Public speaking is a learned skill. To speak well requires practice. The ability to speak confidently and persuasively in front of groups is a highly valuable asset. Increased practice leads to better performance in job interviews, proposal presentations, project team meetings and board meetings.
The basic principles of persuasion were developed over hundreds of years in Ancient Greece and Rome by philosophers such as Socrates, Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian. At the very heart of this development was Aristotle’s triad of logos, ethos and pathos. Aristotle’s innovation was to include “ethos”, or credibility, into the accepted approach to persuasion.
In business, as it is often in life, it is a simple fact that our decisions are about future actions, and no human action in the future is predictable. This unpredictability and uncertainty leads to disagreement and means that the questions being asked are of a conditional nature. This unpredictability moves decision-making away from the area of certainty and into the area of probabilities.
In confronting uncertain and unpredictable situations, audiences are normally unsure and less motivated. As a consequence, logical argument alone will not be enough to move them to action.
There is a tendency in the western world to assume that success or failure of any argument can be determined by the strength of the arguments, the neat balance of pros and cons. A group of well educated, rational people, the widespread assumption goes, should be unaffected by a speaker’s persuasive appeals. There is a limited set of scientific areas where “convention” has created a form of general argument and rationality alone is enough – however this is a highly limited set of areas of human engagement.
When uncertainty exists a speaker must always give the audience some sense that he or she is somebody worth listening to. It is not enough to only provide the argument.
For as long as people have written about rhetoric, it has been a subject of both suspicion and admiration. We fear manipulation. Yet we also recognise its power to arouse the passions, convince the will and enlighten the understanding.
The Aristotlean Rhetorical Model defines three proofs that are required to bring an audience to action in an uncertain and unpredictable context:
Logos, Pathos and Ethos
Logos, the first proof, is based on deductive and inductive logic
Pathos, the second of these proofs, concerns the effective employment o f audience psychology. Pathos can be seen as the bringing of an audience to the right state of emotion. It requires connecting emotionally with your audience. It is when our audience has reached this state that they will usually accept our message.
Ethos, the third proof, concerns the character of the speaker and is of utmost importance. You must be “believable” in order to have people in the audience willing to engage with the content (emotional and rational) of your speech.
The balance between “what is said” and “how it is said” is vital.
I will be writing a series of future blog articles looking at the essentials of logos, pathos (Aristotle listed 142 emotions you can elicit in an audience) and ethos. I am interested in comments on ideas or areas of special interest or personal experience. Has something worked for you? What is the hardest part of preparing a persuasive speech?