Aristotle’s five rhetorical devices for great presentations

Note: This was originally published in Our Favorite Management Tips from 2019 on Harvard Business Review. Clipped it here because I thought it was really useful.

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When you need to sell an idea at work or in a presentation, how do you do it? Five rhetorical devices can help — Aristotle identified them 2,000 years ago, and masters of persuasion still use them today:

1. Ethos. Start your talk by establishing your credibility and character. Show your audience that you are committed to the welfare of others, and you will gain their trust.

2. Logos. Use data, evidence, and facts to support your pitch.

3. Pathos. People are moved to action by how a speaker makes them feel. Wrap your big idea in a story that will elicit an emotional reaction.

4. Metaphor. Compare your idea to something that is familiar to your audience. It will help you clarify your argument by making the abstract concrete.

5. Brevity. Explain your idea in as few words as possible. People have a limited attention span, so talk about your strongest points first.

All hail the welcome bots

New members of online communities are more likely to stick around if they’re welcomed by fellow members — but Nickerson and his team found that new Wikipedia users who interacted with advisor- and protector-bots were significantly more likely to become long-term contributors than those greeted by humans. That remained true even when the bots were contacting users to point out errors or delete their contributions, as long as the bots were cordial and clear about their reasons.”

Rise of the bots (Science Daily)

Since 2017, Discourse — an open source forum platform that’s an absolute delight to use — has welcomed new members via Discobot. You can think of it as a customizable autoresponder taking on the form of another user.

This sort of automation, when used transparently, can offer a good deal of scalable utility to help with new member onboarding. It acquaints users with the platform and sets expectations out of the gate.

It’s kind of like the introductory levels or tutorials in a multiplayer game. You learn the gameplay mechanics in a safe space before jumping in with real players.

The ROI of supporting existing community groups

“In variety of other ways — with the launch of community events, youth workshops, and other programs — Katz and her partner continue to double down, investing back into the culture and creative community that provide Paper Chase business, and in turn, support and nurture its growth.”

The Creative Entrepreneur Behind Paper Chase Press (99U)

I’m big on supporting existing community groups. Why? Because the people you want to reach are already coming together. The interest and momentum is there. You just need to tap into it.

I wouldn’t start a new group unless I felt like there’s something missing from what the current group was doing. Even then, I’d look at how I could fill that gap within the existing group, rather than forking off in a different direction.

Here’s an example:

Back in 2011, a local eBook publisher was struggling to get off the ground. The founders had a history in print, they knew the industry, they had connections to great authors.

They wanted to provide consulting, design, and editing services to new authors for a small percentage of the sales revenue. To keep costs low, they’d cut out the middleman and sell the books directly to readers.

They didn’t know where to start with their marketing, and they had a very limited budget. So I suggested that they take the community marketing route: piggyback on local meetups, book clubs, and online groups that aligned with both sides of their business — authors and readers.

The goal would be to find the aspiring authors in these groups. If they could convert a chunk of those members into publishing under their label, they’d have an organic (unpaid) program for raising awareness & finding new leads.

The groups could also help with customer research. What were people reading? How were they discovering new authors? If they were trying to write and get published, what were they struggling with?

That’s the ROI of supporting existing community groups. You’re plugging into a collective of people you need to reach. Instead of buying attention with dollars, your investment is time spent on showing up, contributing, participating, and listening.

Start small, build relationships with members, gather a lot of qualitative insights, figure out what works, and scale up from there.

Personal training & the whole product experience

“Sometimes a product can be too focused. You need to identify the whole product – the full set of features (including services) that are required to delight the customer.”

The Whole Product (Bill Barnett on Strategy)

A business doesn’t just sell a product or a service. It sells an experience. It’s true for big box stores, online retailers, real estate agents, web designers, et al.

Here’s an example: I’m seeing a personal trainer right now because I’m trying to build my functional strength. I remember seeing my father suffer from back issues when I was younger. I don’t want that to happen to me.

There are lots of personal trainers in the GTA. I chose to work with this guy in downtown Toronto for two big reasons. First, I was referred to him by people I knew. That meant a lot. Second, we went through two free consultation sessions, and those sessions were better than any training session I’d had in the past.

So I signed on for a six month contract. Now I haul myself downtown, twice a week, just to train with him.

I’m only two months in and I already feel stronger. Exercises I never had the confidence to do before — barbell squats, lifts, presses — are almost comfortable. I look forward to seeing how much more I can lift each time I show up.

From each session I get some new pointers, some new exercises to try on my own, some new guidance on form and technique and equipment that can help improve my performance.

That’s the whole product experience. The two hours of personal training time each week are the table stakes.

Set some guidelines for saying yes.

“We often say yes to everything because we don’t have any hard and fast guidelines for knowing whether or not we want to say yes. Setting guidelines for when you’ll say yes can help you make decisions that will better serve your priorities.

The Art of Doing Nothing (99U)

A friend told me recently that I’m very good (too good?) at saying “yes”.

There’s a long, long list of things I’d like to learn and do. But I need to get better at saying no to new projects, or figuring out how they fit into something I’m already doing.

Paraphrasing a colleague: let’s do a few things really well this year.

Remote work requires self-awareness

“My point isn’t that every remote worker needs to stop traveling and go out and rent an office space. It’s that the flexibility of remote work requires a lot of self-awareness to recognize an unhealthy cycle and take steps to stop it before it spirals downward. You need to intentionally ask what situation best suits your needs and personality and actively experiment until you find a good fit.”

Mental Health & Remote Work (Doist)

With the COVID-19 epidemic pushing office dwellers to work from home, we’re going to see a bunch of companies realize that remote work is a viable alternative to crowding a bunch of employees into a shared space.

I’ve had the privilege of working from home for nearly five years now. It was bumpy at first. I had a real pang of cabin fever, working from a downtown condo. But now I live outside the city, in a quiet neighbourhood. It’s so much better.

That’s the thing with remote work. You need to figure out what works for you, and chances are good that it’ll be different from what works for others.

ASPIRE: The qualities of an excellent website.

ASPIRE is an acronym that neatly covers some ideal qualities that I think we should… aspire to, when aiming to create excellent websites. […] I particularly love that the word aspire is about goals, and not necessarily rules. There may be no site on the web that truly nails every quality on this list, but it’s still useful to define what we think is great.”

ASPIRE: Ideals to Aspire to When Building Websites (Filament Group)

Covering the ASPIRE acronym:

  • Accessible to people of all abilities
  • Secure data transmission, storage, manipulation
  • Performant on most devices, even with shoddy connectivity
  • Inclusive of diverse audiences
  • Responsive and adaptive to all screen conditions
  • Ethical in the handling of user data

Kudos to Scott Jehl and Aaron van de Weijenbergh and their Twitter thread.

Tech is the environment in which we function

“What this decade’s critiques miss is that over the past 10 years, our tech has grown from some devices and platforms we use to an entire environment in which we function. We don’t “go online” by turning on a computer and dialing up through a modem; we live online 24/7, creating data as we move through our lives, accessible to everyone and everything.”

We’ve spent the decade letting our tech define us. (The Guardian)

Remember when sharing your real name was a big deal?

The vital role of moderators

Moderating content and comments is one of the most vital responsibilities on the internet. It’s where free speech, community interests, censorship, harassment, spam, and overt criminality all butt up against each other. It has to account for a wide variety of always-evolving cultural norms and acceptable behaviors. As someone who has done the job, I can tell you that it can be a grim and disturbing task. And yet the big tech platforms seem to place little value on it: The pay is poor, workers are often contractors, and it’s frequently described as something that’s best left to the machines.

The Comment Moderator Is The Most Important Job In The World Right Now (BuzzFeed News)

Smaller, organic, human-scale competition.

Each new generation provokes a massive explosion in the volume of the thing it helped create. The large social networks, e-comm companies, media companies, dating apps, and meditation apps will continue to succeed. But many of their users will be systematically poached by smaller, more organic, human-scale competitors.”

Check Your Pulse #34 (Sari Azout)

Yes. Please bring back the long tail of small, successful, indie ventures.