Persuading vs. Convincing: Playing To Your Strengths

Patrick Henry’s stirring call to action — “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” speech on March 23, 1775 still resonates with history buffs 248 years later.

Imagine if you had a seat in St. John’s Church in Richmond, VA on that Thursday afternoon and you personally experienced that goose-bump, misty-eyed sensation as an impassioned Patrick Henry concluded his speech like a conductor with a dramatic crescendo. And imagine the resolute sense of commitment surging through the veins of his audience during the second Virginia Convention, a surging sense of purpose and principal that prefaced the American Revolution and spawned the birth of the United States of America 16 months later on July 4, 1776.

Fortunately, historians like Joseph J. Ellis have attempted to capture the dynamic scene. Writing in his book American Creation, Mr. Ellis describes Patrick Henry as tall and animated with the “appearance of an actor on stage and an evangelical minister at the pulpit.” His Adonis like 6-feet 2-inch body imbued his words with an inspirational punch.

But what if you are NOT that flamboyant, NOT that energetic, NOT that inspirational, can you still earn the confidence of others in your ideas?

What if you are the diametrically opposite of the tall and affable and loquacious Patrick Henry.

What if you are short, reserved and taciturn by nature. What if you are a 5-foot -4 inches tall –not 6 feet 2?

What if your voice is so barely audible that the stenographer asks you to speak up. And what if you routinely hold a hat in one hand as you are speaking and sabotage your ability to gesture and energize the audience with your body language?

Meet James Madison who would become the Father of the Constitution and the fourth president of the United States. He stood 5-feet-4. His voice was barley audible. His personality more reserved. His lifestyle so very different. In fact, Mr. Madison married for the first and only time at 43 not at 18 like Mr. Henry. And Mr. Madison never had children of his own. Meanwhile Mr. Henry fathered 17 children in two marriages.

And now you are debating the more flamboyant Patrick Henry on federalist vs. state’s rights.

Could you persuade with the zeal of a Patrick Henry who would become the Commonwealth of Virginia’s first governor?

Or rather would you play to your strength and convince others with your well-reasoned, evidence-based argument?

Play To Your Strengths

What if you leveraged your hat as a filing cabinet of sorts for your notes that you regularly consulted in real time to rebut point by point as Madison did “without flourish or affectation”,” writes historian Ellis, “and in a sense more impressive because of their austerity.”

In speaking like a leader, you play to your strengths. Some persuade. Others convince. Indeed, John Marshall,the Chief Justice of the United States, summed up the diversity of leaders, saying : “Mr. Henry had without doubt the greatest power to persuade while Mr. Madison had the greatest power to convince.”

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