If you want to create a compelling fundraising pitch, persuasive business presentation, or inspiring TED talk, where do you start? There are literally thousands of books, blogs, and videos on the subject. In fact, there’s so much, it can all feel a bit… overwhelming.
Wouldn’t it be good if there was a way to make it all simpler?
In many ancient cultures, the nature and complexity of all matter were explained by breaking it down into simpler substances. They used the four elements: water, earth, fire, and air. OK, we now know that it’s actually more like 118 chemical elements, but it is still limited.
And this isn’t restricted to the natural world.
If you stop to think about it, all the books ever written in the English language have been created using the same 26 letters of the alphabet. All chords and melodies in western music, composed from just 12 different notes. And all the paintings, throughout the world, created from just three primary colors, red, yellow, and blue.
Given a set number of building blocks, it’s possible to create an almost infinite number of variations.
So, what if we want to create the perfect pitch? Is there a set of building blocks we can use to create it?
The fab four
It turns out that all the great pitches, speeches, and presentations in history were created using just four basic building blocks. They were first identified and documented more than two thousand years ago, by the Greek philosopher Aristotle. And they’ve formed the basis of 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 pitch into an opportunity to inform, convince and persuade your audience.
Greek for ‘word’, ‘reason’, and the root of the English word ‘logic’, Logos appeals to the audience’s rationality. It’s the basic ingredient of your pitch – 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. ‘I don’t get it’, is a sure sign that you need to clarify and simplify your logos. 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 trouble of personally live-demo-ing every single product?
“Persuasion is clearly a sort of demonstration since we are most fully persuaded when we consider a thing to have been demonstrated.” Aristotle
Ethos, Greek for ‘character’, appeals to the audience’s sense of honesty and/or authority. It’s about being trustworthy and credible – like in the English word ‘ethical’. 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 is crucial in all of your dealings with investors: as the CEO of the company, they need to trust you have the skills, connections, and competence to grow a successful business. That’s why investors expect the CEO to give the pitch: they need to see living proof, they need to trust you.
Sometimes your idea, data, or strategy is great, but you’re just not the right person to tell the story. Ethos is the difference between a pitch that’s informing and one that’s convincing, between meh and yeah!
Things you can use to reinforce your ethos: a display of professional achievements, academic titles, affiliations to respected institutions, important collaborators, but also your stage presence and tone of voice.
“Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.” Aristotle
Pathos is the Greek word for ’emotion’, like in the word ’empathy’. It’s about appealing to your audience’s feelings, evoking their emotions, and strategically connecting 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.” Aristotle
Kairos is perhaps the most important component, and also the most difficult to apply. Kairos is the ancient Greek word for ‘right, critical, opportune moment’. Like an archer preparing to fire an arrow, it takes more than a bow, technique, and strength: there is only one instant, a fleeting moment when an opportunity to shoot appears; shoot too early or too late and you’ll miss the target. But get the timing right, and you cannot miss.
You need to get the timing right to present the different elements in your pitch. Know when to show the data and when to create an emotional connection, when to create urgency and when to establish trust.
But most importantly, you need to get the right timing to position your innovation. Because having a good idea is not enough. It’s your job to show your audience that you have a good idea—and convince them that now is the right time for it to flourish.
“There are no bad ideas in tech – only bad timing.” Marc Andreessen, a16z