3 Questions and 3 Answers
Lovers of Aristotle will be well aware of his 3 kinds of creative persuasion: ethos, logos and pathos; where ethos is a reflection of the speaker’s credibility;
logos – the ‘logic’ of the argument and
pathos – the feelings and responses stimulated in the audience.
The word ‘ethos’ has taken the fairly short journey to the modern word ‘ethical’ and whereas we might not always be judging the moral character of the speaker in front of us, we are certainly considering whether the speaker has the qualities necessary to make them worth listening to in relation to their subject matter.
‘Logos’ has taken an even shorter linguistic journey to our ‘logical’ and reflects the part of the speaker’s argument that asks us to consider whether their evidence and point of view ‘makes sense’ or hangs together.
The longest evolutionary journey is contained the third word, from ‘pathos’ to the modern ‘pathetic’.
Pathetic today has a generally negative meaning, with overtones of weakness, whining and pleading. A pathetic argument is usually characterised by a plea of ‘help me’, ‘pity me’, or ‘be nice to me!’ In each case, the style of argument reflects an attempt to appeal to the listener’s emotions, for them to feel pity, compassion, or offer forgiveness.
The key to this appeal is neither grounded in the logic of the speaker’s argument, nor in the character of the person delivering the presentation, it is based on an appeal directly to the listener’s soft underbelly - their ‘feelings’ and while modern instances of ‘pathetic’ seem to be defined by an appeal exclusively to feelings of compassion or sympathy, an emotional appeal can be much broader than that and just as easily be formulated to appeal to the listener’s sense of self-interest, personal ambition, or fairness, in which case an emotionally based appeal targeted at my desire for self-improvement or increased personal success could also be described as a ‘pathetic’ appeal.
Whenever a speaker plans a presentation or a trainer is planning to engage his students, they would do well to build an introduction that considers and addresses each of these 3 appeals:
ethos, the credibility of the speaker,
logos the scheme of the speech and
pathos, the desired response of the audience.
One traditionally effective way of presenting an argument is to build it around six steps set out by Cicero:
2. Statement of Facts
A deeper analysis of this will be left for another day, but in the context of Ethos, Logos and Pathos, typically step 1, the Introduction to the speech will establish the speaker’s credibility (ethos); steps 2 – 5 will lay out the order and content of the speech, by establishing firstly the parameters of your argument, promoting your point of view and possibly also refuting other possible points of view that counter your own (logos) and step 6, the conclusion is when the speaker may choose to display the big fireworks of his presentation style and come to a passionate conclusion with which he hopes to tap in to the emotion in the room (pathos).
This is a tried and tested and highly effective format for a large-scale persuasive presentation, but in its simplest form, it is also worth considering for a brief and focused introduction to a presentation or the start of a training programme, allowing the presenter to quickly appeal to each of these forms of appeal. This is why a good introduction will always be built around answering these three fundamental questions for the audience:
1. What is today about? (logos): the content or curriculum to be considered
2. What is in it for me? (pathos): how each individual will benefit personally
3. Why am I listening to you (ethos); why the presenter is ideally placed to lead
Below is a brief and abridged example of an introduction to a 2 day training course that flexibly addresses these three questions.
For a presentation or a training programme to succeed the listener or student will only fully engage when they see how all those 3 elements come together from the very beginning of the day.
Therefore, here is a list of things to consider:
Under ‘ethos’ (the trainer) the student needs to be made aware of the presenter’s experience and background.
What credentials does she have?
What achievements can she point to?
What experiences does she have to show she can relate to the students’ situation?
Sometimes a simple reference to the trainer’s CV or job title is enough, but more often than not, it is worth spelling it out clearly so that the audience is in no doubt: where they have come from, what they have achieved and therefore what they have to offer.
Under ‘logos’ (the training) the speaker or trainer should give the student an outline of the structure and lay-out of the training.
Does there seem to be a rational thought process behind the programme?
Are there clearly defined learning outcomes?
Is there a clear sense of direction?
So spend a few moments at the beginning of the day referring either to the agenda, or the aims and overall structure of the programme. This will go some way to reassuring the students that they are about embark on something of value to them.
And under ‘pathos’ (the trainees), the student needs to have a feeling of how this programme is specifically going to benefit them.
Salespeople are taught to highlight the difference between ‘features’ and ‘benefits’
(-a washing machine with a spin cycle of 1800 rpm - that is a feature;
- whereas getting your clothes dry quicker – that is a benefit).
Salespeople therefore often talk about the ‘wiify’ which stands for ‘what’s in it for you’.
1800 rpm? – ‘So what! What’s in it for me?’
Quickly dried clothes? – ‘Ah Yes! I would like that!’
Telling the students what they are going to do without offering them a specific ‘wiify’ is no better than describing a feature:
whereas laying out specifically why they are going to do it – that’s the benefit!
So useful phrases like: ‘By the end of the day you will be able to…’ or …which will save you time’, ‘…get you home early’ or ‘…make you more money…’ will give the student a tangible personal benefit for getting involved.
Once the student understands why they need to listen to you,
that the day follows an appropriate plan and most importantly,
how they will benefit – you will have their full attention!
So don’t be in too much of a hurry to start into the content of the training.
First spend a few moments explaining the training triangle:
the background of the trainer;
the structure of the training;
and the specific benefits for those particular trainees.
By addressing those three questions and by applying those three forms of appeal to your opening words, you will have listeners that are ready to engage.