Often we hear about a new school of thought from the world of presentation skills or public speaking. Experts in the art of persuasion seem to regularly unearth new and innovative ways of doing things that we’ve never heard of before. However these ‘new’ ways of thinking can often take the core of their teaching from innovators that have come before. Long before!
Throughout history speakers have employed a variety of basic skills when addressing the structure and effectiveness of their communications. Great orators like Cicero, Abraham Lincoln, Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, Jr., and even Hitler. They all had similar characteristics and structures when crafting their messages.
So, what are these similar characteristics?
Thousands of years ago, the Greek philosopher and scientist Aristotle identified these three areas of rhetoric, or the art of persuasion, as ETHOS, PATHOS, and LOGOS. Famous and effective communicators have used these elements of rhetoric time and time again to persuade and win over their audiences.
Aristotle defined rhetoric as “…the faculty of discovering, in any particular case, all of the available means of persuasion.” He believed that you need all the means of persuasion to get people to trust you and advocated using all three of his main elements of rhetoric to do the job.
1. ETHOS or ‘Argument By Character’
Ethos uses the speaker’s personality, reputation, and ability to look trustworthy in order to persuade. It embodies goodwill, sincerity, credibility, commonality, and praise. ETHOS is used in advertisements all the time to establish credibility. For example, a car company stating that they’ve won safety awards for their cars. This shows overall virtue of the speaker and good will towards the audience. John F. Kennedy uses this to great effect in his inaugural speech in 1961.
2. PATHOS or ‘Argument By Emotion’
Pathos is the appeal to an audience’s sense of identity, self-interest, or sentiments. This involves contrast, energeia (vivid experience, making someone feel in the moment, feel what you feel), and emotion control. A great example of PATHOS is Martin Luther King’s ‘I have a dream…’ speech where he appeals to morals and human qualities common to us all. Humour can also be an effective form of persuasion here. It calms people down and creates common ground with an audience on an intuitive level.
3.LOGOS or ‘Argument By Logic’
Logos persuades by making a reasonable claim and offering proof in support of that claim. Here we use the power of story, framing ideas, and proof. Concession can be an important tool of LOGOS as you use your opponent’s argument to your own advantage; by conceding the validity of your opponent’s argument, you show you are listening and seeing their side.
One of the most poignant examples of using all three of these disciplines for persuasion is in children’s television’s Fred Rogers’ (Mister Rogers) appeal to the U.S. senate committee. In an attempt to save PBS’ 20 million dollar annual funding when it was in danger of being slashed in half in 1969. Mr Rogers faced one of the toughest most cynical senators on the committee and won.
Scottish philosopher David Hume recognised that you can never change someone’s mind in an argument with just reasoning and logic. In his view, we are animals primarily motivated and influenced by our intuitions and emotions. The majority of our convictions don’t actually come from facts.
Human reasoning is a servant to intuition
Arguments – Dance Not War
In Western culture we often treat or frame arguments like fights or like war. We attack our opponent’s positions and defend our own. We gain and lose ground.
George Lakoff, a cognitive linguist, suggests that a more appropriate and conducive analogy is that of a dance. In this metaphor, we reach out to a person, we are opposites but we work together, we are cooperating. The argument becomes more about agreement than disagreement.
We don’t enter into an argument with someone unless we have some common interest with them to begin with. Instead of a war between good and evil, we can begin to think about rhetoric and persuasion as a dance between mutually interested groups.
When we fight, it is about winning. When we argue, it’s about winning over. “A fight never persuades, it only inspires revenge or retreat. An argument gets people to do what you want – it’s a means to a solution.” ( Jay Heinrichs, Thank You For Arguing)
Next time you craft a presentation, keep in mind the three areas of persuasion
ETHOS, PATHOS, AND LOGOS are passed down to us from the ancients and used by our greatest orators. Look to win over, not just win. Dance, don’t fight. It just might give you the edge in winning over your audience.
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