not honest.

Attacking a Straw Man
Refers to a weak or imaginary person to be set up and then easily proven wrong. Such as a man speaking against abortion referring to a person who has had abortion by, “You know the kind of person who has an abortion.” The implication is negative, and the Straw-Man cannot defend himself against this negativism.

Begging the Question
Does not answer the question but talks around it.

Academic Detachment
The speaker says the question is too complicated or you wouldn’t understand it or talks around it in an intellectual fashion, but never gets to the issue. Sometimes it amounts to talking about both sides of an issue without centering on the question.

Conservatism, Radicalism, Moderateness
Speaker refers to a political position as if it is bad or ought to carry with it a negative emotional response.

Tabloid Thinking
Thinking in compressed or condensed scope which comes out in glaring headlines. An example would be, “The Civil War was caused by slavery.”

Casual Oversimplification
Expressing or indicating cause in oversimplified terms. Example would be, “Since the newspapers wrote about conditions in Cuba prior to 1898, they caused the Spanish American War.”

Commonality of Interests
Assumes that your commonality of interests lends standing to the argument.

Selective Data
The speaker selects only certain data and information to illustrate his point, leaving out data that would tend to discredit his position.

Simplistic Detachment
“We all know that…”

Which would you rather have your children do,
1) Attend a beer party, or
2) Go to church
(There could be other choices)

Appeal to Ignorance
A proposition is said to be true because it has not been disproved, or is said to be untrue because it has not been proved.

Technical Jargon
The use of technical language or unfamiliar words, whether contained in the dictionary or freshly coined, for the purpose of impressing people.