Rhetoric is likely the most important skill required for effective strategic communication. In fact, rhetoric is communication’s engine.
Aristotle wrote about his philosophies on rhetoric almost 2,500 years ago and they likely have never been as important to effective communication as they are today. Cancel culture, outrage culture, safetyism, and hyper-sensitivity in today’s society create ample opportunity for reputational attacks, and these can devastate reputations, careers, livelihoods, and businesses.
So, what is rhetoric and why is it so important to effective strategic communication? According to Aristotle (but in plain English), rhetoric is the art and science of matching a calibrated amount of logic with the calibrated amount of passion needed to best persuade a particular audience.
Know thy audience! if your message deviates too far towards logic, then your message might be as moving as a chemist reading the periodic table of elements hoping his audience doesn’t fall asleep before he gets to Lawrencium – which is the last element in the bottom right corner. That is, for most audiences, too much logic falls on deaf ears.
Likewise, deviate too far towards passion, you will surely stir your audience’s passions, but you will fail to move their minds; and, in the process, you risk losing credibility.
Effective strategic communication, especially when dealing with a crisis, requires skillful calibration of logic and passion. You must absolutely tell your side of the story, but you must do so in a way that effectively moves your key audiences.
Understanding your audience and what they most need to hear to be persuaded will help you craft an effective message. The art and science of interpreting the audience’s needs into persuasive communication is rhetoric.