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How to persuade your audience

You know how you get adverts targeted at you on social media?

You can barely scroll 10 seconds on Instagram or YouTube without seeing them.

The one I constantly get is for a certain brand of male skincare.

A silky, black scrub that promises smoother, younger-looking skin.

The advertisers are using a technique from ancient Greece to convince me to buy their product.

It’s called pathos. 

It’s one of three different devices we can use to persuade an audience.

Whether that’s presenting in front of a large group.

Or pitching a brand new idea to the board.

Read on.

What we can learn from Aristotle

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Intrigued by the shiny skincare advert, I did some digging into these techniques.

I discovered that they stem from over 2,300 years ago.

In the 4th century BCE, Greek philosopher Aristotle set out his Treatise on Rhetoric, which delved into the art of persuasion.

Aristotle determined that there were three main branches of rhetoric.

And following that, three ways to appeal to the audience.

Let’s start with the branches.

1) Judicial rhetoric

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The first type of speech is what prosecutors use in a courtroom.

Judicial rhetoric establishes facts and judgments about the past.

It’s also the style of people making personal justifications. 

Prince Andrew’s defence of being at Pizza Express would fall into this category.

2) Demonstrative rhetoric

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The second type, also known as epideictic rhetoric, is making a statement about the current situation.

Wedding and ceremonial speeches are examples of this.

Stephen Jackson’s memories of his friend George Floyd is another.

As is Greta Thunberg’s speech at the World Economic Forum in 2019.

But to accomplish change, we need to use the third branch.

3) Deliberative rhetoric

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Deliberative speech looks to the future, rather than dwelling on the past or present.

It’s the style of politicians worldwide, promising our lives will improve if we elect them.

But it can also be used to warn of doomsday scenarios.

Singer-songwriter KT Tunstall spoke last month about the UK’s live music venues facing ‘extinction’.

And we’ve seen plenty of it with Brexit too.

Activists use deliberative rhetoric positively to demand a better future.

Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech is an example.

And if, as an audience, we agree that we want to achieve that future, we’ve been persuaded.

How to persuade your audience

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So deliberative rhetoric is what we need to use.

But how do we do it well?

According to Aristotle, you’ve got three ways to appeal to your audience.

1) Ethos

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Ethos is about your reputation and credibility.

It’s about establishing your authority, and that we trust you as an audience.

Many of us will be using ethos in our own presentations already.

We talk about our career history and how long we’ve worked in the industry.

It’s with the goal of establishing our credibility with the audience, so they take what we have to say seriously.

Then, it’s onto the next step.

2) Logos

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Logos focuses on facts and figures.

This is when you bring in your statistics and research to persuade your audience. 

You show your examples that back up your argument.

Unfortunately, speakers can use logos to manipulate audiences into believing something is true.

When in reality, it’s false.

We’ve seen this in the past couple of days with President Trump retweeting a video on a false coronavirus treatment.

The speakers in that video, inadvertently or otherwise, were using logos.

3) Pathos

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Pathos is all about emotion.

And it’s often the most effective method.

Like the shiny scrub advert on Instagram, it attempts to show me how much better my skin could be.

Pathos is used to make an emotional connection with the audience.

A VisitScotland ad for a 2020 staycation, complete with stunning images of the Highlands and a title saying the country needs you.

A new model of Jeep which uses a familiar face and his best-known film.

Or more recently, congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s speech on the sexism women face every day.

All of these demonstrate pathos in communication.

They appeal to how we feel.

In our presentations, pathos is telling a vivid story that your audience can follow.

It’s painting a picture in your pitch of your end goal.

Put it into practice

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Aristotle’s treatise on rhetoric is a cornerstone of how to persuade your audience.

To decide which ones to use and when depends on who your audience is, as well as the purpose of your speech.

And then there’s the right time and place to think about too.

The next time you’re staring at a blank page, consider ethos, logos and pathos.

Just like I’m considering buying that skincare product.


Colin Stone is Communication Lead at Pink Elephant Communications in Glasgow.

You can read his full profile here.


Photos in How to persuade your audience by Pexels and Pink Elephant Communications.
How to persuade your audience blog edited by Colin Stone.

How to persuade your audience blog

29th July 2020 Featured in: Blog, Communication skills training blogs By:

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