How to Make An Argument Stronger

This week I listened to the talk, Why work doesn’t happen at work by Jason Fried. This is my public speaking analysis focusing on how to make an argument stronger in speeches.
Jason discusses why people don’t seem to get work done at the office. Jason asserts that people tend to be able to work late at night or early in the morning or on the weekends…when they have uninterrupted time. He talks about involuntary distractions people usually face in an office such as managers and meetings. He then gives some quick advice about how to create an environment for getting work done including silent Thursdays and simply having fewer meetings. So, what public speaking techniques can we learn from watching this talk? Specifically, what can we learn about making strong arguments in a speech?

Using Analogies Make Arguments Intuitive

What was most effective was the comparison Jason made between work and sleep. Using that analogy he suggests that like sleep, we need long stretches of uninterrupted time in order to progress into the deepest and most productive work “stages.” He argues that you can’t get a good night’s sleep if you are constantly interrupted.  He makes the argument intuitive.

Arguments Require Both “Heart and Head” Evidence

However, if I were to give Jason feedback, I’d focus on the development of his argument. Although he explains his idea via the sleep analogy, he didn’t provided strong enough support for his main argument.  When making a main argument, you need to supply multiple forms (heart/intuitive and head/logical) of evidence. Particularly with a generation of multi-taskers sitting in his audience, I think he needed to additionally supply concrete “head” evidence from the field of attention management showing the real cost of interruptions (for example, I read a study that said 2.1 hours of productivity are lost per knowledge worker per day to unimportant interruptions, distractions, and the recovery time from interruptions. I’ve also read that a worker’s effective IQ decreases by 10 points if they are distracted by other tasks. The point is, for me, he didn’t sufficiently argue the reality, the significance, and the magnitude of the problem. His primary argument wasn’t strong enough.

Addressing Counter Arguments Make Persuasion Stronger

In addition, when making an argument, research suggests that to be the most persuasive it is important to also address objections.  For example, someone might think, “Well, don’t some interruptions benefit the interruptee and the corporation by providing focus on more important work?”  or “Aren’t interruptions at work really just collaboration?”  He didn’t address any possible counter arguments in his talk, which again, weakened the overall talk. Finally, his motives for choosing this topic seemed unclear which also weakened his argument.

Strong Openings Are Critical To Gain Attention

From a delivery perspective, he did not have an opening attention getter for this talk.  He could have started by asking, “Have you ever posted a do not disturb sign at work?” or “Have you ever left the office to get work done?”  …”You’re not alone.  It’s estimated that $588 billion is lost annually to unnecessary interruptions. ” Instead, he started with a statement of his thesis.  Most audience members are not at full attention when the first words are uttered. If your first words are your thesis then it’s likely some of your audience will miss it and be lost.

Movement Must Be Purposeful

Also I would suggest he choose to move purposefully–only transitioning to a new location as he is transitioning his thoughts.  He seemed to roam randomly which caused his walking to be distracting.

What do you think about his speech?  What did you think about the strength of his argument?

There are 3 comments .

Peter Billingham

Hi Lisa – great analysis of the TED speech by Jason Fried. Your points are really interesting and helpful both on the points you identify in his speech but also on further applications to our own speaking. The ideas on how to develop arguments in speaking was excellent. For me, I find as you note, his roaming around the stage was off putting, also the regular “right” added into the end of sentences. Thanks for a great post!

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    Lisa B. Marshall —

    Hi Peter,

    I originally included a mention of his disfluencies but then I decided against it because the post was getting long. I’ve written quite a bit about disfluencies on QDT website.

    Reply »
Ron Proto

Hi Lisa,

I completely agree with you about purposeful movement while presenting. I was a Toastmaster for several years. They teach you to move with purpose. I watched presentations by Steve Jobs and now Tim Cook. They look like Nomads wondering in the desert. With all the money Apple has, you would think they could get topnotch coaching to help them with their speaking skills.

Okay Lisa, that’s your sales lead for today. Contact Tim Cook and offer your services. Or perhaps you could critique his next presentation, that’s rumored to be on September 10.

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