uses of rhetoric

Long ago I competed in a speech contest sponsored by the savings and loan industry I was working in. I won the local contest and then won the state contest (held at a resort not in the state). This took me to the national contest, and the competition was intense. I didn’t win or place, but I had taken sufficient lesson from the experience.

I was a newlywed at the time, and at the urging of my father-in-law, my wife and I had attended a seminar about financial planning. I was naive and didn’t understand that such seminars are really intended as sales pitches rather than providing any real educational value. The seminar had four sessions, and by the third session I had figured out the rhetoric of what they were doing.

The first session was intended to scare the audience. Nothing they could do on their own could possibly prepare them for a good life with sufficient savings to live well, send their kids to college, and retire in style. The investment mechanisms available to and understood by the average person were insufficient for the job.

The second session was then designed to capture your heart by the canny instructor saying how his organization was there to help the hapless audience members navigate the confusing and perilous waters of sensible financial advice. It was all warm and fuzzy.

The third session then overloaded the audience with the myriad investment options available. The point of this session was once again to scare the audience into helplessness so they would flock to the investment company sponsoring the seminar.

And that was the point of the fourth session. We were told how the investment company could specifically help us go forward. By this time I saw their pattern and realized it was a sales pitch all along. Given that we had no money to invest anyway, I didn’t feel bad walking away from the seminar and ignoring the follow-up phone calls about opening an account.

But I did reflect on their technique. Frighten – Console – Frighten Further – Provide Final Consolation and Help.

And that was how I had crafted the speech I gave in the savings and loan contest. I started out by dismissing the common tools of a typical person’s savings life like a passbook account and an interest-bearing checking account. Then I said not to worry, the modern savings and loan could remedy that deficiency. I followed that with an overload of the new savings and investment tools the average person could utilize. And I finished up with saying how your neighborhood savings and loan could hold your hand and guide you through all of it.

It was an effective way to organize a speech, and it worked at least to get me to the nationals.

Looking at myself today, I am astonished that I would willingly get in front of a group of people to speak to them, much less to act as though I was an authority on a subject.

Explore posts in the same categories: Ramblings Off Topic

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