3 Keys to persuading an audience: ethos, logos and pathos

Recently I was coaching a group of high school students for a public speaking competition.

The art of persuasion dates back to the ancient Greeks. Aristotle identified the three main elements of persuasion as ethos, logos and pathos. We talked about these classical rhetorical devices that are considered the keys to a persuasive speech:

Ethos (Ethical appeal)

The English word “ethics” is derived from this Greek word.

Your audience must find you ethical and believable. As a speaker, it is your job to convince your audience that you are credible and that you are worth listening to.

Speak with authority, but not arrogance. Be confident, but not condescending. Be the best version of your truly authentic yourself.

An audience’s respect must be earned. Do not take it for granted.

But your credibility alone is not enough. You also need these other elements:

Logos (Logical appeal)

The English word “logic” is derived from this Greek word.

A well-crafted speech is well organized. It has a logical flow. The message is consistent. It can be helpful out outline a speech as part of your preparation. Check that every element of the speech relates to the point you are trying to make.

Do not ramble or go off on tangets. Focus on the point you want to make and stick to your topic.

Scientists and academics will often have a speech that is laden with logical arguments, but forget to include this next critical element…

Pathos (Emotional appeal)

The English words “passion”  and “compassion” are derived from this Greek word.

Your speech must appeal to the audience on an emotional level. Engage their imagination. Take them on a journey of hope. Say something they will remember and that will impact them on a deep level.

End your speech on a positive note to ensure that you are using pathos for maximum effect. Just remember to include your ethical appeal and a logical argument to balance off a passionate delivery.

Together, ethos, logos and pathos are considered the perfect trifecta of a persuasive speech.  Do you incorporate all three when you’re trying to convince someone of your point of view?

For those of you who are teachers: When you teach presentation skills to students do you teach them about ethos, pathos and logos?


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Sarah Elaine Eaton is a faculty member in the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary, Canada.

4 Responses to 3 Keys to persuading an audience: ethos, logos and pathos

  1. […] 3 Keys to persuading an audience: ethos, logos and pathos (drsaraheaton.wordpress.com) […]

  2. A good, concise summary. Nice post, although I might have ended with a different question to teachers. When you teach, what are the key triggers to watch for in your students to know you re-balance the three? Too much passion, and I sometimes see emotional argument or dull silence. Too much logic, and I often see boredom. Too much establishing (or defending) credibility, and I almost always see impatience and a smirky disbelief. Teaching is like sailing – constantly reading the shifting wind and keeping the lines snug while heading in the right direction. Joy!

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