Expression - Persuasive communication

A Rhetoric Lesson in an Unlikely Place

When the famous Greek orator Demosthenes was asked what was the most important aspect of rhetoric, he replied, “Delivery, delivery, delivery.”

That’s a sentiment that I would not normally agree with. While I certainly believe that delivery is important, I’ve always stressed that strong content backed by appropriate evidence is absolutely the most important aspect of any persuasive presentation. If you don’t have solid content the best delivery in the world won’t make you persuasive.

But I received an unexpected education in practical eloquence this afternoon in the unlikeliest place. I was just getting out of my vehicle at the gas station when a man approached. I knew right away that he was going to ask for money and I prepared to give him the cold shoulder. But his opening line took me by surprise: “Excuse me sir, I’m sorry to intrude on your privacy.” He then proceeded to go into one of the familiar stories about a lady with a baby in the parking lot next door who did not have money for gas. That’s usually when I tell them I can’t help them, but his manner and vocabulary captivated me. He was so courtly and articulate that—as a person who values eloquence and verbal artistry—I just enjoyed listening to his pitch.

I decided to give him a few bucks but found that I only had twenties in my wallet. Being of Scottish descent, I may value eloquence but not to the tune of $20, so I told him I didn’t have change. I wish I could remember his exact words, but his reply was so good that I actually went into the convenience store and bought a candy bar so I could make change!

As I drove away, it occurred to me that I had just met a true artist, a real master of delivery. I knew his story was bogus, but I felt good about the few bucks I gave him. It’s like a magic trick: you know it’s not real but you appreciate what you’ve seen.

I wonder if I could go back and find the guy? Maybe he can write a blog post for me.

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