Proving you can do it

by Peter Watts

Thought is language, and language is thought. We think in words and that’s why the special speech-patterns used in rhetoric can be so powerful.

They help you, and your audience to think in whole new ways.

One of my favourites is a pattern called “Argumentum a Fortiori”. It means argument from strength. It’s a form of logical proof.

To convince an audience that something is possible, think of the most extreme situation in which your case has triumphed, and make the argument:

“If we can survive / endure / triumph / function in those circumstances, then we can achieve anything.”

Here’s why a Fortiori is so wonderful. To use it, you have to recall your victories, and thereby build not only your audience’s confidence, but also your own.

This week saw a superb example of a Fortiori.

The backstory to this quote is the widely condemned decision of the Indian Supreme Court to re-instate an 1861 article of the Indian penal code, making it illegal to be gay in India.

In a New York Times article of December 15th, an Indian activist called Gautam Bhan used the most wonderful a fortiori argument. When asked if he was daunted about now having to fight the Indian Supreme Court, Bhan responded:

“Do you know what’s daunting? It is that moment when you are 15 and you are terrified of who you are. If we have survived that, the Supreme Court does not know what fear looks like.”

Now that’s a Fortiori!

Presentation structure: Creating a compelling argument

by Peter Watts

Between the introduction and the conclusion of any presentation, lies the main body of it’s content; the argument. This crucial section comprises the facts and persuasive reasoning that must support your case and convince the audience. 

If two words alone could describe your goal when constructing and then delivering the argument, those two words would be “Prove It!”

During your introduction, you offered a proposition to the audience, suggesting that due to situation A, you believe they should implement solution B. The argument will reveal to the audience the mechanics of your reasoning, and two elements must be considered: structure and relevance.


The argument is unlikely to comprise just a single fact. You will have multiple points that you want to explain, and each of these points should be regarded as a mini presentation in it’s own right, with it’s own tiny agenda, body, and summary. The technical term for each of these mini presentations is a “division”, referring to the dividing up of your content. As you move from one division to the next, tell your audience that this is what you are doing, and why the content of the division supports your original thesis:

“So, our XYZ product, by providing increased reliability, will help you to increase customer satisfaction. Let’s move on now to consider our next point which is……”

This division of content, accompanied by clearly stated transitions, makes it easier for the audience to concentrate and follow your logic. If, for example, you have three points to make, and 15 minutes in which to make them, the audience then find themselves having to concentrate in short five minute blocks rather than for a prolonged 15 minute discussion.

A further advantage of this approach is that in the event that members of the audience lose track, due to the human habit of allowing their minds to wander, then they won’t have long to wait before the next section comes along when they can re-join the flow of the presentation.


Audiences need to clearly recognize why your presentation is uniquely relevant to their interests. “What does this have to do with me?”. To answer this question facts must be customized to the daily realities of the people in front of you.

Consider what is important to the audience. If you are presenting to a board of hospital trustees for example, then link your facts to the welfare of patients, to improved and swifter diagnosis, or to the more effective use of research funds. If you were presenting to the management team of your own company, make sure you have links to company goals, or to challenges currently faced.

Customizing a presentation in this way does not need to be a lengthy exercise. Just one or two relevant illustrations per fact will be sufficient.

Stepping Stones

By regarding the body of the presentation, the argument, as being a series of relevant and interlinked mini presentations, even the most complicated subjects become more manageable for both you and the audience.

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