I love it when the Harvard Business Review agrees with me. A recent HBR blog post by Scott Edinger focuses on, “Three Elements of Great Communication, According to Aristotle“. The three are: ethos, logos, and pathos.
Ethos answers the questions: Are you credible? Why should I trust your recommendations? Logos is the logic of your argument. Is it factual? Do you have the evidence to back it up? (Interestingly, the more ethos you have,the less evidence you need to back up your logos. People will trust that you’re credible). Pathos is your ability to connect emotionally with your audience. If you have high credibility and impeccable logic, your audience might conclude that you could take advantage of them. Pathos reassures them that you won’t — your audience knows that you’re a good citizen.
When I teach people the arts of public speaking, I generally recommend that they start by establishing their credibility (ethos). The trick is to do this without overdoing it. If you come across as a braggart, you reduce your credibility rather than burnishing it. A good tip to remember is to use the word, “we” rather than “I”. “We” implies teamwork; “I” implies an egocentric psychopath.
After establishing your credibility, you proceed to the logic (logos) of your argument. What is it that you’re recommending and why do you think it’s a good solution for the audience’s needs? It’s often a good idea to start by defining the audience’s needs. Then you can fit the recommendation to the need. Keep it simple and use stories. Nobody remembers abstract logic and difficult technical concepts. They do remember stories.
Think about pathos both before the speech and in the conclusion. Ideally, you can meet the audience before your speech, ask insightful questions, and make personal connections. The more you can talk to members of the audience before the speech, the better off you’ll be. Look for anecdotes that you can use in your speech — that also builds your credibility. If nothing else, spend the last few minutes before your speech shaking hands with audience members and thanking them for coming to your speech. At the end of your speech, you can return to similar themes and express your appreciation. It’s also appropriate (usually) to point out how your recommendation will affect members of the audience personally. For instance, “We believe that our solution will help your company be more efficient. It will also help you build your career.”
Those of you who have followed my website for a while may remember my videos on ethos, logos, and pathos. I made them when I worked at Lawson Software and was teaching communication skills internally. Again, I’d like to thank Lawson for allowing me to use these videos on this website as I build my own practice.
By the way, all these suggestions apply to deliberative speeches. You present a logical argument and ask your audience to deliberate on it. On the other hand, you can also give a demonstrative speech where you throw the logic out altogether. They’re often called barn burners or stem winders. You can learn more here.
People love to laugh. If you’re trying to persuade an audience to your way of thinking, it’s good to get them to laugh. They’ll trust you more and, more importantly, they’ll think, “Oh good, she’s funny. Maybe she’ll tell some more jokes.” If they’re anticipating more jokes, the audience will pay more attention. You can get your point across more easily because the audience is primed and attentive. (By the way, this doesn’t work if you tell lame jokes. You have to tell funny jokes).
So why is this bad for politics? Because in political speeches, you’re aiming to motivate people and humor doesn’t motivate. People who are laughing just want to go on laughing. They don’t want to canvas neighborhoods, call friends, give money, storm the barricades, or even get off the sofa to vote.
The emotion that motivates is anger. That’s why political speeches and advertisements are so angry. The politicians want you to do something. Making you angry (and scared) is the simplest way to accomplish their objective. Making you laugh is counter-productive.
In rhetorical terms, the simplest way to make an audience angry is a technique known as “attributed belittlement”. You tell the audience that your opponent (or competitor) belittles them. “They don’t respect you. They think they’re superior to you. They think they have the right to tell you what to do, because you’re dumb. They’re elite and you’re not.” Sound familiar? No one likes to be belittled, so this is a very effective technique. (I’ve used it myself in commercial competition and it works).
So what can you expect in the 90 days leading up to the presidential election in the United States? A flood of angry messages and, more specifically, a tidal wave of attributed belittlement. If you’re like me, you’ll just want to tune out the whole mess.
This is a different kind of communication than I normally teach. I usually focus on “deliberative” presentations — you present a logical argument and the audience deliberates on it. A political presentation is usually a “demonstrative” presentation — you’re demonstrating solidarity and group loyalty, partially by demonizing the opposition. There’s no need for logic. You can learn more about deliberative and demonstrative presentations here.