Confusing an Audience Can Be a Rhetorial Strategy

Christopher Witt —  June 23, 2017 — Leave a comment

Don't confuse your audienceOne of the cardinal rules of public speaking is Never Confuse Your Audience.

There are a number of reasons why you shouldn’t confuse your audience.

First, if you confuse an audience, you lose them.

People will do their best — for a while, at least — to follow your logic, to ferret out your main point, to understand what you’re getting at.

But when they can’t make sense of what you’re saying, they’ll tune you out. They’ll stop listening. And you’ll have to do something dramatic to win back their attention.

Second, if you confuse an audience, you risk making them mad.

They’ll resent you for making them feel stupid or for wasting their time. And then there’s almost nothing you can do to win back their goodwill.

Third, if you confuse an audience, they’ll oppose you and whatever you’re proposing.

When you lose their attention and their goodwill, you lose their respect as well as their willingness to cooperate with you.

Fourth, if you confuse an audience unintentionally, you’re inept, but if you confuse them intentionally, you’re ethically challenged.

But intentionally confusing an audience can be an effective rhetorical strategy.

Politicians do it all the time.

When you’re advocating a policy that is unpopular, clarity is not your friend.

When you know people will oppose what you’re proposing, it’s best to confuse them. Make sure they don’t understand your idea or intentions.

This strategy works best when you have power, when you are in authority, because…

…confusing an audience does NOT build consensus, goodwill, or cooperation,

…confusing an audience induces inertia, and passivity reduces resistance.

Confusing an audience isn’t terribly difficult to do. (Speakers do it unintentionally all the time.)

All you have to do to confuse an audience is

  • Make your speech unnecessarily complex
  • Provide too much detail and not enough context or explanation, or — alternatively — don’t provide enough information for people to think for themselves
  • Contradict what you’ve previously said or what people know to be true
  • Make stuff up (i.e. lie)
  • Change the subject or introduce irrelevant ideas and information
  • Don’t respond to questions or objections

Sound like anyone you know?

 

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Christopher Witt

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Chris Witt was born in Los Angeles, California. He currently lives in San Diego. He works as a speech and presentations consultant, an executive speech coach, and an orals coach.

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