COLUMBUS, OHIO – MARCH 05: Arnold Schwarzenegger speaks to fans at the Arnold Sports Festival in … [+]
It’s not every day that global media outlets like The Atlantic or Britain’s Daily Mail run a complete transcript of a celebrity’s social media video. But Arnold Schwarzenegger’s nine-minute video to the Russian people is not your average post.
The impassioned speech has attracted nearly 35 million views since Thursday. The BBC reports that the video is trending on Russian social media. According to one Russian opposition leader, “Arnold Schwarzenegger has a unique ability to talk to anyone with persuasion, respect and on equal terms.”
Schwarzenegger’s words are inspiring and attention-grabbing because he’s not simply delivering information he wants the Russian people and Russian soldiers to hear; it’s powerful because he wraps the information in stories.
Schwarzenegger is a skilled storyteller because of his experience making movies, but he was a student of communication long before he campaigned for governor of California. It shows in his video.
3 Elements of Persuasion
Aristotle—the father of persuasion—believed that a convincing speech has three elements: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Ethos is character and credibility. Schwarzenegger didn’t have to spend much time in his speech establishing his credentials because his reputation is already strong with his intended audience. Schwarzenegger is one of the most famous movie stars in Russia, thanks largely to his role in the 1988 movie Red Heat, which was shot in Moscow.
Schwarzenegger focused most of his speech on the other two elements of persuasion: logos (logical arguments) and pathos (emotional appeal).
Pathos—making an emotional appeal through stories—makes up a full 60% of Schwarzenegger’s speech. He told three stories to build an emotional bridge with his audience.
The first story is about personal heroes. “Let me just talk about the Russian who became my hero,” Schwarzenegger began. “In 1961, when I was 14 years old, a very good friend of mine invited me to come to Vienna to watch the World Weightlifting Championships. I was in the audience when Yuri Petrovich Vlasov won the World Championship title, becoming the first human being to lift 200 kilograms over his head.”
Schwarzenegger got to meet Vlasov backstage after the event. He returned home with the weightlifter’s poster and put it over his bed. This simple act triggered the anger of Schwarzenegger’s father, a former Nazi soldier, who wanted his son to replace the picture with that of a German or Austrian hero.
“But I did not take the photograph down, no,” Schwarzenegger said defiantly. “It didn’t matter to me what flag Yuri Vlasov carried.”
The second story was about his connection with Russia. “My connections to Russia didn’t stop there,” Schwarzenegger continued. “It actually deepened when I traveled there, with bodybuilding and for my movies and met all my Russian fans.”
On one of those trips, Schwarzenegger met Vlasov once again while he was filming Red Heat, the first American movie allowed to film in Red Square. “He and I spent the day together. He was so thoughtful, so kind, and so smart.”
Schwarzenegger tied the stories together: “Now, the reason why I’m telling you all of those things is that ever since I was 14 years old, I’ve had nothing but affections and respect for the people of Russia. The strength and the heart of the Russian people have always inspired me.”
The third story was about Schwarzenegger’s father. “When my father arrived in Leningrad [fighting for the Germans in World War II], he was all pumped up on the lies of his government. And when he left Leningrad, he was broken, physically and mentally. He lived the rest of his life in pain. Pain from a broken back, pain from the shrapnel that always reminded him of those terrible years. And pain from the guilt that he felt.”
Speaking directly to Russian soldiers who might be listening, Schwarzenegger said, “I don’t want you to be broken like my father. This is not the war to defend Russia that your grandfathers or your great-grandfathers fought. This is an illegal war.”
Using the power of a story to make an emotional appeal is essential for persuasion to occur, but it’s not enough, and Schwarzenegger knows it. That’s why he spent about 35% of the speech making logical arguments to reinforce his appeal (the remaining 5% consisted of introductory and transitional material).
“Your lives, your limbs, your futures, are being sacrificed for a senseless war condemned by the entire world,” he said to build a logical case for ending the invasion. “As a matter of fact, let me tell you, what you should know is that 141 nations at the U.N. voted that Russia was the aggressor. They called for it to remove its troops immediately. Only four countries in the entire world voted with Russia. That is a fact…”
Although words can create images in the mind’s eye, so can a well-timed prop. Schwarzenegger picked up a blue coffee cup as he described meeting Vlasov the second time in Moscow. After spending the day together, Vlasov gave Schwarzenegger the cup. “And ever since then, I’ve been drinking my coffee out of it every morning.”
Using the coffee cup as a symbol of generosity reminds me of another prop that Schwarzenegger effectively after the January 2021 attack of the U.S. Capitol.
During a video to condemn the action, Schwarzenegger pulled a giant sword from behind his desk, a prop he had used in a movie. “This is the Conan sword,” he revealed.
He then used the sword as a metaphor for democracy.
“Now, here’s the thing about swords; the more you temper a sword, the stronger it becomes,” Schwarzenegger said. “Now, I’m not telling you all this because I want you to become an expert sword maker, but our democracy is like the steel of this sword. The more it is tempered, the stronger it becomes.”
Swords and coffee cups are physical things, but in the hands of a skilled storyteller, they become potent metaphors that resonate with audiences.