The Dynamics of Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st Century

By Richard M. Perloff | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 6
“Who Says It”: Source
Factors in Persuasion

Charisma. If s a word that comes to mind frequently when people speak of persuasion. You probably think of great speakers, a certain magnetic quality, or perhaps people you know who seem to embody this trait. Charisma is also one of those “god-terms” in persuasion (Weaver, 1953)—concepts that have positive connotations, but have been used for good and evil purposes. We can glimpse this in the tumultuous events of the 20th century, events that were shaped in no small measure by the power of charismatic leaders. Consider the following examples:

On August 28, 1963, hundreds of thousands of people converged on Washington, DC, protesting racial prejudice and trying to put pressure on Congress to pass a Civil Rights Bill. Their inspirational leader was Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., the apostle of nonviolence and eloquent spokesman for equality and social justice. The protesters marched from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial, listening to a litany of distinguished speakers, but waiting patiently for King to address the crowd. King had worked all night on his speech, a sermonic address that would prove to be among the most moving of all delivered on American soil. He alluded to Abraham Lincoln, called on Old Testament prophets, and presented “an entire inventory of patriotic themes and images typical of Fourth of July oratory, ” captivating the audience with his exclamation, repeated time and again, that “I Have a Dream” (Miller, 1992, p. 143). King's wife, Coretta Scott King, recalls the pantheon:

Two hundred and fifty thousand people applauded thunderously, and voiced in a sort of chant, Martin Luther King.… He started out with the written speech, delivering it with great eloquence…. When he got to the rhythmic part of demanding freedom now, and wanting jobs now, the crowd caught the timing and shouted now in a cadence. Their response lifted Martin in a surge of emotion to new heights of inspiration. Abandoning his

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