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.
What are Ethos, Pathos, and Logos?
So, what are ethos, pathos, and logos?
In simplest terms, they correspond to:
- Ethos: credibility (or character) of the speaker
- Pathos: emotional connection to the audience
- Logos: logical argument
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.
Origins of Ethos, Pathos, Logos — On Rhetoric by Aristotle
Three Pillars of Public Speaking
- Ethos, Pathos, Logos - Introduction
- Ethos - Speaker Credibility
- Pathos - Emotional Connection
- Logos - Logical Argument
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.
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:
- Does the audience respect you?
- Does the audience believe you are of good character?
- Does the audience believe you are generally trustworthy?
- Does the audience believe you are an authority on this speech topic?
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.
We will define ethos in greater detail, and we will study examples of how to establish and build ethos.
Pathos is the quality of a persuasive presentation which appeals to the emotions of the audience.
- Do your words evoke feelings of … love? … sympathy? … fear?
- Do your visuals evoke feelings of compassion? … envy?
- Does your characterization of the competition evoke feelings of hate? contempt?
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.
We will study pathos in greater detail, and look at how to build pathos by tapping into different audience emotions.
Logos is synonymous with a logical argument.
- Does your message make sense?
- Is your message based on facts, statistics, and evidence?
- Will your call-to-action lead to the desired outcome that you promise?
We will see why logos is critical to your success, and examine ways to construct a logical, reasoned argument.
Which is most important? Ethos? Pathos? or Logos?
Suppose two speakers give speeches about a new corporate restructuring strategy.
- The first speaker — a grade nine student — gives a flawless speech pitching strategy A which is both logically sound and stirs emotions.
- The second speaker — a Fortune 500 CEO — gives a boring speech pitching strategy B.
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 logos should 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?
Next in this Series…
In the next article of this series, we examine ethos in greater detail.
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Martin Luther King's Usage Of Ethos Pathos Mythos And Logos
Martin Luther King's Usage of Ethos Pathos Mythos and Logos
On August 28, 1963 more than 250,000 civil-rights supporters attended the March on Washington. Addressing the protesters from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous "I Have a Dream" speech. Profoundly, he proclaimed for a free nation of equality where all race would join together in the effort to achieve common ground. King stated his yearning for all colors to unite and be judged by character, not by race. African Americans would not be satisfied until their desire for freedom from persecution, bitterness, and hatred prevailed. Not only were the points in his speech powerful, but also the delivery he gave was so persuading and real that it changed the hearts of many people across America. By using four artificial proofs, mythos, logos, ethos, and pathos, Martin Luther King was able to open the eyes of people who were blinded by the color of skin.
Including cultural legends such as the nations history of justice in his oration, Martin Luther King portrayed a style of mythos. King stated the fact that when our ancestors wrote the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they signed a promissory note that would guarantee the inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to all men. At the beginning of his speech he also gave a symbolic example that they, in search for equality, have come to the nations capital to cash a check. "One that would provide riches of freedom and the security of justice." Martin Luther King established a common bond with so many protesters and citizens when he went on to say, "But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt…that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation." He was trying to prove a point to every American that justice and peace in our nation is not limited to those of a white inheritance. King did not want African Americans to express a feeling of hatred toward all white people. He made an excellent point when mentioning, "…not lead us to distrust of all white people, for many of our white brothers, as evidenced by their presence here today, have come to realize that their destiny is tied up with our destiny…" By presenting this point in his speech Martin Luther King made known to everyone that he is a man of great character and honor.
Another style King presented quite well was ethos, which is his credibility on his speech. Of course he portrayed this effectively because he himself is an African American, and he knows exactly what kind of segregation and discrimination his black brothers are experiencing. King gives an example by saying, "We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities…as long as...
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