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Effective Rhetoric and Generating Emotional Impact

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Effective Rhetoric and Generating Emotional Impact 

This topic teaches students how to communicate verbally in a clear, persuasive and thoughtful manner. Students learn about the basic elements of effective rhetoric, and learn about different strategies to communicate effectively to diverse audiences and to produce a desired emotional response from the audience of a speaker or writer. Students learn about the importance of “framing the debate” to have the desired effect on audiences, and learn about the importance of developing compelling narratives as a strategy for persuading others of their point of view.

Topic Learning Outcome: Upon completing this topic, students will understand the essential components of effective rhetoric, and will be able to distinguish between effective and ineffective rhetoric. Students will also strengthen their own capacity to communicate effectively through the spoken word.

Core Concepts Related to this Topic:

Recommended Reading (HKS, DPI 801): 

O – Aristotle on Rhetoric

               O – Jay Heinrichs, Thank You for Not Arguing, selections

                  O – Jay Heinrichs, “How Harvard Destroyed Rhetoric,” Harvard Magazine (1995)

O – George Orwell, “Why I Write,” “Politics and the English Language” (1946)

O – Timothy Patrick McCarthy, “Why I Write,” in Jim Downs, ed. Why We Write: 

                  The Politics and Practice of Writing for Social Change (Routledge, 2005)

                  O – Susan Faludi, “Speak for Yourself,” New York Times Magazine, Jan. 26, 1992

O – Frederick Douglass, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American

                  Slave (1845; Penguin Classics, 1986), selections

O – Arthur Miller, “American Playhouse:  On Politics and the Art of Acting,”

                                    Harper’s Magazine (2001)

                  O – Bill Clinton, Speech to Memphis Ministers (1993)


                  O – Barbara Jordan, Speech on Nixon Impeachment (1974)


                  O – Barack Obama, Democratic National Convention Keynote (2004)



                               O – Mario Cuomo, Democratic National Convention Keynote (1984)


                O – Zach Wahls, “On Family” (2011)


                  O – Sheryl Sandberg, Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, TED Talk (2010)


   O – Amy Cuddy, “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are,” TED Talk (2012)


O – Drew Westen, The Political Brain:  The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation   (Public Affairs, 2007), introduction and ch. 1

O – Luntz, Words That Work, ch. 12-13, Appendix B

O – Jonathan Haidt, “The Moral Roots of Liberals and Conservatives” (2008 TED Talk) and “How Common Threats Can Make Common (Political) Ground” (2012 TED Talk)


O – Matt Bai, “The Framing Wars,” New York Times, July 17, 2005

                  O – Martin Luther King, Jr., March on Washington Address (1963)


            O – Ann Richards, Speech to Emily’s List (2004)


                  O – Aung San Suu Kyi, Forum on Women Keynote Address (2013)


O – Zach Wahls, “On Family” (2011)


                  O – Sheryl Sandberg, Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders, TED Talk (2010)


Weeks, H., Creating Your Speaker Persona: A Little Larger than Life, Harvard Kennedy School.

Retrieved from:,%20Holly%20Weeks,%20HKS,%202012.pdf 

Danziger, Marie A., 5 Secrets of Powerful Communication, Harvard Kennedy School.

Retrieved from:,%20HKS,%20Danziger,%202012.pdf

Harvard Kennedy School, (2009, May 20) Markers for Public Speaking, Communication Program. Retrieved from:,%20HKS,%202009.pdf

Harvard Kennedy School, The First 60 Seconds: 7 Ways to Establish Rapport with Your Audience, Communications Program.Retrieved from:,%20HKS,%202012.pdf


Sample Assessment Questions:

1)   What are Logos, Ethos and Pathos? Why are these important concepts for public speakers to be familiar with?

2)   Exercise: Prepare and deliver a 10-minute long speech, arguing in favor of a specific policy action. 

3)   What does it mean to “frame a debate” in an advantageous way? Explain, with one example, why framing can be an important dimension of rhetoric in the field of public management.

4)   In order to convince audiences of their point of view, it is arguably as important for leaders to be emotionally compelling as it is for them to be logically convincing. Provide one example of an effective policy-related speech or written document, and explain how narratives and/or emotional appeals helped the author persuade the audience of his/her point of view. 

Page Created By: Ben Eisen, April 27, 2015; updated by Ian Clark 8 May 2015.

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© University of Toronto 2008
School of Public Policy and Governance