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This post is part of a series on rhetoric and rhetorical devices. For other posts in the series, please click this link.Device: Aporia
Origin: From the Greek ἄπορος (aporos), meaning “impassable”.
In plain English: An expression of uncertainty or doubt.
- When the doubt or uncertainty is genuine, it can signal a real dilemma and prompts the audience to think about different options for resolution.
- When the doubt is sincere, it can show the humility of the speaker.
- When the doubt is feigned, it is often used to guide the audience to the point that the speaker wishes to make.
- Aporia is also known as dubitatio, though some contend that in dubitatio, the uncertainty is always feigned or disingenuous.
- Aporia can be a statement as well as a question.
- A common example of feigned aporia can be seen when someone has to say a speech about a very close friend or relative; for example, at a wedding or going away party. In such speeches we often hear sentences such as: “What can I say about So-and-So?” There is no question that the speaker has plenty to say.
- Aporia is also a philosophical term. It pertains to philosophical questions that have no clear answers. Socrates and Plato were famous for such questions.
“I am at no loss for information about you and your family; but I am at a loss where to begin. Shall I relate how your father Tromes was a slave in the house of Elpias, who kept an elementary school near the Temple of Theseus, and how he wore shackles on his legs and a timber collar round his neck? Or how your mother practised daylight nuptials in an outhouse next door to Heros the bone-setter, and so brought you up to act in tableaux vivants and to excel in minor parts on the stage?”
— Demosthenes, On the Crown, 330 B.C.
“Whether he took them from his fellows more impudently, gave them to a harlot more lasciviously, removed them from the Roman people more wickedly, or altered them more presumptuously, I cannot well declare.“
“We Democrats, we think the country works better with a strong middle class, with real opportunities for poor folks to work their way into it, with a relentless focus on the future, with business and government actually working together to promote growth and broadly shared prosperity. You see, we believe that ‘We’re all in this together’ is a far better philosophy than ‘You’re on your own.’ So who’s right? Well, since 1961, for 52 years now, the Republicans have held the White House 28 years, the Democrats 24. In those 52 years, our private economy has produced 66 million private- sector jobs. So what’s the job score? Republicans: 24 million. Democrats: 42 [million].”
“The Republicans call it Obamacare and say it’s a government takeover of health care that they’ll repeal. Are they right? Let’s look at what’s happened so far.”
— Bill Clinton, Democratic National Convention, 5 September 2012
“Hey, I don’t have all the answers. In life, to be honest, I’ve failed as much as I’ve succeeded. But I love my wife; I love my life; and I wish you my kind of success.”
— Jared Jussim as Dicky Fox in Jerry Maguire (1996)
“The art of advocacy is the art of persuasion. And persuading the tribunal should motivate everything counsel does. In order to be persuasive, counsel must be credible, so conceding the obvious is always important. To be persuasive, counsel must know the case thoroughly so careful preparation is fundamental. An argument is persuasive if it is inherently probable, consistent with the facts and with common sense. Throughout it all, counsel must maintain the court’s respect by being always courteous, scrupulously honest and unfailingly fair. When the tribunal retires to determine the matter, it must be with the impression that you did everything possible to assist it in arriving at a just result, even as you fulfilled your duty to your client. That is the path to persuasion and the soul of advocacy.”
— Allan Rock
Photo courtesy of the University of Ottawa
Much has been written about Steve Jobs. He was, without question, one of the greatest and most inspirational businessmen of his generation. He made Apple into one of the most recognizable and iconic brands in the world. His death at the age of 56 came far too early and he is missed.
Much has also been written about Steve Jobs’ presentation style. Jobs was famous for the preparation that he put into his MacWorld and other presentations, and for his delivery style when launching a new product.
In today’s post, I don’t want to focus on Jobs’ presentation skills per se; instead, I wanted to draw upon his wisdom and insights into business and life and see what lessons can be applied when it comes to presentations and public speaking. As part of his legacy, Jobs left a small trove of memorable quotes. Sometimes humorous, frequently trenchant, always thought-provoking, they make for good reading. Here are ten of my favourites.
1. “Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it’s really how it works. The design of the Mac wasn’t what it looked like, although that was part of it. Primarily, it was how it worked. To design something really well, you have to get it. You have to really grok [understand intuitively] what it’s all about. It takes a passionate commitment to really thoroughly understand something, chew it up, not just quickly swallow it. Most people don’t take the time to do that.”
Lesson: Giving a good presentation—a truly good presentation—takes time and effort. You must understand the material thoroughly; you must understand how it relates to your audience; you must understand what is most important and why. And then you have to design the presentation—with or without slides—so that it hangs together and conveys the message with impact.
2. “This is what customers pay us for—to sweat all these details so it’s easy and pleasant for them to use our computers. We’re supposed to be really good at this.”
Lesson: You have to sweat all of the details so that it is easy for your audience to follow your presentation (and enjoy it).
3. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things we have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”
Lesson: Too many presentations become bogged down when speakers try to do too much. You have a limited amount of time and your audience has a limited amount of attention. Choose your key points carefully and ruthlessly cut out everything else. If the subject matter is vast and there is more for your audience to know, prepare a detailed handout or direct people to where they can go for more information. War and Peace makes for a good read but a lousy presentation.
4. “That’s been one of my mantras: Focus and simplicity. Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because once you get there, you can move mountains.”
Lesson: This quote is really just a variation of No. 3 above. As a presenter you must cut through the details and complexity and distill your message to its essence. Taking the time to think carefully about your subject and your audience beforehand will help you design a simple, effective presentation. For more inspiration on simplicity, see these quotes from Charles Mingus, George Eliot, Bruce Lee and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
5. “I would trade all of my technology for an afternoon with Socrates.”
Lesson: Technology is great but it is not the most important thing. Far more important is being able to think clearly, strategically, creatively. Whatever your field, expand your horizons. Read widely and extensively. Read the classics, read modern fiction, read non-fiction, read industry periodicals that are not related to your industry. You will become a better thinker and you will be more well rounded. And that can only help when it comes to communicating ideas to others.
6. “Good artists copy; great artists steal.”
Lesson: Jobs was very fond of this quote which, in fact, he got from Pablo Picasso. Good speakers never try to copy other speakers. Good speakers know that they can only be themselves. However, good speakers are willing to “steal” from others. And here, I am talking about trying out something that they have learned from another speaker, or read in a book, or learned in a course on public speaking. Nobody knows everything and we should be open to learning from others. But we should never try to be like others.
7. “I think if you do something and it turns out pretty good, then you should go do something else wonderful, not dwell on it for too long. Just figure out what’s next.”
Lesson: When a presentation goes well, don’t waste the opportunity to deconstruct it soon afterwards. Make notes. What worked well? Why? What could be improved? How? Take what you have learned and build on it for your next presentation. Don’t rest on your laurels, especially if you have to give the same presentation over and over. There is always room for improvement: better images; a better story; an exercise for the audience; cutting material; adding material. Figure out what’s next.
8. “I’m the only person I know who’s lost a quarter of a billion dollars in one year. It’s very character building.”
Lesson: Things don’t always go well. Mistakes happen and if you give enough presentations or speeches, the odds are that you will stumble at some point. Don’t let the stumbles get you down. They are part of the process of all public speakers and very few of them are fatal. Learn from them and move on.
9. “We’re here to put a dent in the universe. Otherwise why else even be here?”
Lesson: When you finish a speech or presentation, your audience should be changed in some way, even if that change is simply learning something new. If you do not change your audience, why bother speaking at all?
10. “Be a yardstick of quality. Some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.”
Lesson: Many presentations are still, unfortunately, mediocre or worse. You might even be able to get away with a mediocre presentation yourself. Don’t. Hold yourself to a higher standard; your audience deserves it and the benefits that will come your way—personal and professional—will be well worth the effort.
Oh, and there’s just “one more thing” …
“No one wants to die. Even people who want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that’s as it should be, because death is very likely the single best invention of life. It’s life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new. … Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma—which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.”
Lesson: The message is clear. How it applies to your life is for you to decide.
Photo courtesy of Ben Stanfield / acaben on Flickr
“A good speech is like a beautiful dress: long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to keep it interesting.”
— Source unknown; often attributed to Winston Churchill
Photo courtesy of igorjan / Flickr
At approximately 7:45 on a chilly Friday morning in January 2007, a young man with a violin case entered one of the subway stations in Washington, D.C. He took up a position near a wall and a garbage can, took out his violin and positioned the open case so that passers-by could throw in some spare change. And then he began to play.
For 45 minutes, the young man played a variety of pieces by Bach while more than 1,000 walked by. Only a few stopped to listen; only a few made a donation; and only one person recognized the man. He was Joshua Bell, an internationally acclaimed, Grammy Award-winning virtuoso violinist.
Only days earlier, Bell had played the same violin—a handcrafted Stradivarius that was made in 1713—to a sold-out audience at Boston’s spectacular Symphony Hall, considered one of the finest concert halls in the world. Tickets for that concert sold for $100 or more a seat. Bell’s take for his performance in the subway station? Around $30.
Now, there are a number of lessons that one might draw from this incident. “Stop and smell the roses” springs to mind; although, to be fair to the commuters, it was rush hour and many people cannot afford to show up late for work. If this experiment had been repeated on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, or in a venue such as a shopping mall, I suspect that the results would have been different.
However, there is a lesson in this story that is relevant for public speakers, and it is a lesson that takes us all the way back to the foundations of rhetoric that were established centuries ago by Aristotle.
My friend, Conor Neill, an entrepreneur and teacher at IESE Business School in Barcelona, has collaborated with others to create this short TEDEd lesson that examines Joshua Bell’s subway concert in the context of the three pillars of persuasion handed down by Aristotle in his seminal work, Rhetoric: logos; ethos; and pathos. Rather than say more at this point, I’ll hand over to Conor.
The lesson for speakers is that if you want your message to be heeded by your audience, you must make sure that all three rhetorical pillars—logos, ethos and pathos—are in place and set upon a firm foundation.
We will return to the subject of rhetoric (and Rhetoric) in future posts. In the meantime, if you are interested, you can read the Washington Post article about Bell’s subway experience. And, set out below, is a short video of the incident. Note the woman at the end who recognized Bell as she had recently seen him play at the Library of Congress!