Persuasive Speech Can Call for Extreme Suggestions

October 18th, 2011 by LaRae Quy
Gloria Steinem of Ms. Magazine and the Women’s...

Image by Fortune Live Media via Flickr

The most persuasive speech can often be one that introduces an idea that is initially so shocking that we welcome “middle ground” as a desirable alternative.

An excellent example is the women’s movement in the 1960’s. Some of the more outspoken activists became very strident in their rhetoric. As a result, the movement became very polarizing.

Gloria Steinem came to the forefront with a fairly moderate approach. And most importantly, she was likable.

People were so relieved that she now represented the women’s movement that they not only welcomed her, their attitudes had shifted—toward feminism! Only a few of the stalwarts reverted back to their original position. They had seen what a zealot looked like, and they didn’t like it. Gloria, however, was someone they could live with—she moved people in her direction. In other words, she persuaded them.

What was Gloria’s powerful tool?

Inoculations get the attention of our body’s immune system by introducing a small dose of the disease. This jolts the body into action and antibodies are produced to protect us against further infection. In the same way, an extreme suggestion can introduce an idea that initially jolts us out of our complacency or established way of thinking. The result is that our attitude is shifted when we welcome a compromise as a desirable alternative.

This is a technique used with great success by retailers, ex-spouses, and terrorists.

This letter is a perfect example of how extreme suggestions can work in the way we go about changing people’s minds:

Dear Mom and Dad,

Since I left for college, many things have happened. I apologize for not writing sooner, but you’ve been in my thoughts. Please, do not cry until you’ve read my entire letter but you had better prepare yourself by sitting down.

First, my jail sentence went by faster than I expected. The food wasn’t that bad, really, and I felt lucky that I lost only 50 pounds. Being female, I didn’t know what to expect but my cellmate was a businesswoman named Sugar and she’s offered me a regular job with her escort service. She assures me that I’ll be escorting very nice gentlemen to innocent parties and not to worry about the nasty rumors. I’m not sure what she means, but she says she’s got a great lawyer.

While in jail I met the man of my dreams. He’s out on parole now and we’ve found a wonderful little cubbyhole under the Golden Gate Bridge to live in until he finds a proper job. He’s an enterprising young man and I know you’ll like him. For example, he’s up and going through the trash bins before anyone else in the area! Yes, I’m homeless right now and although my boyfriend thinks I should take up Sugar’s offer on employment, I’m worried that my pregnancy will not make me a desirable escort.

Yes, I’m going to have a baby! And as soon as my boyfriend’s infection clears up, we’ll get our blood tests and have a real wedding. I know you’ll welcome him with open arms and perhaps even help him find a job. You should also know that he never graduated from high school, but he has high ambitions.

Now that you have all the news worth telling, I want to tell you that I didn’t get arrested, I didn’t lose 50 pounds, I’m not thinking of going to work for Sugar, I didn’t meet a boyfriend in jail, I’m not homeless, and I’m not pregnant. I am, however, getting a D in economics, which wouldn’t be so bad but it is, unfortunately, my major. I wanted you to see this in proper perspective.

Your loving daughter,


Yes, there are times when the middle ground can seem like a gift from heaven.


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