Ethos, Pathos, Logos: 3 Pillars of Public Speaking and Persuasion


April 11, 2018 - Gini Beqiri

Persuasive speaking is a skill that you can apply regularly throughout your life, whether you are selling a product or being interviewed. 2,300 years ago, Aristotle determined the components needed for persuasive speaking. They are referred to as the three pillars of persuasion - ethos, pathos and logos. In this article, we discuss how to use the three pillars for public speaking.

What are ethos, pathos and logos?

Ethos, pathos and logos are modes of persuasion used to convince and appeal to an audience. You need these qualities for your audience to accept your messages.

  • Ethos: your credibility and character
  • Pathos: emotional bond with your listeners
  • Logos: logical and rational argument

Ethos - The Ethical Appeal

Ethos is Greek for "character" and "ethic" is derived from ethos.

Ethos consists of convincing your audience that you have good character and you are credible therefore your words can be trusted. Ethos must be established from the start of your talk or the audience will not accept what you say.

In fact, ethos is often established before your presentation, for example, you may be the CEO of the company you're presenting to so you're already perceived as a specialist.

Why is ethos important?

High Ethos Low Ethos
Audience will concentrate and listen Audience will not concentrate or listen
Audience assumes you will share something useful and they respect you Low expectations and if you start poorly the audience will not listen
Audience are more likely to be persuaded Audience are less likely to be persuaded
You can give a bad speech but you are still able to persuade the audience Your speech needs to be very good to persuade the audience

Characteristics of ethos

There are four main characteristics of ethos:

  1. Trustworthiness and respect
  2. Similarity to the audience
  3. Authority
  4. Expertise and reputation/history

1. Trustworthiness and respect

The audience are more likely to be respect you and think that what you're saying is true if they perceive you as trustworthy. This judgement is formed using factors such as:

  • Ethics and values
  • Honesty
  • Principles
  • Compassion
  • Generosity and sharing
  • If you're part of a group that stands for the above values, such as an NSPCC worker

2. Similarity to the audience

Listeners are more likely to be convinced by someone they can relate to. For example, you may share:

  • Age and gender
  • Values
  • Race and culture
  • Hobbies
  • Career
  • Personality etc

If you do not share traits with your audience you can choose to adjust your:

But don't do too much as your listeners will seen you as not being genuine.

Tony Robbins Ethos - Authority

Tony Robbins, a well known authority in the life coaching space, giving a TED Talk on ‘Why we do what we do’.

3. Authority

If the audience perceive that you are an expert they are more likely to be persuaded by what you say. Remember that every presenter has authority because they are the speaker.

For example:

  • Political authority e.g. a prime minister
  • Educational authority e.g. teacher

4. Expertise and reputation

Expertise is your knowledge of the subject.

Reputation is what your audience knows about your knowledge of the subject.

Reputation depends on:

  • Achievements or acknowledgments from others in the area, such as, awards and testimonials.
  • Your experience and the amount of years you have worked in this area.
  • How involved you were with this topic - are you a key character?
  • Your expertise should be verified, for example, you may be talking about different therapy treatments and your expertise is shown by you being a successful Clinical Psychologist.
  • Your contribution to the area, perhaps through blogs, books, papers and products.
  • Your authority

Merging the four characteristics of ethos

Not all of characteristics have to be present to develop high ethos, for example, a university lecturer speaking to her students is most likely perceived as trustworthy as the lecturer is known to provide correct information, she has authority over the 18-21 year olds due to her job title and her age.

But she's not similar to her students because of this. She has been working in this area for 30 years and at the university for 5 years (expertise) and has contributed largely to the area through a number of studies and subsequent papers (reputation). This is enough ethos for the audience to be persuaded by what she says.

Another person, such as a manager addressing her employees may have a different combination of these traits but still have enough ethos. It's hard to achieve complete ethos, especially considering that having authority often reduces similarity.

Improve ethos

Authority and reputation are usually predetermined before your presentation so it's difficult to change the audience's mind about this. But it's easier to change people's perception about how trustworthy and how alike you are during the presentation.

Improve ethos day to day:

  • Become an expert in the topics you present on because people are more likely to want to listen to someone who has researched a topic for 10 years rather than 2 years.
  • Ensure that people know about your expertise by promoting yourself, for example, ensure that people can easily access testimonials, reviews, papers etc.
  • Treat the trustworthy characteristics as your values, so practice being honest, ethical, compassionate etc.

Improve ethos before a speech:

  • Research your audience, especially concentrating on the traits you share, so you know how to appeal to them.
  • Show up early to the presentation venue to show the audience that you want to be there.
  • If, for example, you are speaking at a wider event, such as a conference, try to attend as much of it as possible. This means that you and the audience are sharing an experience so they are more likely to perceive you as similar to them.
  • If the venue requires information to advertise your presentation, emphasise your ethos in this material so people will know why they should come and see your talk.
Tell stories during a presentation to increase ethos

Telling personal stories during a presentation is a great way to increase ethos.

Increase ethos during a speech:

  • In your introduction draw attention to your ethos because this is the best way to demonstrate your credentials to that particular audience on that particular day. Highlight vital facts that demonstrate the main four traits of ethos but which are relevant to the topic and the audience. Don't make the introduction long and irrelevant.
  • Tell personal stories that show the audience that you follow your own recommendations because they are more likely to believe you on other points that cannot easily be confirmed.
  • Facts, stats and quotes should be up-to-date and from reputable sources, for example, between choosing from social media or Mind's website to quote a statistic about anxiety, you would choose Mind's website as this has high ethos which in turn increases your ethos.
  • Reference people in the audience or previous speakers or events earlier that day. This forms connections with the audience.
  • Be unbiased by admitting that you and your opposition's side agree on at least one matter. This highlights that you are credible because you are treating the topic with consideration and fairness.

Improve ethos after the presentation

  • Always stay for as long as you can after your speech in case audience members want to speak with you. This will also help with future presentations as it's likely that this will become part of your reputation.
  • Stick to your promises, for example, during the questions and answers session you may have agreed to find out an answer to a question and tell everyone - ensure that you do this to be seen as honest.

Pathos - The Emotional Appeal

Pathos is Greek for suffering and experience. Empathy, sympathy and pathetic are derived from pathos.

Pathos is to persuade by appealing to the audience's emotions. As the speaker, you want the audience to feel the same emotions you feel about something, you want to emotionally connect with them and influence them. If you have low pathos the audience is likely to try to find flaws in your arguments.

Why is pathos important?

Emotions are motivators so the audience is more likely to be persuaded and act on your requests by using pathos. Pathos is more likely to increase the chances of your audience:

  • Understanding your point of view.
  • Accepting your arguments.
  • Acting on your requests.

Improving pathos

  • Choose emotional points and topics, for example "Beat your social anxiety" would trigger more powerful emotions than "Learn how to speak in a group."
  • Use analogies and metaphors - linking your ideas with something your listeners already know about and feel strongly about can trigger emotional responses. For example, "They are awful" compared to "They are poisonous." This will use the audience's knowledge that poison is bad and therefore this issue needs to be dealt with.
  • Use emotionally charged words, for example, say "This kitchen roll is a life-saver" rather than "This kitchen roll is great". Another way to make a statement more emotional is to use vivid and sensory words which allow the audience to experience the emotion. For instance, "The smell of your grandparents' house" will increase the recollection of hopefully warm memories, and therefore will trigger certain emotions.
  • Ensure that the emotion you want to induce is suitable for the context:
    • Positive emotions, such as joy, should be linked with your claims.
    • Negative emotions, such as anger, should be linked to your rival's claims.
  • Using humour increases the likelihood that the audience are enjoying themselves and so they are more likely to like you and listen to you.
  • Visual aids can sometimes be more powerful than words, for example, showing an image of a scared small child will have more impact than saying that children are often victims of domestic violence.
  • Research your audience and find out what their shared values are. Target these values and beliefs because they are strongly associated to emotions.
  • Storytelling is a quick way to form an emotional connection. It's often used to link a part of a key message with an emotional response - you'll be familiar with seeing this in adverts asking for charity donations.
  • Match what you're saying with your body language, face and eyes. People often mirror emotions so by matching your body language with your words you increase the chances of triggering the desired emotions.
  • Also match your voice to your words, for example, if you want to show sadness speak in a soft voice, if you want to show excitement then increase your pace etc.
  • Stand as close as you can to the audience so the speech feels more personal - don't hide behind the computer screen.
  • Use words that carry suitable connotations, for example, if you asked a group of men whether they would like to be called "tall", "lanky" or "big". Even though the words have essentially the same meaning, the men are more likely to choose the word that has the most positive connotation, in this case the word "tall".
  • If you have accidentally caused a negative emotion find out why and apologise. For example, perhaps there have been severe interpersonal conflicts that you were unaware of and a joke you made upset audience members.

Logos - The Logical Appeal

The word “logic” is derived from logos.

Logos is to appeal to logic by relying on the audience's intelligence and offering evidence in support of your argument. Logos also develops ethos because the information makes you look knowledgeable. Ask the following questions to decide if you have achieved logos:

  • Are my messages coherent?
  • Does the evidence support my claims?
  • Will the audience's actions lead to my desired outcome?

Why is logos important?

Essentially, logical arguments that make sense are not easily dismissed.

Improving logos

  1. Be comprehensive: Make sure your points and arguments can be understood
  2. Be logical: Ensure that your arguments make sense and that your claims and evidence are not implausible. Have a plan for dealing with opposing viewpoints that your listeners may already believe.
  3. Be specific: Base your claims on facts and examples as your arguments will be accepted quicker than something nonspecific and non-concrete. The more easily the evidence is accepted, the more easily the conclusions will be accepted.

Be comprehensive

  • Use language that your audience will understand. Avoid jargon and technical terminology.
  • Use simple figures and charts to make the presentations more understandable.
  • Make the relationship between your evidence and conclusions clear.
  • Analogies and metaphors are helpful especially when explaining new ideas and theories.
Engage the audience during your speech to increase logos

Engage the audience by asking them questions during your speech to increase logos.

Be logical

  • Ensure that the audience is involved by asking them engaging questions. This will make them active listeners so they may even come to your conclusion themselves.
  • Talk about opposing views as this allows you to explain why your logical arguments are more reasonable.
  • The audience will be using two types of reasoning:
    1. Deductive reasoning is looking at the evidence and coming to a conclusion. For example. "I don't like loud places. That restaurant is really loud. So I won't like that restaurant."
    2. Inductive reasoning is when you add rational pieces, perhaps beliefs, to the evidence and come to a conclusion. The evidence is used to infer a conclusion but the conclusion is not guaranteed. For example: "All the vegan restaurants I have eaten in have been good. This is a vegan restaurant. So it must be good."

The audience are using both types of reasoning as you speak, so their beliefs may interfere with them accepting your conclusions. Overcome these by building your argument on the audience's widely held beliefs - commonplaces. For example, a company's main value and therefore commonplace may be "Compassion makes us the best company".

Use the audience's commonplace like a fact and apply it to a new situation. So if you want to encourage your staff to join a committee, use their commonplace, for example, rather than your belief say: "This committee needs considerate and kind-hearted people."

Be specific

  • Facts and stats cannot be debated and they signify the truth.
  • Visual evidence, such as, objects and videos are hard to challenge.
  • Citing specialists and authorities on a topic increases the quality of your evidence and therefore your claims.
  • Tell stories, such as, case studies or personal experiences. The audience would like to hear your own stories if you're a specialist, for example, "When I was excavating in Nottingham..."

There is uncertainty over which pillar is the most important - Aristotle thought that logos was vital but when used by itself it lacks impact. So ensure that you treat all three pillars with equal importance to succeed in persuading your audience.