College of Humanities and Social Sciences
College of Humanities and Social Sciences

21st-century Rhetorical Practices for Business-to-Business Sales Professionals and Sales Educators that Synthesize Shakespeare and Improvisation with Theories of Kenneth Burke

Colleen Reynolds

Major Professor: Douglas Eyman, PhD, Department of English

Committee Members: Steve Holmes, Star Muir

Fenwick Library, #3001
April 28, 2017, 03:00 PM to 12:00 PM


The theories of Kenneth Burke may help to explain why some sales professionals enjoy more success than others, particularly in the business-to-business (B2B) context. In this dissertation, I explain how these theories inform the model I created for B2B sales instruction that is delivered through interpretive reading, improvisation, and writing activities. The rhetorical practice is designed to help sales professionals understand their own work in human persuasion and to train them to act rhetorically, both physically and philosophically, by focusing on delivery as a multimodal form of rhetorical action. The long-term goal of this project is to provide non-academic audiences with tools of rhetorical theory that are underutilized in business environments. To do this, I apply Burke’s theories of identification, dramatism, and perspective by incongruity to a specific business context and its methods of education. I facilitated several workshops that introduced this rhetorical practice to sales representatives, sales engineers, and sales managers, and I asked participants to reflect on their experience. These professionals responded positively to the use of these methods and to the application of Burke’s ideas—especially when the language used for instruction reflected the language of the B2B sales context and especially when increased attention was given to defining terms through the use of specific examples. I conclude that Burke’s theories can provide relevant insight and tactical guidance to B2B sales and sales instruction, specifically, by fostering attitudes of openness and acceptance toward relationships and new ideas in learners of professional status.

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