Written in the 4th century B.C.E., the Greek philosopher Aristotle compiled his thoughts on the art of rhetoric into On Rhetoric, including his theory on the three persuasive appeals.
2300 years ago, Aristotle wrote down the secret to being a persuasive speaker, the secret which forms the basis for nearly every public speaking book written since then.
Do you know the secret?
If you don’t, you might be wondering what a 2300-year-old theory has to do with public speaking in the year 2010.
In a word — everything!
In this article, you’ll learn what ethos, pathos, and logos are (the secret!), and what every speaker needs to understand about these three pillars of public speaking.
So, what are ethos, pathos, and logos?
In simplest terms, they correspond to:
Together, they are the three persuasive appeals. In other words, these are the three essential qualities that your speech or presentation must have before your audience will accept your message.
Many teachers of communication, speech, and rhetoric consider Aristotle’s On Rhetoric to be a seminal work in the field. Indeed, the editors of The Rhetoric of Western Thought: From the Mediterranean World to the Global Setting call it “the most important single work on persuasion ever written.” It is hard to argue this claim; most advice from modern books can be traced back to Aristotle’s foundations.
In The Classic Review, Sally van Noorden points to George Kennedy’s modern translation as the standard reference text for studying On Rhetoric. Kennedy’s translation is the source that I use. (At the time of this writing, it is available from amazon.com for $24.56, 18% off the list price.)
Before you can convince an audience to accept anything you say, they have to accept you as credible.
There are many aspects to building your credibility:
Keep in mind that it isn’t enough for you to know that you are a credible source. (This isn’t about your confidence, experience, or expertise.) Your audience must know this. Ethos is your level of credibility as perceived by your audience.
Pathos is the quality of a persuasive presentation which appeals to the emotions of the audience.
Emotional connection can be created in many ways by a speaker, perhaps most notably by stories. The goal of a story, anecdote, analogy, simile, and metaphor is often to link an aspect of our primary message with a triggered emotional response from the audience.
Logos is synonymous with a logical argument.
Suppose two speakers give speeches about a new corporate restructuring strategy.
Which speech is more persuasive? Is the CEO’s speech more persuasive, simply because she has much more credibility (ethos)?
Some suggest that pathos is the most critical of the three. In You’ve Got to Be Believed to Be Heard, Bert Decker says that people buy on emotion (pathos) and justify with fact (logos). True? You decide.
Aristotle believed that logos should be the most important of the three persuasive appeals. As a philosopher and a master of logical reasoning, he believed that logosshould be the only required persuasive appeal. That is, if you demonstrated logos, you should not need either ethos or pathos.
However, Aristotle stated that logos alone is not sufficient. Not only is it not sufficient on its own, but it is no more important than either of the two other pillars. He argued that all three persuasive appeals are necessary.
Is he right? What do you think?
Jan 31st, 2010
Is your audience listening even before you speak your first words?
Do they have high expectations?
Are they prepared to be convinced by what you have to say?
If not, you are suffering from poor ethos.
The first article in the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos series introduced these core concepts for speakers.
In this article, we define ethos, we look at ways that an audience measures your ethos, and we examine why it is so critical for a successful speech.
Ethos was originally defined by Aristotle in On Rhetoric as beingtrustworthy. He stated that we are more likely to believe people who have good character.
Aristotle later broadened this definition of ethos to add that we are more likely to be persuaded by someone who is similar to us, whether by their intrinsic characteristics (e.g. physical age) or the qualities they adapt (e.g. youthful language).
Aristotle does not include the concept of either a speaker’s authority (e.g. a government leader) or reputation (e.g. an industry expert) in his definition of ethos, but this reflects the rather narrow role for public speaking in his world. In our world, where speaking takes so many forms and where we often know a great deal about the speaker, we will include both of these elements in our definition of ethos.
Trustworthiness (as perceived by the audience)
Unlike pathos and logos (about which we will learn in future articles), your ethos as a speaker is primarily established before you speak your first words. For example, either you have expertise about your topic, or you don’t. Either you are the CEO of the company, or you aren’t.
So, then, we will measure the ethos of a speaker by four related characteristics:
We will explore each of these characteristics below. In a later article, we look at specific things you can do to improve your ethos as defined by these root characteristics.
An audience is more likely to be persuaded by someone who they trust, and this is largely independent of the topic being presented. If the audience trusts you, then they expect that what you are telling them is true.
Your trustworthiness is enhanced if the audience believes you have a strong moral character, as measured by concepts like:
Additionally, your audience tends to trust you if you are a member of a group with which these qualities are often associated (e.g. a pastor; a firefighter).
Your audience is more receptive to being persuaded by someone with whom they can identify. Like trustworthiness, this aspect of ethos is largely independent of the topic.
If you share characteristics with your audience, great!
If you don’t, you can adapt your language, your mannerisms, your dress, your visuals, and your overall style to match your audience. Consider this the chameleon effect. Keep in mind that there are limitations to how much you can adapt your speech and delivery. Beyond this limit, your audience will see you as lacking authenticity and that’s bad.
There are many characteristics which you might share with your audience:
If you are similar to your audience, then your audience will be more receptive to your ideas in the same way that you are more likely to open a door at night if you recognize the voice of the person on the other side.
The greater a person’s authority, whether formal (e.g. an elected official) or moral (e.g. the Dalai Lama), the more likely an audience is inclined to listen and be persuaded.
Authority comes from the relationship between the speaker and the audience and is, in most cases, fairly easy to recognize. Several types of authority include:
In addition to these, every speaker has authority just from being the speaker. When you speak, you are the one at the front of the room, often on an elevated platform, sometimes with a microphone or spotlight. You control the moment and thus, have temporary authority.
Expertise is what you know about your topic.
Reputation is what your audience knows about what you know about your topic.
Your ethos is influenced by your reputation. Of the four characteristics of ethos, reputation is the one most connected to the topic of your presentation.
Your reputation is determined by several related factors:
Ethos cannot be assessed with a checkbox (“yes, you have ethos” or “no, you don’t.”) like you can with, say, pregnancy. It’s more like beauty in the sense that there’s a whole range of beauty and many ways to obtain it. (And, it’s in the eye of the beholder… your audience!)
This is easy to see if you examine how the four characteristics of ethos combine in various ways. Consider the following examples:
All of them have significant ethos as they score high on several measures. In particular, authority and reputation often are closely related. (The things you did to earn the reputation often earn authority as well.)
On the other hand, none have perfect ethos. Indeed, this is very hard to obtain as some measures conflict. For example, your authority relative to your audience often weakens your similarity with them.
If you have high ethos, your audience is listening and attentive from your first word. They expect that you have something valuable to say, and they are eager to hear it. They are likely to be persuaded by you, provided that your speech is compelling. A bad speech will still sink you, but you’ll have more leeway.
If you have low ethos, your audience may not be listening or paying attention. (In fact, they may not even show up! Poor ethos doesn’t attract a crowd.) Expectations are low, and a poor opening will kill you. Your audience can be persuaded, but your speech needs to be much better to do it.
Feb 7th, 2010
Your speaking ethos is critical to ensure that your audience is present, listening, and open to being persuaded by your ideas.
But, how do you maximize your ethos for a given speech and a given audience? Is ethos fixed before you open your mouth? Is there anything you can do during a speech that makes a difference?
This article shows you practical tactics you can employ to establish and increase your ethos.
The previous article in the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos series defined ethos along four dimensions:
We will refer to these four dimensions throughout this article as we link practical actions back to their roots. Look for them in parentheses, like this: (Similiarity). When a certain tactic applies to all four dimensions of ethos, we’ll denote it like this: (All)
Remember that these dimensions are not always independent; rather, they are often intertwined.
Consider the difference between your weight and your overall health.
Ethos is not like weight. You can’t say “Oh, my ethos score with this audience is 165 today. Yippee!” (Well, you can say it, but it would be meaningless.)
Instead, ethos is like your physical health. You probably have less ethos than Steve Jobs at a technology convention. Having come to this epiphany, you should also realize that there are certain actions which improve your ethos, and certain actions that damage your ethos. Examples of these actions will be the focus of the remainder of this article.
Ethos is about your audience’s perception of you, and this perception can be formed over many months or years, or perhaps over many past speeches. So, we’ll first examine things you can do in the long run to improve your ethos.
Let’s start with an easy one. Be a good person, do good things, and think good thoughts. There are far more important reasons to follow this mantra than to gain speaking ethos. Nonetheless, your ethos will grow. The positive effect you have on those around you will spread, and will become known to your audience.
Example: How much ethos does Tiger Woods have (in the wake of the fidelity scandal) in terms of trustworthiness?
People are busy. (There’s a news flash!) There are many things competing for their attention, and there are often many other speakers competing for their attention. Why will they choose to listen to you speak? Your expertise will often differentiate you from competing speakers.
Example: Suppose an audience has two options for concurrent sessions at a conference:
Who is the audience going to choose?
There’s a corollary for this rule too. Stick to speaking about topics for which you have deep expertise.
Developing the expertise doesn’t earn you any ethos if you don’t market yourself and let the world know about it. You’ve got to take charge of your personal brandand make sure that it’s a brand that emphasizes the qualities you want to emphasize.
Thorough audience analysis is critical for improving your ethos. (It’s critical for improving your pathos and logos too… but that’s a topic for another article. Stay tuned.)
Audience analysis will reveal valuable clues that you can use to adapt yourself to your audience. Seek to find common traits that you share and highlight them. For other traits, find ways to adapt your language, your mannerisms, your dress, your PowerPoint visuals, or your stories to match the audience.
Example: You’ve been invited to speak to a company that is new to you. You don’t know whether their corporate atmosphere is formal or relaxed. Through audience analysis, you discover that nobody in the company wears a suit to work. So, you choose a less formal outfit to adapt to your audience.
The day of your presentation is too late to develop deep expertise about your topic. However, there’s much you can do before you say your first words:
Showing up with minutes to spare gives the impression that you almost had somewhere more important to be. Showing up early demonstrates your dedication to serve the audience. This, in turn, builds trust.
If your presentation is part of a larger event, try to attend as much of it as you can. Every minute you spend with your audience as an audience member builds your level of affiliation with them. The event becomes a shared experience. The audience sees you as one of them.
Depending on the event, you may have an opportunity to provide an author’s bio to complement your speech title. Seize this opportunity. Make it clear to your potential audience why they should spend their time (and their money) to listen toyou. This is particularly critical if you are at an event with concurrent sessions. Don’t assume that people make their decisions on topic alone.
Example: Suppose you will be speaking at the Arizona Teachers Association Annual Conference. Positive testimonials from past presentations to teacher associations would be effective to establish your reputation.
Your introduction is probably the single best opportunity for you to establish your ethos with this audience on this day. For this reason, you should always write your own introduction. Don’t let an event organizer wing it. Highlight the essential facts that establish your trustworthiness, similarity, authority, and reputation. As in the example above, pick the material specific to this audience and topic.
Beware that you don’t overdo it. Long introductions are boring. Long introductions filled with every accomplishment you’ve had since age 21 are boring and pompous.
Example: Suppose you are delivering user training for employees to introduce the new corporate financial system. Key items to highlight in your brief introduction might be:
Note: Much more on effective evaluations can be found in the article: How to Introduce a Speaker: 16 Essential Tips for Success.
If you’ve done well so far, your audience is listening from your first word. Don’t get complacent. Continue building your ethos through your presentation:
Don’t be a hypocrite. Nobody will act on your advice if you don’t.
Example: Suppose you are trying to persuade your audience to support Habitat for Humanity, an international organization that builds homes to eliminate poverty. You can raise your ethos by crafting stories or anecdotes which demonstrate that you are active in the local Habitat organization.
By demonstrating that you follow your own advice, your audience is more likely to believe you on other points which cannot be so easily verified (for example, statistics about Habitat for Humanity).
Using language familiar to your audience is good for two reasons:
By “familiar language”, I mean more than English versus Dutch. As well, I mean more than using words which are understood by the audience.
To really get your audience to identify with you, you must use the terms that they would use to describe the concepts.
Example: A few examples might make this clearer:
For any given message, you have a multitude of options for stories, anecdotes, visuals, or other techniques to convey your speech. From this multitude, try selecting the ones which have the biggest impact with this audience. Not only will you get the big impact, but the audience will also start thinking that you are just like them. That’s good for you!
Example: Suppose you are speaking to company management on the topic of goal-setting. Through audience analysis, you discovered that the company sponsored employees to run the local marathon. Although there are many metaphors and visuals you could use to talk about goal-setting, you choose to draw parallels between corporate goal-setting and the goals one sets when tackling a challenging race. You feature several vivid photographs of marathon races to complement your arguments.
Quotations and statistics are common speech tools which, on the surface, may contribute more to your logos (logical argument) than ethos. Nonetheless, if you choose the right sources, you can boost your ethos too.
Example: When researching a speech about cancer research, you discover two statistics that will help you make your argument.
Which statistic is your audience more likely to believe? If you guessed the Mayo Clinic, you’re right. When you reference a reputable source, you boost your ethos by association.
So, the general guideline is to use quotations and statistics from sources which have high ethos to your audience, whether by trustworthiness, similarity, authority, or reputation.
Earlier, we mentioned that, if possible, you should try to share the event experience with your audience. When you do, you can increase your ethos by incorporating something from that shared experience (or someone in the audience) into your speech. Your audience sees you as “one of them”, and a silent bond forms.
Example: In the presentation preceding yours, the speaker repeated a memorable phrase “It’s never too late.” If you can do it in a meaningful way, try to weave this phrase into your material.
Your talk is done, but your effectiveness as a speaker is not yet written in stone. Here’s a few things you can do to continue to build up your ethos with this audience, or with your next audience.
Whenever possible, stick around after your presentation is over. Mingle with the audience and continue to share in the event experience. Not only will you have the opportunity for productive follow-up conversations, but your audience will see you as accessible, and accessible is good.
In short, your ethos will rise.
One technique for managing a short Q&A session is to defer thorny or complex questions to a later time.
Example: If someone asks a question as part of a 10-minute Q&A session that would take you 20 minutes to answer, it’s okay to defer the question saying: “I’d like to give the complete answer, but we don’t have time today. I’ll send it out to the group on email.”
It’s okay to do that, but only if you do follow up! If you fail to do so, your audience will judge you as being untrustworthy. Even if your presentation was great, your influence on their future actions is diminished.
In the above examples, you may have noticed that trustworthiness and similarity were mentioned much more often than authority or reputation. This is not an accident.
Mar 8th, 2010
American psychologist William James wrote:
Emotions — whether fear or love, pity or anger — are powerful motivators for your audience. An audience emotionally stimulated in the right way is more likely to accept your claims and act on your requests. By learning how to make emotional appeals, you greatly improve your effectiveness as a speaker.
In this article of the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos series, we turn our attention to pathos, and the role of emotion in persuasive public speaking.
The word pathos is derived from the ancient Greek word for “suffering” or “experience”.
Think about other words from the same root:
As a speaker, your goal is to create a shared emotional experience with your audience. Pathos describes your ability to evoke audience emotions and strategically connect these emotions with elements of your speech.
This leads to the obvious question — what emotions can you evoke?
The simple answer is “all of them,” but that isn’t too helpful.
There are a numerous theories of emotion. Philosophers and psychologists have attempted to itemize and categorize emotions into convenient buckets for thousands of years.
According to translator George Kennedy, Aristotle provides “the earliest systematic discussion of human psychology” in On Rhetoric. Aristotle identified the following seven sets of emotions, with each pair representing opposites:
By comparison, twentieth century psychologist Robert Plutchik proposed a set of eight basic emotions along with eight advanced emotions. He, too, arranges them in opposite pairs:
Many others have offered different categories of emotions.
It isn’t important to find the correct classification of emotions; indeed, there may not be a correct classification. Instead, the goals of a persuasive speaker are to:
If evoking a particular emotion was the final result, it would quite a useless endeavor. Randomly making the audience feel anger or joy or fear or hope will not, in itself, get you anywhere. Emotions do not persuade in solitude.
Aristotle knew that the emotion must be linked with your speech arguments. For example, Aristotle defines anger and describes what causes someone to become angry. He then encourages speakers to associate that anger with one’s opponent:
In other words, make your audience angry, and direct that anger at your opponent. If your audience is angry at your opponent, they will be more receptive to hear your ideas.
Just as having high ethos makes your audience more likely to be persuaded, pathos can also make your audience more susceptible to being persuaded. By making an emotional connection with your audience:
Are all emotions equal? In other words, will any emotion do? Will my audience adopt my views equally if I make them feel surprise as when I make them feel anger?
No. The evoked emotion must be appropriate to the context. In general, you want the audience to feel the same emotions that you feel about your arguments and the opposing arguments.
One convenient way to see this is by looking at the difference between evoking “positive” emotions versus “negative” emotions.
How do you develop it?
In this article we defined what pathos is and why it is important, but there are still several major questions:
Mar 15th, 2010
In this article, we explore how to build strong pathos in your presentations through a variety of emotional pathways.
All roads are not created equally. Freeways move lots of traffic fast; country lanes often guide just a single, meandering car.
Similarly, all pathways to emotional connection with your audience are not created equally. Some paths are more effective and more commonly used to connect emotionally. Let’s review these superhighways from which you can create the pathos of your presentation.
You always have choices to make about which points to include in the time allotted. Be sure that some of them carry emotional power.
#2: Choose Words which Add Emotional Emphasis
Example: Suppose you have identified fifteen reasons why your audience should consider public speaking training. Unfortunately, your short speech only allows you to discuss three or four of them. Which do you choose? “Conquer your public speaking fear” probably evokes stronger emotions than “Learn to speak with more precision.”
Some words are emotionally neutral, while some are emotionally charged. Exercise judgment to select the words which fit the emotional tone that works to your advantage.
Example: Consider the difference in words used to label a suicide bomber on opposing sides of a political war. What emotion does the label “terrorist” evoke? What emotion does the label “martyr” evoke? Which one would best complement your speech?
Analogies, metaphors, and other figures of speech not only make your speech more interesting, but often allow you to make an emotional connection by tapping into emotions already felt by your audience.
Example: If you speak about gang violence, you might plainly state that “We have a problem in our city…” On the other hand, you might say “We have a cancer in our city…” The latter analogy draws on your audience’s pre-existing feelings about cancer, and makes them want to eradicate the cause!
Stories are often the quickest path to the greatest emotional connection with your audience. Carefully crafted stories allow you to evoke any of a wide range of emotions. This may explain why stories are often the most memorable components of a speech.
Humor is closely related to storytelling, because you usually arrive at humor through stories. Nonetheless, humor merits special mention. Humor in a presentation evokes emotions such as joy and surprise, and often triggers secondary emotions such as calmness and friendship. If your audience is laughing, they are having fun. If they are having fun, they are happy to be listening to you and they are attentive. As an added boost, humor makes your audience like you (at least for a moment), and that boosts your ethos too.
Nearly every presentation would benefit from more humor. How can you add humor to yours?
Maybe you have slides with photographs. Maybe you have a prop. Either way, a concrete visual element opens many more emotional pathways than abstract words alone.
Examples: Consider the following pairs, and ask yourself which creates the stronger emotional impact:
The emotional effectiveness of stories, humor, visuals, and other “content” tools often depends greatly on your delivery. Great delivery magnifies emotions; poor delivery nullifies them.
Example: Words from your mouth or slides on a screen may induce sadness in your audience, but the effect is multiplied when combined with sadness on your face, in your posture, and in your voice.
Now that you are familiar with the core pathos tools, we can sample some of the additional tools at the disposal of a skilled speaker. Many of these build on top of the core building blocks above.
Without doing any audience analysis at all, you always know two things:
As a result, you can always achieve moderate success applying the first seven tools.
But to hit a pathos home run, you’ve got to analyze your audience. Are they old or young? Technical or non-technical? Male or female? Rich or poor? Liberal or conservative? These and many other factors will impact which emotional triggers will have the strongest impact. Do the analysis!
When your audience feels an emotion, they are motivated to act. If the emotion is pity, they are motivated to address the situation (e.g. perhaps by donating money to your charity).
In a similar way, if you make your audience curious through your marketing materials, they are motivated to act. How does one act on curiosity?
So, make your audience curious. Include a bold claim or a startling statistic. (Of course, you need to follow up in your presentation.) Focus on the benefits to be realized by your audience, and their curiosity will attract them to your speech.
A great way to connect immediately with your audience is to start with a surprise. I admit there’s no logical reason to suggest that a speaker who starts with a surprise will deliver a more valuable presentation. But, we’re not talking logic here (that’s the next article on logos). A surprise gets your audience excited. Getting them excited makes them listen.
Surprise can be effective elsewhere, particularly as the length of your speech grows. Like curiosity, your audience is motivated to act on the surprise. How? They try to resolve how this surprising element fits with the rest of the presentation. To do that, they have to listen.
Note that I’m not talking about deliberately confusing your audience. Surprise is planned, and is usually followed quickly by an explanation. Confusion, on the other hand, results from poor planning, and usually lasts beyond the end of your presentation, at least until the Q&A.
Tool #2 above advised the use of emotional words. One way to do this is to concentrate on concrete, vivid, sensory words. When you use sensory words, your audience feels emotions they have associated with those words.
Example: When you mention “the touch of your father’s flannel shirt” or “the aroma of your grandmother’s kitchen”, you’ve done more than just mention fabric and smells. You have evoked emotions which, depending on your audience, probably include loving memories of childhood.
Remember that the goal of pathos is to connect with the audience and shareemotions with them.
To share an emotion, you’ve got to feel it too.
Pathos is not about tugging emotional strings as if you were a puppeteer. You get zero marks for that. Actually, you get negative marks for that, because your ethos gets destroyed when the audience realizes you are toying with them.
Be honest. Share your presentation in a way that your audience will feel as passionately as you feel.
Vocal delivery is one clear clue to how you feel about what you are saying. Your tone, volume, pace, and other vocal qualities should mirror your emotions.
Your body is another clue for the audience to gauge your emotions. If you are telling a story about love or joy, your body shouldn’t look like a mannequin. If you are revealing your own disappointment in a story, your shoulders should probably droop, and you shouldn’t be smiling.
Some speakers find it difficult to do this because they are speaking about past events where the emotions have dulled with the memories over time. The emotions were felt then, but aren’t as easy to summon now. You’ve got to show the audience how it felt in the moment. Remember that they are hearing this story for the first time.
Eye contact isn’t a scorecard. Your aim isn’t to collect check-marks from each person who you look at over the course of your presentation.
Meaningful eye contact is about connecting with one person at a time. Your eyes should express your frustration, your contempt, or your joy. In the ideal case, the person you’re looking at will mirror your emotion back to you. That’s connection!
In most speaking situations, your goal should be to reduce barriers between you and your audience. Get out from behind the lectern. Move closer to the audience. Ask them to sit in the seats near the front.
The closer you are to your audience, the more personal your presentation feels for them. The more personal it feels, the greater your chance for emotional connection. For much more on this topic, read Nick Morgan’s excellent article: How to Connect With Your Audience by Moving Closer.
There usually are a myriad of competing elements in and around the room which are evoking emotions in your audience. For instance, a marching band practicing outside might be annoying your audience. If this annoyance is strong, it may prevent you from evoking competing emotions with your presentation.
The solution is to take charge and eliminate or minimize these causes whenever you can so that your audience can focus on you.
Situations where you aren’t familiar with your audience are potentially dangerous. Perhaps you’ve been invited to speak at a company which has just experienced massive layoffs. Perhaps you’ve been invited to speak to an audience of a different culture. In either case, you’ve got to be careful not to say something (or gesture something) which accidentally triggers an emotion that you had not intended.
If you’re lucky, you’ll just say something that provokes unexpected laughter. If you’re not, you’ll say something that deeply offends your audience to the degree that they tune you out completely.
What do you think?
Your best defense against this is extensive audience analysis. Do your homework. Sometimes, it may still happen despite your best efforts. In this case, it’s important that you are actively reading your audience. If you have evoked an unintended emotion, you can usually tell. It’s wise to address it and, if necessary, apologize for the unintended offense.
The methods listed above are far from exhaustive. There are many other ways to connect emotionally with your audience as a speaker.
Aug 15th, 2010
Have you ever listened to a speaker and thought:
In all of these cases, the speaker probably suffered from poor logos. As a result, it’s doubtful that you adopted their central message or followed the call-to-action.
In this article of the Ethos, Pathos, and Logos series, we examine logos and the importance of conveying your message in a way that is both understandable and convincing to your audience.
Logos is the Greek root word from which the English logic is derived.
So, it isn’t surprising that, in speaking, logos is often equated with “logical reasoning” or “an argument based on reasoning”.
You might be thinking that logic is dry and boring. You might also be thinking that you want to be a dynamic and fun speaker, and so logical reasoning isn’t really that important to you.
While you may not get turned on by logical analysis, it is critical to your success. Before we can see why logos matters to you as a speaker, however, we need to define a few terms.
Logical reasoning has two flavors:
Deductive reasoning consists of one or more deductive arguments. You generally start with one or more premises, and then derive a conclusion from them. Premises can be facts, claims, evidence, or a previously proven conclusion. The key is that in a deductive argument, if your premises are true, then your conclusion must be true.
For example, consider the following deductive argument:
So, if audiences hate boring things (yes!) and if bullet-point slides are boring (yes!), then audiences must hate bullet-point slides.
Inductive reasoning is similar in that it consists of premises which lead to aconclusion. The difference is that the conclusion is not guaranteed to be true — we can only state it with some degree of confidence.
For example, consider the following inductive argument:
Given these premises, it is reasonable to expect that this article will be insightful, but it cannot be stated with certainty based on those premises. It must be inferred.
Okay, so why is this important? It’s important because your audience is applying deductive and inductive reasoning all the time. It happens subconsciously, but they are doing it before you start speaking, while you speak, and after you’ve finished.
Let’s consider an example.
Example Scenario: You are trying to convince your audience to try a new weight-loss diet.
What could your audience be thinking?
Because their own conclusion is based on strong, emotional experiences (i.e. a failed diet is emotional), it has high pathos and probably trumps your conclusion. Since your audience has to resolve these conflicting conclusions, they will look to your arguments for flaws. Although your deductive conclusion is sound, they will doubt your premises:
How can you be persuasive in this challenging scenario? Your success depends on your ability to simultaneously make your argument stronger and competing arguments weaker.
It may seem impossible to build a strong argument when you’ve got to compete against a lifetime of beliefs and premises that your audience has previously formed. You may wonder how you can persuade anyone of anything.
The answer: commonplaces.
Commonplaces are simply beliefs which are widely held. Commonplaces often represent “shared wisdom”, and come from many sources. For example:
There are two keys to using commonplaces in your speeches:
A wonderful example of this second principle is provided by Jay Heinrichs in Thank you for Arguing, page 101:
When you use your audience’s commonplaces as your premises, your arguments appear much, much stronger. You don’t have to convince them to adopt a completely new viewpoint; rather, you are simply encouraging them to take what they already believe (the commonplace) and apply it to a new scenario.
Unfortunately, there’s more to it than that. Using audience commonplaces is just one particularly strong technique.
In general, you can develop strong logos by following three general principles:
Preconceptions are not easily pushed aside. If your presentation is hard to follow, or if your arguments are fairly weak, your audience will find it easy to dismiss your ideas.
Sound, logical arguments, on the other hand, are hard for your audience to ignore. When combined with good ethos and pathos, strong logos will cause all but the most stubborn audience members to give strong consideration to your ideas.
By demonstrating logos with strong, logical arguments, your audience will tend to see you as knowledgeable and prepared. This, in turn, raises your ethos (because, after all, only someone with pure intentions would work so hard to prepare such a convincing argument).
Similarly, speakers with high ethos tend to receive less opposition when they present logical arguments. Their facts and claims are more easily believed.
Work on both traits, and you will be much more persuasive.
Aug 22nd, 2010
Okay, that’s all very good in theory, but do we need to be logical masters to build high logos?
No, not at all.
In this article, we examine simple techniques you can use in your presentations to be more persuasive by improving your logos.
In the last article, we identified, three general principles that you can adopt to improve your logos:
We’ll now look at 17 specific techniques derived from these three general strategies.
You may wish to compare to techniques in previous articles:
If your audience doesn’t understand you, they can’t be persuaded by you. To be an effective communicator, you’ve first got to be a clear communicator. To be a clear communicator, you must use words, phrases, examples, and visuals that are understandable, and you’ve got to deliver them at a pace that the audience can absorb.
How can you do this? Let us count some ways…
Use words that your audience uses. Avoid technical jargon that your audience (or a portion of your audience) isn’t familiar with.
Favor short words and phrases over long and convoluted counterparts. Don’t imitate the language you might find in a legal transcript or an academic paper. Technical language is necessary for those contexts, but it isn’t helpful in a conversation or presentation.
Note that “plain” language doesn’t mean “boring” language. Use vivid and descriptive language where appropriate.
Your audience should not need a decoder ring to figure out your message. It should be obvious. Spell it out if necessary. Make sure you are not misinterpreted.
It is particularly important to make the connection between premises and conclusions explicit. Because is a magic word for this purpose: “Because premise Aand premise B, we can see that conclusion must be true.”
If your arguments involve more than a couple premises, be sure your audience sees the relationship between them. “And these five advantages — capital costs, scheduling, inventory control, marketing, and employee satisfaction — together make this a winning proposal.”
To help your audience understand a sequence or process, march through the steps or phases in a meaningful order, usually sequential. If you jump around the steps out of order, your audience will be confused.
As the number of steps increases, so does the need to use a diagram for clarity.
Carefully crafted and focused diagrams almost always enhance the understandability of your arguments. It doesn’t matter if you draw in PowerPoint, on a white board, or on the back of a napkin — it only matters that you clarify concepts for your audience.
But, be careful not to introduce an unnecessarily complex diagram. In the worst case, a busy diagram or one with lots of irrelevant details will frustrate your audience and diminish your understandability.
Like diagrams, a carefully crafted chart or graph will speak volumes and clarify a previously fuzzy relationship.
Remember the warning about unnecessary complexity applies to charts too.
Suppose the diagram (or chart) which best explains the concepts is a complex one. What then?
In nearly all cases, it should be possible to use progressive disclosure. This means that you build up the entire diagram (or chart) progressively as a series of chunks, revealing only a part of the overall diagram at a time. If you are drawing the diagram as you speak, you are inherently using progressive disclosure. (You draw a few lines, explain what you’ve drawn, draw a few more, explain again, and repeat.) This is easy to do with PowerPoint too.
Whenever you introduce new concepts, search for an appropriate analogy which helps the audience understand the new concept in terms of how they already understand the old one.
Okay, your audience understands what you are saying, but does what you are saying make sense?
Does it pass the logical tests which your audience will be applying subconsciously?
Commonplaces often provide the most stable foundation for your argument. It’s a good ideas to start with these — because your audience already believes them — and build the remainder of your argument outward.
In a similar manner, framing the issue from your audience’s perspective is a great way to be more persuasive.
Questions engage your audience and make them active participants in the conversation. Rather than passively waiting for you to provide answers, they’ll be contributing to the answers as you go. As a result, they will collectively feel ownership when you move toward conclusions. In the best case, they will feel that they came to the conclusions themselves — a sure way to guarantee your persuasiveness.
On the surface, it seems foolish to bring up the opposing arguments. What if your audience didn’t think of that? Now you’ve just planted a seed of doubt!
On the contrary, bringing up opposing arguments makes you seem unbiased and boosts your ethos. (“You must be trustworthy; you are pointing out your opposition!“) Further, and more importantly, it allows you to directly refute the opposing arguments with logical arguments of your own.
Unless you are using only perfect, irrefutable facts as premises, and making a purely deductive argument (where the conclusions follow immediately from premises), there are going to be holes in your inductive argument. (This doesn’t mean you’ve done a poor job. Inductive arguments have uncertainties by definition.)
Since your presentation has a finite length, you must make choices how to best spend your time. You will be most effective if you devote the majority of your presentation to discuss the issues of primary interest to your audience.
Concrete and specific details improve the strength of your arguments, and thus make your overall message more persuasive.
Explaining the theory behind why your new solution will raise profits is a good start; sharing a story about a company which raised profits 17% by adopting your solution is much stronger.
Talking about something in abstract terms is good, but using real objects or photographs carries more logos. Visual evidence is very hard to refute.
In lieu of photographs, you can make your claims more real by supplying vivid details.
Assigning numbers adds to the impact.
Compare the following statements:
Which one of these statements is more likely to persuade your audience to contribute money to cancer research?
A statistic may be accurate, but without citing a source, your audience may dismiss it. By citing a source, you tip the scale towards believability.
(The credibility of your source is also important, but that is more closely related to ethos.)
You can construct convincing arguments about theories and ideas, but your audience will be left to wonder whether the theory holds in reality. Real examples and case studies show that the theory works in the real world.
What do you think?
A personal story combines the power of a real example with that of a cited source. Assuming you are a credible source, personal stories and anecdotes carry more logos than stories or anecdotes “which happened to a friend of mine.”
The techniques listed here are far from complete. There are other ways to improve your logical arguments and your persuasive effectiveness.
What other techniques do you use?
When you are in the audience, what qualities of the presentation make you more likely to judge it to be a sound argument?
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