Cognitive dissonance is a powerful argument structure to use in persuading an audience. Cognitive dissonance occurs when you are presented with information that is inconsistent with your attitudes, values or beliefs. This causes an uncomfortable emotional feeling as you consider or hold two contradictory ideas. Cognitive dissonance theory states that people are motivated to reduce dissonance by changing or rationalizing their attitudes, beliefs or behaviors when presented with a facts or a situation that violates their current attitudes, beliefs or behaviors.

Dissonance in Argument Structure

Creating dissonance in a speech can be an effective way to persuade your audience to change their attitudes, beliefs and/or behaviors.

Illustrate Audience Pain -> Then Introduce Safety or Relief

To use cognitive dissonance in an argument, first introduce a problem or need that you know is probably in violation or opposition to an attitude, belief or value held by the audience. This creates cognitive dissonance in the minds of your audience. You do this to create discomfort within the person to get their attention and to get them motivated to change the uncomfortable internal situation.

You then introduce additional information, a solution or alternative to the dissonant information that restores cognitive balance or equilibrium for the audience. By doing this, you create a logical and emotional road for the audience to travel down towards the solution you introduce.

An example of constructive use of dissonance would be to introduce the audience to the concept of personal failure. Show them, through a vivid story, the reality that if they continue with their current limiting thoughts and behaviors and their justifications for personal inaction, that they could reach the end of their life having actualized but a fraction of their dreams and potential.

This should create dissonance in your audience. Most people hope to realize their dreams and to actualize to their greatest potential in life. If you share a vivid story viscerally highlighting the reality that most people never realize anywhere near their full potential, you will create dissonance in those audience members that have high expectations of themselves and their lives.

Now, you can introduce tools that teach the audience, personal empowerment, time management or any other activity that will allow them to take greater control over their lives and their results. By doing this, you will close the gap between the pain of dissonance they feel and their dream of where they would like to be.

You have used dissonance to serve the audience. If you merely “tell” the audience: ‘I have these tools that you can use” they are less likely to feel the motivation to act on their own behalf than they will be if you say “see, hear and feel this story of failure. This could be, and probably will be you, statistically speaking. Doesn’t this hurt? Well I have tools that will allow you to avoid this pain AND gain the immense pleasure of personal success.”

You have won. More importantly, the audience has been served and they win.

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