Orren’s 20 Principles of Persuasion

… a core concept in Communication Skills and Atlas 109


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Concept description

The 20 principles of persuasion that have been developed by Gary Orren, a professor at the Harvard Kennedy School.

Orren’s Harvard Kennedy School course is an Atlas benchmark course and is profiled at Harvard MLD342 Persuasion – The Science and Art of Effective Influence.

In a comprehensive PowerPoint presentation (see image) delivered in 2005 and available on the internet, Orren summarizes the principles. On pages 2 and 3, they are numbered as follows:

  1. Logos, ethos, pathos, agora, and syzygy
  2. Simplicity/Clarity
  3. Know the audience and its predispositions
  4. Salience
  5. Analogies/Metaphors
  6. Storytelling, Examples/Demonstrations
  7. Counter-intuitive sources and arguments
  8. Active vs. Passive Audience
  9. Repetition
  10. Personalizing
  11. Authority/Credibility
  12. Conformity/Social proof, Similarity
  13. Reciprocation
  14. Humor
  15. Liking/Association
  16. Scarcity
  17. Commitment/Consistency
  18. Contrast
  19. Four types of attitude change
  20. Empathy, Listening and Feedback

A background slide in the PowerPoint organizes most of these principles (with some variation in titles) into three clusters, corresponding to the three elements in Aristotle’s On Rhetoric (see Aristotle’s 3 Persuasive Appeals – Logos, Ethos, and Pathos):

  • logos – logical, coherent and cogent argument
  • ethos – characteristics of the messenger
  • pathos – motives, feelings, attitudes, and knowledge of the audience

















Know the audience

Know the context



Active vs. Passive


Agora, sysygy and the LEAPS framework

Orren uses the term agora (meeting place) to capture the need to understand the context for persuasion and the term sysygy (the rare alignment of celestial bodies) to capture the persuasion goal of combining and balancing logos, ethos, pathos and agora. He brings the five terms together in the mnemonically-named LEAPS Framework:

Logos Message Content of the argument, reasons, data
Ethos Messenger Character, credibility plus other characteristics
Pathos Audience Emotions plus other predispositions (affective and cognitive)
Agora Context Where or when (setting, channels, rules, timing)
Syzygy Alignment Reasonable balance among the other elements
Alignment and balance

Orren emphasizes the need for alignment and balance illustrating how each of the principles can be overdone, as in the following examples:

When They Go Wrong
KISS (Simplicity) Over-simplifying
Know the audience and its predispositions Pandering
Storytelling Mere storytelling, stories
Repetition Ad Nauseam
Personalizing Over-personalizing
Authority Authoritarian, “smarty-pants,” “know it all”
Conviction Excessive certitude, blind zealotry
Conclusions on the value of the principles

Orren summarizes his conclusions about the application of the 20 principles as follows:

  1. Persuasiveness is not entirely innate.
  2. We can learn, acquire, develop, cultivate new habits and skills of persuasion and improve old ones.
  3. Other personal talents (e.g., intelligence) are more difficult to nurture and change.
  4. Success in adult life (professional and personal) probably depends more on persuasion skills than on native intelligence.
  5. It is extremely unlikely that a person will totally transform his/her persuasion skills.
  6. Rather, people can make marginal improvements in their persuasion skills.
  7. But these marginal improvements can be decisive in how successful people are in persuasion. That is because we rarely lose our most important persuasion projects by a lopsided landslide.
Selected quotes on persuasion

Orren’s PowerPoint includes the following quotations:

“In management, 2 percent of the problem is making a decision, 98 percent is persuading others to accept the decision.”  Elliot Richardson, Secretary of Defense

“The means by which enlightened rulers and sagacious generals moved and conquered others, that their achievements surpassed the masses, was advance knowledge. Advance knowledge cannot be gained from ghosts and spirits, inferred from phenomena, or projected from the measures of Heaven, but must be gained from men for it is the knowledge of the enemy’s true situation.”  Sun Tzu, The Art of War

“Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof.”  John Kenneth Galbraith

“Leadership is the art of getting someone else to do something you want done because he wants to do it.”  Dwight D. Eisenhower

“The feeble tremble before public opinion, the foolish deny it, the wise judge it, the skillful direct it.”  Jeanne-Marie Roland, French Revolutionary (circa 1792)


Drawn from Persuasion: The Science and Art of Effective Communication, PowerPoint presentation by Gary Orren in 2005, uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/Orren_presentation.pdf.

Atlas topic and subject

Practices of Persuasion (core topic) in Communication Skills

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 12 February 2016.

Image: From Orren presentation, accessed 1 January 2016.