Addressing Objections

Audience watches a presentation.Speakers must remain vigilant to address potential objections, rather than allowing them to take root in the audience’s minds to create barriers to the persuasive message. The longer the speaker allows an objection to sit and ruminate (or swim about inside an audience member’s head), the greater the chance that objection will prevent that listener from becoming persuaded.

Note to Self

Ask yourself the following question to determine which objections to address: Why would any member of my audience not want to take this action or adopt this position?

For example, speakers attempting to convince their audience to take additional courses in communication studies to improve their skills in interaction with others and build a stronger résumé would need to consider all of the possible reasons why someone would not want to take these classes, which may include:

  • “I’m terrified of public speaking.”
  • “There’s not enough room in my schedule with all other degree requirements.”
  • “I’m not a communication major.”

Any speaker could discover these objections fairly easily with the right audience analysis (see Chapter 4), and once known, compose refutations to these objections to include in the speech as a way of heading off objections before they can take root, as follows:

  • “Not all communication classes focus on public speaking. In fact, most courses, outside the public speaking course, focus on in-class discussions, writing papers, and performing fascinating activities outside of class.”
  • “Students can use communication courses to fulfill a wide variety of degree requirements, including social sciences, arts and humanities, and of course, oral communication.”
  • “You don’t need to be a communication major to refine your communication skills, seeing as how, regardless of industry, all employers consistently rank communication skills as their #1 most desired soft skill in a potential employee.”


Syllogisms and fallacies relate very differently to public speaking versus writing an argumentative essay. A syllogism is typically defined as a deductive argument with two premises and one conclusion, essentially the most basic kernel/nugget of deduction. This intuitive reasoning structure gets used quite often without most people even realizing it. For example, “All dogs are mammals. Fido is a dog. Ergo, Fido is a mammal.” A syllogism can represent a sort of mathematical formula devised for analyzing persuasive speaking points. A syllogism uses reasoning to arrive at a conclusion based on two or more propositions (premises) that may or may not necessarily be true. For example, “All ordinary men are mortal. Bruce Wayne is no ordinary man. Therefore, Bruce Wayne is immortal.”  With respect to public speaking, for a syllogism to work effectively, the audience need only perceive it as true and accurate. A speaker who has established a strong ethos has a significantly higher chance of the audience expecting a syllogism as true, regardless of its accuracy.

Sign that reads "Dinosaurs didn't read. Now they are extinct."
What type of fallacy do you think this sign represents?

Naturally, such syllogisms could show evidence of relying on fallacies, so critical listeners need to understand how they work and how people use them. A fallacy, simply defined, demonstrates faulty reasoning or a deficiency in one’s attempt at formulating a rational argument. Common fallacies include the following:

  • Ad hominem: Derived from the Latin for “to the person,” this type of fallacy gets used when a person directs criticism at the person, rather than that person’s position. Example: “Why would anyone believe someone that dresses like that?”
  • Ad populum: Derived from the Latin for “appeal to the people,” this fallacy often gets referred to as the bandwagon effect, which implies someone should do something because everyone else does it. Example: “Everybody knows the Earth is flat, so why do you persist in your crazy claims?”
  • Hasty generalization: This type of fallacy involves making an inductive argument without sufficient evidence for the conclusion, or using a single instance to generalize a much larger group of people. Example: “My grandmother smoked a pack of cigarettes a day and lived to be 95, so I don’t think smoking is really hazardous.”
  • Red herring: This fallacy involves misdirection, or distracting someone from the argument at hand with something completely unrelated. Example: “While we understand your frustration with not getting a raise in the last five years, we do work hard to provide great customer service.”
  • Straw man: This fallacy involves substituting an actual position or argument with a distorted, exaggerated, or misrepresented version of the position of the argument so as to make it easy to refute. Example: “After John said we should spend more on health and education, Dave responded by saying he was shocked that John hates our country so much that he wants to leave it vulnerable to attack by cutting military spending.”
  • Post hoc: This fallacy is short for the Latin phrase, post hoc ergo propter hoc. When translated from Latin, it means “after therefore because of.” Also called the “false cause” fallacy, this occurs when someone assumes that correlation automatically means causation. Example: “Incidents of shark attacks correlate directly to increases in ice cream sales; therefore, we should reduce our ice cream intake before swimming in the ocean.” In this example, no cause-effect connection exists between the rates of ice cream sales and shark attacks. The high temperatures associated with summer likely caused both of these independent effects.
  • Slippery slope: This fallacy (also called the domino fallacy) occurs when someone claims that A will lead to B, which will lead to C, and so on, all the way to F, without providing good reasons for predicting all the cause-effect connections between A and F. Example: “If we let our teenage son leave the house, the next thing we know, he will be running with the wrong crowd, drinking alcohol, and doing drugs!”
  • Weak analogy: Similar to the hasty generalization in a specific context, the weak analogy attempts to connect two items based on a thin or irrelevant thread of similarity. Example: “Guns and hammers are both made of metal and can kill people, so if you want to regulate guns, then you might as well regulate hammers, too.” Analogies provide a good way to help an audience understand information. However, when using an analogy to support a conclusion, the similarities need to be both strong and relevant.
  • Appeal to authority: Just because someone famous or credible said it, then it must be true. Example: “Abraham Lincoln once warned us that we should not believe everything we read just because we see it on the internet.” Far too many quotes are attributed to figures such as Einstein, when in reality, he may have never weighed in on the topic. Advertisers have keyed into this fallacy when they select celebrities to endorse their products.
  • Burden of proof: This fallacy occurs when the person putting forth the argument suggests that the burden of proof lies with someone else to disprove the argument. Example: “There is currently a truck orbiting Venus, but because you cannot disprove it, then it must be true.”
  • False dichotomy: When someone suggests that two—and only two—possibilities exist, they have set up a false dichotomy, which sometimes gets called the black-or-white or either-or fallacy. Example: “You’re either with us or you’re against us!” or “My way or the highway—there’s no in between!” FYI: There is no fallacy if only two options truly exist. It’s only a fallacy when two are offered but more than two actually exist.
  • Genetic fallacy: Related to the old saying, “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater,” this fallacy occurs when someone doubts the validity of a claim simply on the basis of who said it. Example: “The president suggested that this year has 365 days, but everyone knows how much of a liar he is.”
  • No true Scotsman: Often used as a last resort out of desperation, this fallacy proposes an appeal to purity, as if to suggest criticism is invalid if certain “pure” conditions aren’t met. Example: “No real man would drink his coffee with a pink straw” or “They must be from California; a true Idahoan would not do that.”

Fallacies might sound highly persuasive to the untrained eye or ear; however, an ethical speaker would never knowingly use fallacies to persuade an audience. A speaker might unintentionally or accidentally use fallacious reasoning, but only unethical speakers knowingly trick an audience with poor reasoning.


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Messages that Matter: Public Speaking in the Information Age - Third Edition Copyright © 2023 by North Idaho College is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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