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Argumentation and the “New Oratory”: the staging of the speaker in investor pitches in English

Fiona Rossette-Crake

Abstracts

This article tackles argumentation via the angle of speaker ethos. Identified by Aristotle as one of the three types of argument alongside logos and pathos, ethos can be attributed a more prominent role according to the more holistic approach adopted here. In keeping with contemporary discourse analysis theory and enunciative pragmatics, ethos is analysed in terms of the staging of the speaker and the positioning of participants, and hence as a cornerstone of the process of enunciation. Moreover, ethos is central to the patterning of discursive genres, particularly in the contemporary landscape, as illustrated by a new set of spoken discursive practices borne out of the digital era, grouped together under the title “the New Oratory” (Rossette-Crake 2019). The New Oratory marks a renewal of public speaking via formats that are typically uploaded to the Internet and place the focus on the “digital speaker”. This study analyses the generic ethos of the New Oratory as a “personal” and “authentic” staging of the speaker, which is both informed by and informs the digital economy and current workplace. The various ways in which the personal and authentic dimensions are enacted within the linguistic interface, and within other more general discursive levels (for example scenography, body language), are examined within examples taken from one specific New Oratory genre, the investor pitch. This investigation applies a number of theoretical concepts from the fields of discourse analysis (both the French and Anglo-American traditions), French enunciative pragmatics, and systemic functional linguistics. It hopes to provide a convincing example of how linguists working in the French context on English-language phenomena (“linguistes anglicistes”) can productively engage simultaneously with several theoretical frameworks in order to shed light on discourse practice in the contemporary context.

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Introduction

1While public speakers no doubt always relied on appeal to more than reason or the logical construction of arguments to persuade their audiences, it was Aristotle who explicitly highlighted that this (“logos”) was just one component, alongside the appeal to emotion (“pathos”) and the construal of speaker credibility (“ethos”). Aristotle even wrote that ethos – a concept that encapsulates all that guarantees not only speaker credibility but also the subsequent trust speakers generate in the eyes of their audience – “constitutes the most effective means of proof” (Aristotle, Rh. 1355b). Indeed, presented “as just as efficient, even sometimes more efficient, than logos, or the arguments themselves, it [ethos] is suspected of reversing the moral hierarchy between objectivity and subjectivity” (Maingueneau 2002: 56).

2For a long time, French discourse analysis has insisted on the role of ethos, not only in terms of persuading and influencing an audience, but also in terms of informing the enunciation process itself. Far more than a rhetorical strategy, ethos constitutes the “staging of the self”, (Amossy 2014) which informs every linguistic and discursive level. In addition, the question of the staging of the self/speaker provides a specific angle of investigation via which to explore the management of the interpersonal relation between participants of the exchange that is located at the heart of the study of argumentation since the advent of the New Rhetoric (Perelman et Olbrechts-Tyteca 1988).

3 The staging of the speaker, the modalities it takes and the role it plays in the persuasive purpose of the discourse, are taken up here in relation to a new set of spoken discourse practices that have developed over the first two decades of the twenty-first century, all of which originate from English-speaking countries. Taken together, new formats such as corporate keynotes, TED talks, investor pitches or three-minute-thesis presentationsto name the most ubiquitoushave forged a new face for public speaking, founding what can be referred to as the “New Oratory” (Rossette-Crake 2019). The New Oratory groups together a number of discourse practices, or genres (Swales 1990) that have come of age thanks to the Internet and are disseminated via online video. These address not only a live audience, but also Internet viewers, who make up a global, potentially limitless, audience. They place the spotlight on the “digital speaker” (Hickman 2017), to borrow a term used by one of the actors and promoters of “the speaker industry” (Hickman 2017). The digital speaker practises a “digital eloquence” that, in many aspects, presents an updated version of the “electronic eloquence” described by Hall Jamieson (1988) in regard to the way political oratory was transformed by radio and television during the last century.

  • 1 Indeed, argumentation is present in all instances of discourse, whether it be via an overtly per (...)

4 Argumentation is a central part of all of the New Oratory genres, either because they have an overtly persuasive purpose and target a material outcome (for example, to buy a product or invest in a project), or because they set out to influence the audience more generally, to get them to adhere to the speaker’s ideas and change their way of seeing or feeling (this is the case of three-minute-thesis presentations and TED talks).1 Influencing the audience takes a specific form in speeches performed as part of competitions (such as three-minute-thesis presentations and investor pitches), when the speaker aims to be elected the winner by members of the jury who are part of the audience.

  • 2 “Anglo” is used here as an abbreviation to refer to a shared potential cultural identity of Engl (...)

5 To influence their audiences, the digital speakers of the New Oratory enact a specific type of speaker ethos, which is very different from that of long-established oratory formats typified by the tradition of political speeches. In the New Oratory, argumentation is underpinned by the staging of a speaker who adopts a personal, individual voice. This voice is typical of “Anglo” (Boromisza-Habashi et al. 2016: 28-29)2 communication culture; it allows the speaker to engage directly with the audience and to construe a more direct speaker-addressee relation. In addition, the ethos adopts an “entrepreneurial” colouring, partly because a number of New Oratory genres originated from the American corporate scene, but also because of the now far-reaching influence of corporate communication in other sectors (for instance, academia) (Fairclough 1993; Holborow 2015).

6 This particular ethos is illustrated here in examples belonging to one specific New Oratory genre: the investor pitch. Before investigating the linguistic and paralinguistic manifestations of this ethos, I will first present the main features of the New Oratory, before then defining the concept of ethos and then the distinctive ethos of these new formats. The study combines various theoretical frameworks from the fields of discourse analysis, systemic functional linguistics and French enunciative linguistics. References are also made to the literature of cultural studies, professional/workplace discourse and corporate communication. At a more general level, the way these oral, digital practices stage the speaker epitomises the current global landscape of communication, or “new order of communication” (Rossette and Pujol 2019) borne out of “the new knowledge economy” (McElhinny 2012) in its preoccupations with self-identity and its exaltation of the self.

1. Characteristics of the New Oratory

1.1. A characteristic discursive setup

7 The concept of the New Oratory highlights the emergence of a set of new genres which: (i) share an original discursive setup; (ii) are indicative of the new communication order as borne by the digital economy. These two points will be addressed respectively in this section.

8The discursive setup is defined in terms of participants and conditions of delivery. As regards participants, it instantiates public speaking as no longer limited to public figures. Up until now, the most iconic examples of public speaking have derived from the field of political oratory: as public figures, politicians have been the main speakers to take to the stage. However, due to the invention of online video and subsequent new forms of media (such as YouTube, Instagram), the stage is now being claimed by previously unknown individuals. And it is notably thanks to the new digital speaking formats that such individuals are able to build a reputation and forge a public status. Youtubers and other “influencers” are examples of this.

9 Secondly, as mentioned above, because it is relayed via the Internet, the New Oratory involves two levels of addressees. These belong respectively to: (a) the direct audience, who is present during the delivery; (b) the secondary audience, who is made up of Internet viewers. The direct audience can include, in the case of competitions (investor pitches and three-minute-thesis presentations), a jury as well as a “general” audience. The direct audience guarantees the conditions of real-time interaction (for example, real-time feedback such as applause, laughter, cheering, etc.) and creates for the secondary audience the illusion that they are part of a real-time interaction. At the same time, the need to cater to the secondary audience conditions many aspects of the live delivery (for instance, staging constraints due to filming).

  • 3 For instance, TED talks stipulate in their regulations that ties are not allowed.

10 As regards conditions of delivery, notably time constraints, there is a clear propensity for short formats, including those that impose a time limit, such as the three-minute-thesis presentation. Time limits range from one minute for some investor pitches, to eighteen minutes for TED talks. And in terms of spatial variables and staging, New Oratory genres have renewed the tradition of actio by developing an acute form of spectacularisation. The pulpit, symbol of the “old” oratory tradition, is no longer present. The speaker’s body is therefore no longer positioned behind a pulpit and appears in full view of the audience. Video recordings of the performances include many long shots featuring the body in full view. The speaker is now free to move about the stage, and is indeed often expected to do so. In addition, most performances have developed the multimodal spectrum and systematically combine the verbal and visual modes via a quasi-obligatory slide presentation. As well, speakers have other forms of technical accompaniment at their disposal, such as prompters, head microphones, and so on. Another distinctive feature is a dress code which is deliberately downplayed and casual: for males, suits may be worn, but never with a tie,3 and jeans and t-shirts are not uncommon.

  • 4 Memoria was the fourth of the five components of rhetoric (inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memor (...)

11 Forgoing the pulpit also means relinquishing the written script. During the delivery, any visible trace of written preparation is removed. Speakers simulate spontaneity or produce “feigned orality” (Goody 2014: 168), either thanks to the use of prompters, or by learning their speech off by heart, in a return to the classical tradition of memoria.4

12The choice to discard the pulpit is also significant for another reason. A speaker devoid of a pulpit induces a scenography which is less hierarchical. Removing the pulpit works to negate the asymmetrical relation between speaker and audience that can be considered a defining component of the public speaking setup (Rossette 2017). This is compounded by the recent tendency towards a lowering of the stage itself; in some cases (for instance, many sales pitches and three-minute-thesis presentation competitions), the stage is non-existent, and the speaker shares the same space and appears on the same level as the audience.

1.2. The New Oratory and the new, digital economy

  • 5 New forms of CEO communication add to the list of professional oral genres (Koester and Handford (...)

13 The development of the New Oratory is embodied by Steve Jobs’ keynote presentations, which created a new benchmark (see Rossette-Crake 2019). Over a period of almost three decades (1984-2011), the Silicon Valley entrepreneur developed new formats, together with a new speaking style, precisely in order to promote the types of products that came to found the digital economy. The New Oratory is therefore “digital” on two accounts in that it is relayed via the Internet and was first developed as part of the branding of high-tech companies. It coincides with the impetus placed on branding that defines the new work order (Gee et al. 1996). Steve Jobs was a “founding figure” of twenty-first century corporate branding, where the CEO is called upon to play a prominent role in communication strategy, particularly within spoken formats,5 and embody the values associated with the company brand.

  • 6 Similarly, TED talks, as they have now evolved, act “as a kind of shop window for speakers” (Hic (...)

14 The New Oratory not only acts as a cornerstone of corporate branding but is also a mouthpiece for personal branding. For instance, three-minute-thesis presentations are uploaded to the Internet and help PhD students or new doctors to publicise their work and gain post-doctoral contracts.6 For all professionals, such personal branding has become a necessity in the current highly competitive, global workplace. Because New Oratory genres are tools both for personal branding and for corporate branding based on personal embodiment, the question of the staging of the speaker takes on primary importance.

15In addition, the new genres are indicative of the (new) age of horizontal knowledge sharing, which goes hand in hand with the reduced hierarchy and “horizontality” of work relations. This is brought into sharp focus by the three-minute-thesis presentation, which officially targets a “non-specialised” audience. At a more general level, horizontal knowledge-sharing defines the New Oratory because it is not reserved for public figures and provides a voice for anyone to become an “expert”. This is particularly the case of TED talks. Such “horizontality” informs the very setup of the New Oratory, notably via the spatial “levelling out” between speaker and audience (cf. the lowering or disappearance of the stage, as mentioned above). It also informs language choices, and is reflected in the shift towards less formal language and the “conversationalisation” of public discourse (Fairclough 1993: 140). This shift, analysed as indicative of late capitalist society (Fairclough 1993: 142), as will be observed below, relates directly to the issue of the staging of the self.

2. The New Oratory and the staging of the self

2.1. On the concept of ethos, or the staging of the speaker

  • 7 See Amossy (2016: 83-94) for an overview of the history of the concept from Antiquity to the pre (...)

16 Because ethos has to do with speaker credibility and the trust that the audience subsequently places in the speaker, it has meant different things depending on the period and the theoretical framework of reference.7 One issue is the ongoing discussion regarding the distinction between “pre-discursive” and “discursive” ethos. Pre-discursive ethos is achieved by the social and professional status of the orator and the reputation that precedes him/her, while discursive ethos is construed within the discourse itself. In the New Oratory, which provides a voice for previously unknown speakers, who therefore benefit from little pre-discursive ethos, discursive ethos, which is the object of the current study, becomes essential.

17However, the exact factors considered to instantiate discursive ethos tend to vary. Aristotle notes that “[t]he orator persuades by moral character when his speech is delivered in such a manner as to render him worthy of confidence” (Aristotle, Rh. 1355b) Such concepts have become leitmotivs of contemporary public speaking pedagogy. For instance, in one of the most well-established public speaking manuals currently in use in the United States, The Art of Public Speaking (Lucas 2015) (now into its twelfth edition), speakers are instructed to establish confidence in several ways: by displaying competence on the topic, by making a connection with the audience, and by speaking “with conviction” (Lucas 2015: 334-6).

  • 8 My translation, as are the other quotes made in this article taken from all works published in F (...)
  • 9 “[U]ne manière de dire qui renvoie à une manière d’être”.
  • 10 “[C’est une] notion qui s’appuie sur le sens commun : en énonçant, tout locuteur active nécessai (...)

18 However, ethos has also been understood as something far more innate, associated with the more general “effect” of the discourse (“But this confidence must be due to the speech itself, not to any preconceived idea of the speaker’s character”: Aristotle, Rh. 1355b). This aspect of ethos has been partially sidelined by public speaking manuals, but has been (re)invested by French discourse analysis, which defines ethos as the “self-image that the orator discursively constructs to increase the effectiveness of the speech act” (Amossy 2014: 82)8 – a self-image that is “staged” (“mise en scène”), and basically conflates with Goffman’s concept of “speaking personality” (Goffman 1987: 199.). Similarly, ethos is “a way of saying that reflects a way of being” (Maingueneau 1999: 80)9: that is, it is one possible style/behaviour among others, that the speaker consciously adoptsand adaptsby gauging the necessities of the context at hand. In this light, ethos is underscored “by the shared wisdom that all speakers activate an image of themselves in the mind of the addressee that they try to control” (Maingueneau 2015: §2)10. At the same time, it is still essentially concerned with inducing trust in that this “way of speaking” guarantees, via a process of “incorporation”, the values that the speaker endorses and embodies through the discourse, with the speaker acting as the guarantor of a particular “ethical world” (Maingueneau 2002: 61).

19 Such an embodiment of values is decisive in the branding enacted by New Oratory formats, where embodiment is achieved literally, via a focus on the speaker’s entire body (it is not the “talking heads” of the electronic (television) era, but “talking bodies”), which is one of the many multimodal elements that instantiate a “way of speaking”. These include not only tone of voice and facial expression, but also body language, dress code, and other conditions of the delivery (e.g. slide presentation, absence of a script...) that renew the component of actio in classical rhetoric.

  • 11 “[C]rucialement lié à l’acte d’énonciation”.
  • 12 “[L]inscription énonciative du locuteur-orateur dans le discours”.
  • 13 Likewise, Amossy (2014: 49) speaks of “a stereotyped ethos” constitutive of genre.

20 In parallel, ethos is located at the heart of the linguistic interface. It is “crucially linked to the act of enunciation” (Maingueneau 2002: 58)11 and is “inscribed in the materiality of the discourse” (Amossy 2010: 79). It corresponds to “the enunciative inscription of the speaker-orator in the discourse” (Amossy 2010: 79)12, and hence governs grammatical, syntactic and lexical choices. Within the wider European context of discourse analysis, Fairclough (1992) integrates it into his textual analysis within a systemic functional framework, where it is located within the interpersonal metafunction and plays a role in the construction of social identity. The issue of social identity is also taken up by Maingueneau (2002: 61), who underlines the link between ethos, identity and discursive genre, whereby the speaker’s legitimacy derives from the conformity to both a “generic ethos”13 (that is, to the expected ethos within a particular genre), as well as to the values shared by the discursive community associated with the genre and the ethical world of reference of its members.

2.2. The New Oratory and a “personal” and “authentic” generic ethos

21 The New Oratory genres share a common “generic” ethos. Generic ethos can be modelled according to three interdependent dimensions (Maingueneau 2014: §5) which relate respectively to: (i) extra-discursive categories (e.g. father, doctor, American...) and discursive roles (e.g. television presenter, preacher...); (ii) pragmatic categories based on stereotypical socio-psychological traits (e.g. the slow pace of the country-dweller versus the fast pace of the city-dweller); (iii) ideology (e.g. feminist, left-wing, neoliberal...).

  • 14 For instance, while the entrepreneur has always been a prevalent figure, it can be argued that i (...)

22 For example, the speaking persona of the New Oratory is conditioned by the discursive role of a “digital speaker” who is performing both for a live audience and also for an audience of Internet viewers. This general role can combine with a more specific one, such as competitor within a competition. In addition, the speaking persona conforms to a number of norms within Anglo communication culture. As such, it reflects socio-psychological traits within the pragmatic dimension which are themselves representative of the extra-discursive category of “Anglo” or “Anglo-American”. Another influence in terms of an extra-discursive category is the figure of the entrepreneur, particularly the high-tech or start-up entrepreneur, which now extends well beyond the business sector per se. In turn, this is linked to the ideological dimension, namely via the promotion of neoliberal values.14

  • 15 This aspect of Anglo speaker ethos is not necessarily easy to adopt for native French speakers w (...)

23 Anglo culture is not only defined as both personal and individual, but also as “a permanent quest for authentic, integrated and presentable selves” (Cameron 2000: 3-6). It is personal and individual in that it calls upon speakers to speak in their own name, to express their opinion, and to give voice to their own individuality.15 The adoption of a personal voice allows for the construal of “authenticity” and “presentability”, which themselves are closely linked. Authenticity has been highlighted particularly in relation to Anglo public speaking practice: unlike some other cultures that foster a “norm of authority” where distance and objectivity are held in high esteem, Anglo culture fosters a “norm of authenticity” that “prompts the speaker not only to speak in an authentic manner but also to be the type of authentic person to whom the audience can easily relate” (Boromisza-Habashi et al. 2016: 28-29).

24 Authenticity and presentability have particularly come to the fore in corporate branding, where authenticity has become a vector of the trust and confidence placed in the brand. Moreover, speakers are “presentable” because they endorse and promote through their discourse values of the specific ethical world. In this, authenticity and presentability can be linked to the American work ethic and corporate model whereby business ventures claim a high moral stake in the community they serve (d’Iribarne 2019).

  • 16 In French : “le jeune cadre dynamique” (Maingueneau 2014). For instance, casual dress is associa (...)

25The notion of “presentable selves” in Cameron’s definition also pinpoints a friendly, likeable speaking persona – that of a “nice guy”. This persona is particularly fostered within start-up culture, where “authenticity” is also synonymous with informality. In the New Oratory formats, informality has been injected into the inherently formal, institutional context of public speaking. Simplicity and casualness are construed via choices at both the linguistic level (e.g. lexis) and also within the scenography (informal dress code, discrete and non-invasive technical accompaniment, a relatively bare stage...). Informality is adopted by the “dynamic young leader”, a recognisable category within the pragmatic dimension16 and which is part and parcel of modern-day “entrepreneurial” ethos.

3. Argumentation and the staging of the self in investor pitches

3. 1.The investor pitch

  • 17 This point is underlined by entrepreneur and investor David Rose in a 2007 TED talk retrieved fr (...)

26 How is the ethos characteristic of the New Oratory inscribed linguistically? And how does it inform argumentation strategies more generally? These questions will now be addressed in relation to the example of the investor pitch. This genre is underpinned by a discursive community belonging to the business sector. In investor pitches, the staging of the self is particularly at stake, as investors not only invest in a project but in the people behind the project.17

27Like its parent genre, the keynote, the investor pitch illustrates the now-central role of the entrepreneur, who is called upon, literally, to take centre stage. The investor pitch brings together entrepreneurs, or budding entrepreneurs, who present their business plan in order to convince investors to finance their project. The pitch – “a form of words used when trying to persuade someone to buy or accept something” (the OED) – is delivered as part of competitions in front of a panel of investors, and the winning pitch(es) are granted financing from investors. Typical examples are competitions that take place during “Start-up weekends” (the first of which took place in the United States in 2007). A similar format forms the basis of a number of reality TV programs. The first in the English-speaking world was the British, BBC-produced “Dragons’ Den”, which first aired in 2005.

28 Whatever the context, the investor pitch, as its name suggests, primarily targets the panel of investors. The pitch serves as the gateway for the speaker-cum-would-be-entrepreneur and his/her team to enter the business community. And gaining entry into this community depends directly on the speaker’s ability to convince the investors that they deserve to be part of it. The pitch is followed by a question time between the investors and the speaker, a decisive moment when for example entrepreneurs and investors negotiate the exact terms of the investment. The question-answer part will not be addressed directly here, but it should be kept in mind that the investor pitch serves as a conversation-opener: the aim is to spark the curiosity, the enthusiasm and the trust of the investors so that they want to find out more.

29 The investor pitch is based on a need-fulfilment format. Several moves can generally be distinguished: (i) identification (e.g. the speaker introduces him/herself and the name of the company; (ii) need; (iii) fulfilment (presentation of the product or service); (iv) business model/request for capital; (v) signing off.

30I will quote mainly from three examples, which I introduce briefly here. The first is the winning pitch delivered by Kasper Hulthin at the MIT Global Startup Workshop in 2010.18 It lasts one minute, and is delivered by an entrepreneur of Danish origin. In the scenography of this particular competition, the time limit literally takes centre stage as the sixty-second countdown is projected on the screen behind the speaker.19

Example 1 - MIT winner:
Everyone, how many of you guys are using your email to collaborate with people outside of your organisation? -And how many think that’s really efficient? -Exactly.

We’ve built a web-based work platform that organizes work across people and across organisations, because we believe that is where work is heading. We also believe that each organisation has a unique way of doing things, so we’ve just built the platform on which you build the functionality and the applications. Whether it’s for organizing a meeting, events, sharing your tasks or fixing your box, you get a tool that works like you, not the contrary. We want to become your platform for work like Facebook is for your social life.
Therefore we have entered this enterprise market with a consumer business model, with a freemium player and premium on top, and that makes us grow 40 % a month. Currently though we’re still in private data.
So, in short, we help you out with the problem that is there to start with. So we organize your work.

31 The second example is the winning pitch delivered by Katie Sunday at the University of Dayton in 2010.20 It also lasts for one minute. It is delivered by a female speaker, who plays on the woman’s point of view that is adopted.

Example 2 - “Miss App” pitch, University of Dayton winner:
Let’s face it, sometimes men just don’t understand women, and that’s OK, we don’t expect you to all the time, but it would be nice if a male who is developing an iPhone app for us understood us better. 10 million female iPhone users have repeatedly shown interest in the app market but there are two problems here: one, not a lot of apps exist for women, and, two, the apps that do exist kind of fall short of the mark, and that’s mainly because men are developing them.
So our team, we believe that we can connect with this dissatisfied and under-targeted market, to bring very tailored apps, specifically for women.
We’re seeking a 100 000 dollar investment in exchange for a 25 % stake in equity and a
10-X return.
We’ll roll out one app quarterly starting from six months from the initial investment. We expect break-even to occur by the end of year one.
We’re “Miss App”, we’re designing for women, and it’s because, well, women like technology too.

  • 21 Season 16, episode 15, televised 6.2.2019, transcribed from video retrieved from https://www.you (...)

32 The third example is a pitch delivered during an episode of the British television program “Dragons’ Den”.21 It is a successful pitch (lasting 1 minute and 45 seconds) which leads to the speaker obtaining a £80,000 investment for a product called “Parking Perx”.

Example 3 - Dragons’ Den winner:
Hello dragons, my name is Chris Reed, I am the founder of “Proxy Smart Limited”. I’m here looking for an investment of 80,000 pounds in exchange for 32 % in equity.
Now then, 6 out of 10 town-centre businesses cite car parking as their biggest barrier to trade. Why? Because it’s a long-established paying point for consumers. You either rush back to your car because your ticket was about to expire, you have to queue to validate your ticket just so that you can get out of a car park. Even the current crop of pay-by-phone options have got you scratching around looking for a location code, or worse still, you’re shouting down the phone at a voice-recognition robot that just doesn’t understand a Geordie accent.
We’ve created a multi-award winning solution that removes all of these issues, and we call it “Parking Perx”. Parking Perx offers consumers hassle-free, cost-free car parking, and we use this as leverage to uplift footfall, sales and loyalty in off-line town-centre businesses.
So how does it work? Well, we use smart beacons like these, which we deploy in and around car parks and parking spaces. When you arrive at a car park, a wireless handshake between the beacon and your smartphone triggers a message, it will say something like ‘Hello Deborah, welcome to York Street car park, are you parking your [pause] Ford fiesta”, and you simply type “yes”. You can manage your parking event and be on your way in under ten seconds. And best of all, it can also be free, because when you make qualifying purchases at participating merchants in the town centre, you will earn a credit that you can use to reduce or eliminate the cost of your parking.
With your help and your investment, we’re looking to change the way you stay and the way you pay for your car parking.

33 I will now demonstrate how the argumentation of these investor pitches is conditioned by the above-mentioned Anglo-American cultural traits that I regard as generic pragmatic categories. The projection of a personal and authentic self takes the form of: (i) a personal voice which (ii) construes the need via a staged dialogue and which, in turn (iii) places the interpersonal relation at the heart of the reasoning process and structuring of the text.

3.2. A personal voice, mouthpiece for the team

  • 22 Here are other examples of investor pitch openings: “Good afternoon. I’m Candace Klein and I’m w (...)

34 The personal ethos of a speaker speaking in his/her name is enacted from the outset in the openings and closings of investor pitches within the recurrent initial and final moves “identification” and “signing off”. For instance, example 3 begins with “Hello dragons, my name is Chris Reed, I am the founder of “Proxy Smart Limited” (my emphasis). The speaker introduces himself first by name, and then announces the name of the company and/or the product or service being developed. This very frequent combination highlights the role of the speaker who literally embodies the company, putting a human face and body on a brand, and acting as a human relay for a brand which is often his/her creation (here: “I am the founder of...”).22

35 In fact, if a choice has to be made between mentioning the name of the speaker and that of the company or brand, it is the latter that takes precedence, as in the closing of example 2: “We’re “Miss App”, we’re designing for women, and it’s because, well, women like technology too” (my emphasis). Investor pitches are characterized by a high frequency of first-person reference, which takes the plural form. For instance, there are 9 instances of the pronoun “we” in example 1 (the MIT pitch), 8 in example 2 (“Miss App”), and 6 instances in example 3 (“Parking Perx”). Significantly, the singular “I” is absent from examples 1 and 2, and only features twice in example 3. In this, the investor pitch contrasts with other New Oratory formats, particularly three-minute-thesis presentations and TED talks, where the first-person singular dominates. In investor pitches, the plural inscribes the collective voice of the team of which the speaker is spokesperson; it points to the reassuring image for potential investors of the teamwork (another “buzzword” of the new work order) behind the project, of the cooperation and collaboration of individuals who each contribute their specific area of expertise and work well together.

  • 23 The extremely high frequency of the pronoun “we” contrasts with the very low frequency of “us”, (...)
  • 24 Process types are categorised here according to a systemic functional framework (Halliday and Ma (...)

36 For this reason, first-person plural reference coincides mostly with the syntactic role of subject,23 where, outside its use in the relational processes quoted above, it most frequently realises the role of agent of a material process,24 for example: “we’ve just built...”, “we have just entered...”, “we help you...”, “we organise...”, “we’re seeking...”, “we’ll roll out...”, “we’re designing...”, “we’ve created…”, “we deploy…”, ‘we’re looking to…”, etc. These processes serve to highlight the agentive role of the collective body, and conform to what is expected of an entrepreneur – that is, a “doer and a shaker”, someone who seizes opportunities and takes initiatives.

37 There are also a number of clauses where the first person plural appears as senser (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014: 249) of a mental process, for example, “we want…”, “we expect…”. These processes construe a subjective stance that is mediated via the voice (and body) of one spokesperson and is ascribed to a collective body. One of the most recurrent mental processes associated with the first person in investor pitches is “believe”. “We believe” participates in the construction of an “authentic and presentable” ethos: it points to the collaborative effort behind the business project as motivated by a system of values. A process of incorporation (Maingueneau 2002: 61) can be identified, with the speaker cast in the role of figurehead and guarantor of an ethical world. In the Miss App example, “we believe” is preceded by the apposed nominal “our team”, which insists on the collaborative effort: “our team, we believe...”. In the MIT pitch, “we believe” is repeated over consecutive utterances, where it subordinates the business idea to a belief system: in the first utterance, it is introduced with the conjunction “because”, and in the second, it retrospectively takes on causal status when followed by the clause introduced by intersentential “so”:

We’ve built a web-based work platform that organizes work across people and across organisations, because we believe that is where work is heading. We also believe that each organisation has a unique way of doing things, so we’ve just built the platform on which you build the functionality and the applications. (MIT pitch)

38 These recurrent and varied explicit first-person inscriptions are at the heart of the persuasive force of the investor pitch, and are typical of other New Oratory genres. These inscriptions quite literally stage the speaker, who is presented as figurehead and as both actor and guarantor. At the same time, they set up an explicit interpersonal network in which to inscribe the audience, as part of the process of dialogic staging.

3.3. Authenticity via dialogic staging

39 By adopting a personal voice, the speaker constructs an interpersonal network which allows for the inscription of another entity. Just as recurrent reference to “we” enacts a speaker who represents a collective body, the pitches inscribe a generic “you” that appeals to each member of the audience.

40 Such positioning works as a tool that informs the need/fulfilment rhetorical structure of the pitch. The business plan, together with the product or service to be developed, are pitched to investors who are at the same time potential consumers. The product needs to appeal to them. To succeed in doing this, the speaker needs to construe a need that the investor/addressee has experienced or could well experience. In the MIT pitch, the speaker does this via two questions as part of an interaction that he stages with the audience:

Hello everyone, how many of you guys are using your email to collaborate with people outside of your organization? And how many think that’s really efficient? Exactly. (MIT pitch)

41 The premise is that the audience will in the majority answer “yes” or raise their hands to the first question, and answer “no” to the second question. The speaker follows this up with a one-word reaction (“exactly”). The audience’s response must be rhetorically presupposed (in the video recording, there is no audible response from the audience and no shots of them, such as a show of hands). This is an example of “dialogic staging” where, despite the monologic setup, the impression of a dialogue is produced. Dialogic staging is typical of all the New Oratory formats. It instantiates the new horizontality of work relations and exemplifies the “conversationalisation” of forms of public discourse described by Fairclough (1993). Because it fosters a direct relation with the addressee, it participates in the staging of authenticity, as opposed to the formal and distant relation that informs for example authority. In the pitches, it plays a key role in construing the need upon which hinges the argumentation of the speech, and it produces a recurrent, easily recognisable format for the investor pitch genre. Dialogic staging also contributes to a sense of informality, and to the projection of a speaker “to whom the audience can easily relate” (cf. Boromisza-Habashi et al. 2016: 28-29). This is enhanced by the semi-casual dress code (in the MIT and Dragons’ Den pitches, the (male) speakers are wearing suits, but no tie) and by lexical choices which are occasionally informal and colloquial (e.g. “guys”; “that’s OK”).

42 Dialogic staging is achieved via the use of linguistic forms typical of spoken discourse, particularly those that orchestrate the turn-taking of conversation. These are exemplified in the extract above, which plays on the direct interrogative form and repeated use of second-person reference. In some pitches, the frequency of explicit second-person reference is extremely high: for instance, the personal pronoun “you” and the possessive determiner “your” feature 12 times in the MIT pitch, and 25 times in the Dragons’ Den pitch.

43Peaks in dialogic staging characterise speech openings and closings, where it is essential to make a connection with the audience. The MIT pitch ends with an utterance that brings together in close proximity “we” and “you/your”, within a syntactic relation where “you” appears twice in the role of beneficiary:

So, in short, we help you out with the problem that is there to start with, so we organize your work. (MIT pitch)

44 In the Dragons’ Den pitch, “hello” is used to dialogically launch the speech. Dialogic staging is then exploited to introduce the need. Again, a question-answer format is adopted. Moreover, the audience takes centre stage via the choice of -ING forms which serve to paint a visual, dynamic picture of them (“got you scratching around looking for a location code, or worse still, you’re shouting down the phone...”):

Now then, 6 out of 10 town-centre businesses cite car parking as their biggest barrier to trade. Why? Because it’s a long-established paying point for consumers. You either rush back to your car because your ticket was about to expire, you have to queue to validate your ticket just so that you can get out of a car park. Even the current crop of pay-by-phone options have got you scratching around looking for a location code, or worse still, you’re shouting down the phone at a voice-recognition robot that just doesn’t understand a Geordie accent. (Dragons’ Den pitch)

45 Dialogic staging also predominates in a lengthy demonstration part, again with the use of the direct interrogative and staging of the second-person in the role of actor (“when you arrive...”, “you simply say...”, “you can manage...”):

So how does it work? Well, we use smart beacons like these, which we deploy in and around car parks and parking spaces. When you arrive at a car park, a wireless handshake between the beacon and your smartphone triggers a message, it will say something like ‘Hello Deborah, welcome to York Street car park, are you parking your [pause] Ford fiesta”, and you simply type “yes”. You can manage your parking event and be on your way in under than ten seconds. (Dragons’ Den pitch)

46Interestingly, the dialogic effect is compounded here by the use of direct speech ascribed to the product itself (a machine), as well as the discourse marker “well”. Like the MIT pitch, this pitch ends with an utterance that closely combines “we” and “you”:

With your help and your investment, we’re looking to change the way you stay and the way you pay for your car parking. (Dragons’ Den pitch)

47 Finally, in the Miss App pitch, the tone of dialogic staging is set as of the opening line, via the combination of a concessive clause and explicit first and second-person reference, within a play on the difference in gender that lies at the heart of the business project:

Let’s face it, sometimes men just don’t understand women, and that’s OK, we don’t expect you to all the time, but it would be nice if a male who is developing an iPhone app for us understood us better. 10 million female iPhone users have repeatedly shown interest in the app market but there are two problems here: one, not a lot of apps exist for women, and, two, the apps that do exist kind of fall short of the mark, and that’s mainly because men are developing them. (Miss App pitch)

48 The (female) speaker deftly plays on the gender difference and manages to smooth it over so that the (presumably male) investors do not take offence. This is accomplished thanks to the concessive (“Let’s face it”) and the reassurance (“and that’s OK”). She then moves on to construe the need, again smoothing it over thanks to a hypothetical wish (“it would be nice if a male…”). The audience is given no time to reflect on these potentially provoking remarks as the speaker follows up with a precise figure to quantify the market (“10 million female iPhone users”), hence announcing the market opportunity. In this example, the need is orchestrated via playful irony within a dialogic staging format, before the speaker switches for a moment to a different (non-dialogic) mode of presentation of arguments involving signposts (“one”, “two”), which provide a rare example of explicit structuring and/or reasoning, as will be discussed in the following section.

3.4. Authenticity via implicit argumentation

  • 25 Just as the speaker is careful to soften her criticism of male audience members via the down-ton (...)

49 Authenticity is also construed via the refusal to explicitly engage with artifice in any form, be it at the level of the scenography or within the rhetoric of the discourse. For instance, the technological accompaniment used on stage is discrete. Similarly, arguments are construed implicitly without the rhetorical devices typical of traditional oratory. For example, to refer to and to arrange arguments, the investor pitches exploit few ordinal series, or figures of speech based on repetition. The only ordinal series is that from the Miss App pitch just quoted, where the use of cardinal numbers as signposts (“one…”; “two…”) works to objectify the argument and to offset the potential provocation of the opening lines.25 Similarly, there are no tirades incorporating for instance series of anaphora. The only figure of speech that can be identified over the three pitches quoted here appears in the MIT pitch in the form of the figure of accumulation (of four noun phrases sharing the same syntactic role) for the purpose of amplification:

Whether it’s for organizing a meeting, events, sharing your tasks or fixing your box, you get a tool that works like you, not the contrary. (MIT pitch)

50 Overall, the New Oratory fosters to a far greater extent than other forms of public speaking the implicit construal of argument. This contributes to an authentic speaker ethos, with speakers who do not appear to impose their reasoning process on the audience – and hence appear as someone to whom the audience can easily relate. This can be gauged on the textual level via the distribution of connectives. Out of 60 non-embedded clauses of the three texts under scrutiny here, 37 (= 61% of clauses) contain a connective or fronted adverbial serving a similar function. These can be broken down into the following categories: 14 instances of coordinating conjunctions, 10 subordinating conjunctions, 14 adverbs or adverbial phrases. However, the pitches are far from illustrating the full repertoire of explicit causal markers (phrases such as “for example”, “this leads to” or “to illustrate my point” are absent from the three pitches.). In addition, the items that provide explicit signposting of the textual organisation are limited (“also”, “in short”, or cardinal or ordinal numbers) and one of the pitches contains no such item.

  • 26 For instance, a study of a sample of speeches delivered by B. Obama (Rossette 2015: 161) highlig (...)

51 This distribution of connectives does not replicate that of political oratory26 and instead comes closer to that of turn-taking in conversation (Rossette 2013), where connectives play a pragmatic role rather than an ideational role (i.e. to make the logical relation explicit). Similar to what is often observed in conversation, the most frequent connectives here are the coordinating conjunction “and” (11 instances) followed by the adverb “so” (5 instances). Both of these are found in all three pitches, and are used in utterance-initial position, which highlights their pragmatic use akin to the function of a discourse marker in turn-taking in conversation. Similarly, the third-highest connective is “because” (4 instances), which also takes on discourse-marker status in conversation (Schriffin 1987: 191). The prototypical discourse markers “well” and “now” appear in two of the three pitches. Discourse markers, like the connectives that share a similar pragmatic function, enact dialogic staging which makes a more implicit mode of argument construal possible. They play a major role in the projection of speaker authenticity, not only presenting the arguments as evolving out of a dialogue between participants – in accordance with “horizontal” knowledge-sharing – but at the same time conferring on the arguments an unquestionable, bona fide status. This is particularly well illustrated by the openings of the MIT and Miss App pitches (analysed above), which concisely and convincingly make the case that there is a problem in need of a solution respectively via a series of questions and answers and a concession. Similarly, question-answer pairs in the Dragons’ Den pitch imitate turn-taking pairs of conversation and come to signal a [problem > solution] format:

Now then, 6 out of 10 town-centre businesses cite car parking as their biggest barrier to trade. Why? Because it’s a long-established paying point for consumers.

[...] So how does it work? Well, we use smart beacons like these, which we deploy in and around car parks and parking spaces. (Dragons’ Den pitch)

52 Interestingly, these question-answer pairs are introduced by a discourse marker, which accentuates the interactive “colouring”. Such examples illustrate the changing division of labour between the textual and the interpersonal metafunctions (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014: 83) whereby the interpersonal metafunction (as instantiated here via the choice of the interrogative mode) comes to play a more dominant role in text structuring (Thompson and Zhou 2000). And incidentally, such pairs often contribute to the performance itself when they incorporate some very short utterances and introduce a syncopated rhythm and an “upbeat” syntax.

53 Implicit construal of a reasoning process comes to the fore for example in the articulation between the two moves of need and fulfilment. Despite the fact that the fulfilment stems logically from the need, fulfilment is initiated in all three pitches via a clause which is devoid of an ideational clausal connective (such as “therefore” for instance) and begins with “we” in the position of grammatical subject:

We’ve created a multi-award winning solution that removes all of these issues, and we call it “Parking Perx”. (Dragons’ Den pitch)

54Fulfilment in the Miss App pitch is initiated by “so”, whose use is again pragmatic as opposed to ideational, and contributes to the dialogic staging of the reasoning process itself, which, it can be argued, emerges as collectively construed by speaker and audience:

So our team, we believe that we can connect with this dissatisfied and under-targeted market, to bring very tailored apps, specifically for women. (Miss App pitch)

  • 27 In this example, “so” is accompanied by the more explicit textual adverbial “in short” which tog (...)

55 This corresponds to a particularly frequent use of “so” as discourse marker to launch a transition in New Oratory transcripts (Rossette-Crake 2019: 211-212) – as also exemplified (twice) in the signing-off move of the MIT pitch:27

So, in short, we help you out with the problem that is there to start with. So we organize your work. (MIT pitch)

56These signing-off moves often integrate an utterance that is potential sound bite material. To achieve sound bite status, the utterance needs to be syntactically independent so as to be detachable from the context. This makes the use of connectives that would realise ideational values problematic, and notably explains the effectiveness of the utterances which mark the signing-off move in the two other pitches:

With your help and your investment, we’re looking to change the way you stay and the way you pay for your car parking. (Dragons’ Den pitch)

We’re “Miss App”, we’re designing for women, and it’s because, well, women like technology too. (Miss App pitch)

57 Both of these utterances are in keeping with an “up-front”, authentic ethos in that they construe the notion of a basic truth, presenting the content as going without saying. At the same time, they constitute a final staging of the discourse destined for a live performance whose ultimate aim is to persuade the audience.

Conclusion

58 In this article, I have chosen to approach argumentation and persuasion via the window of speaker ethos, in relation to a new series of discourse practices that have emerged during the digital era. It is not my claim that such a speaker ethos is isolated within the contemporary landscape – indeed, as Fairclough (1993) points out, certain traits such as horizontality (but also authenticity) are typical of the paradigm shift in public discourses since the 1990s. These traits are particularly prevalent in marketing and business discourse. I have analysed them as defining features of the New Oratory, which brings them into particularly sharp focus, and have illustrated them in this study in regards to one New Oratory genre, the investor pitch (see Rossette-Crake, 2020, for a comparison of the investor pitch and the three-minute-thesis presentation).

59 Importantly, the traits of this speaker ethos can be explained in light of certain aspects of the digital world in which we now live, such as the extra-discursive category of the entrepreneur and the ideology associated with it. Indeed, demands imposed by the digital economy and the current corporate world, together with the global, mobile workforce, place particular emphasis on both corporate and personal branding. Communication designed for such purposes is inherently persuasive. Argumentation strategies that are brought into play cannot be gauged without understanding the central role of speaker ethos. According to the holistic approach to ethos adopted here, it is not merely one means of argument among others, but has to do with the way the speaker stages him/herself via the adoption of a specific speaking persona. It therefore relates directly to the way the discourse enacts the positioning of participants – and hence to the process of enunciation itself.

60 The generic ethos of the New Oratory has been defined here according to Anglo-American cultural traits – “personalised” and “authentic” – that have become generic pragmatic categories. These are realised discursively via a number of means, ranging from elements of scenography (spotlight on the speaker’s entire body, casual dress code, discrete technological accompaniment...) to the linguistic interface itself (personal pronominal reference, interactive forms (“dialogic staging”), connectives...). Such choices reflect the “horizontality” of interpersonal relations in the current professional context, with a speaker who stages not only him/herself and incorporates the ethical world that underpins the discursive community, but also stages the audience.

  • 28 This is the case for the numerous TEDx talks and three-minute-thesis presentations that are perf (...)

61 Finally, while “personal” and “authentic” are hallmarks of Anglo communication culture, it is striking that they come to the fore in New Oratory formats that are delivered in languages other than English28. This highlights the influence of such pragmatic categories used to model ethos within a theory of argumentation, which extend beyond cultural frontiers in an increasingly globalised and digital world.

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Notes

1 Indeed, argumentation is present in all instances of discourse, whether it be via an overtly persuasive “purpose”, or via a more subtle “dimension” (Amossy 2014: 44).

2 “Anglo” is used here as an abbreviation to refer to a shared potential cultural identity of English-speaking countries where English has always been the main (and official) language (the U.K.; the U.S.; Australia, New Zealand, Canada...).

3 For instance, TED talks stipulate in their regulations that ties are not allowed.

4 Memoria was the fourth of the five components of rhetoric (inventio, dispositio, elocutio, memoria, actio) and related to learning off by heart the text of the speech in preparation for the delivery.

5 New forms of CEO communication add to the list of professional oral genres (Koester and Handford 2013) and enrich the corpora of “leadership communication” studies.

6 Similarly, TED talks, as they have now evolved, act “as a kind of shop window for speakers” (Hickman, 2017), providing a space where every speaker can (re)invent him or herself, as attested by the range of non-institutional titles (e.g. “life coach”, “expert in leadership psychology”, or “quiet revolutionary”) that appear on speakers’ profiles on the TED website.

7 See Amossy (2016: 83-94) for an overview of the history of the concept from Antiquity to the present day.

8 My translation, as are the other quotes made in this article taken from all works published in French. Original text: “l’image de soi que l’orateur construit dans son discours pour contribuer à l’efficacité de son dire”.

9 “[U]ne manière de dire qui renvoie à une manière d’être”.

10 “[C’est une] notion qui s’appuie sur le sens commun : en énonçant, tout locuteur active nécessairement chez l’interprète la construction d’une certaine représentation de lui-même, qu’il doit s’efforcer de contrôler.”

11 “[C]rucialement lié à l’acte d’énonciation”.

12 “[L]inscription énonciative du locuteur-orateur dans le discours”.

13 Likewise, Amossy (2014: 49) speaks of “a stereotyped ethos” constitutive of genre.

14 For instance, while the entrepreneur has always been a prevalent figure, it can be argued that it has become “the social icon of the neoliberal age” (Holborow 2015: 72), where it notably appears as ‘the benign improver of society and the kind of person we could all aspire to being’ (Holborow, 2015: 74).

15 This aspect of Anglo speaker ethos is not necessarily easy to adopt for native French speakers when they are asked to give oral presentations in English (Botinneau 2011; Chaplier and O’Connell 2015).

16 In French : “le jeune cadre dynamique” (Maingueneau 2014). For instance, casual dress is associated with managers who are ready to “roll up their sleeves” and work hard (a blog in French talks of an entrepreneur/CEO ready to “mouille sa chemise”: Thomas Thibault, http://leplus.nouvelobs.com/contribution/230313-non-xavier-niel-n-est-pas-le-steve-jobs-a-la-francaise.html .

17 This point is underlined by entrepreneur and investor David Rose in a 2007 TED talk retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lzDBrMisLm0 (accessed 2 February 2019).

18 Transcribed from the video retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UBNJh2rOOlI (accessed 4 February 2019).

19 To facilitate reading, speech transcriptions have been divided into “paragraphs” corresponding to the different moves mentioned above.

20 Transcribed from video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dqIEE-g_-Uc (accessed 4 February 2019).

21 Season 16, episode 15, televised 6.2.2019, transcribed from video retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-g0jQj1aY2Y (accessed 26 January 2019).

22 Here are other examples of investor pitch openings: “Good afternoon. I’m Candace Klein and I’m with SoMoLend, and SoMoLend stands for Social Mobile Local Lending” (transcribed from video retrieved at http://www.businessinsider.com/the-best-startup-pitches-of-all-time-2012-11?op=1); “Hi. We’re Yext, and for the last 3 years, we’ve been quietly revolutionizing the local advertising business” (transcribed from video retrieved at http://www.businessinsider.com/the-best-startup-pitches-of-all-time-2012-11?op=1).

23 The extremely high frequency of the pronoun “we” contrasts with the very low frequency of “us”, appearing only 3 times in our 3 examples.

24 Process types are categorised here according to a systemic functional framework (Halliday and Matthiessen 2014).

25 Just as the speaker is careful to soften her criticism of male audience members via the down-toner “kind of”.

26 For instance, a study of a sample of speeches delivered by B. Obama (Rossette 2015: 161) highlights a lower frequency of connectives (deployed in 50% or less of non-embedded clauses), among which discourse markers are absent and frequencies of subordinating conjunctions (between 8 and 10%) and analytical adverbials (e.g. “however”) (between 10 and 15%) are higher than in the corpus of the present study.

27 In this example, “so” is accompanied by the more explicit textual adverbial “in short” which together create an effect combining subjective and objective points of view.

28 This is the case for the numerous TEDx talks and three-minute-thesis presentations that are performed in the local language of countries the world over (to date, TEDx conferences have taken place in more than 150 countries (source: https://www.ted.com/about/programs-initiatives, accessed 27 October 2019), and three-minute-thesis competitions in more than 65 countries (source: https://threeminutethesis.uq.edu.au/about, accessed 27 October 2019)).

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References

Electronic reference

Fiona Rossette-Crake, Argumentation and the “New Oratory”: the staging of the speaker in investor pitches in EnglishAnglophonia [Online], 29 | 2020, Online since 16 December 2020, connection on 26 January 2021. URL: http://journals.openedition.org/anglophonia/3123; DOI: https://doi.org/10.4000/anglophonia.3123

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About the author

Fiona Rossette-Crake

Université Paris Nanterre, CREA, EA 370
rossette@parisnanterre.fr

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Copyright

Licence Creative Commons
Anglophonia – French Journal of English Linguistics est mis à disposition selon les termes de la licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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