The stuff great stories are made of

There are just three basic ingredients that make up all great speeches and presentations in history. These three were first written down more than two thousand years ago by the Greek philosopher Aristotle and form the basis for nearly every public speaking book, article and blog published since. Understanding what they are and how to use them is key to transforming your next presentation into an opportunity to inform, convince and persuade your audience.

1. Logos (Greek for ‘word’) appeals to the audience’s sense of logic. It is the basic ingredient, namely the information you present combined with your logically structured argument. Investors, analysts and scientists love this stuff, but don’t be too heavy on it with a general audience. Not incorporating enough of it, however, will leave your idea sounding empty at best, more often unrealistic and irrelevant. Things you can use to reinforce your logos: facts, data, graphs, figures, stats, examples and best of all, demos. Ever wondered why Steve Jobs went to the risk and trouble of personally live-demoing each single product?

Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration, since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated.”

Video: watch Steve Jobs presenting the first Mac in 1984.

2. Ethos (Greek for ‘character’) appeals to the audience’s sense of honesty and/or authority. It is about being trustworthy and credible. No matter how much information you share and how good your argumentation is, if you score poorly on this one, your audience will leave the room unconvinced. Ethos makes the difference between informing and convincing, between meh and yeah! Sometimes your idea, data or strategy are great but you are just not the right person to tell the story. Things you can use to reinforce your ethos: your stage presence, tone of voice, referencing and crediting others, display of professional achievements, academic titles.

“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character, when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.”

Video: does this meeting look familiar?

3. Pathos (Greek for ‘emotion’) is about appealing to the audience’s feelings. Pathos describes your ability to evoke the audience’s emotions and strategically connect these emotions to elements of your speech. By making such emotional connections, your audience will be more likely to agree with your argument and respond to your call-to-action. Things you can use to reinforce your pathos: vivid storytelling, a more engaging delivery, humor, looking for common ground, strong visuals, quotes, using metaphors to convey complex concepts, sharing a vision.

Persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions.

Video: one inch at the time.

Inform, convince or persuade: which will it be?

Additional information. Aristotle’s Rhetoric is an ancient Greek treatise on the art of persuasion, dating from the 4th century BC. It is considered the single most important work on persuasion ever written.