Modes of Persuasion: Introduction to Ethos


Aristotle defined the three modes of persuasion: ethos, pathos, and logos.  In order for your message or your content to persuade others, your idea must appeal to the emotions and logic of your audience, and you must express your character and credibility to that audience.  From Ancient Greece to Orlando, Florida in 2012, these three modes of persuasion ring true for any and every presentation.

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Ethos is a Greek word meaning “character.”  In public speaking and presentation, ethos is the character and credibility of the presenter.  In his influential text, On Rhetoric, Aristotle defines ethos and explains the importance of this appeal.  Aristotle says ethos is comprised of three categories: 1) phronesis – skills and practical wisdom; 2) arete – virtue; and 3) eunoia – kindness and goodwill toward the audience (Source).  Nancy Duarte explains ethos in her book resonate.  Duarte says the point of ethos, the ethical appeal, is to “garner respect through credibility and character” (Source).  This means that ethos lies in the minds of the audience, so the presenter must remember to analyze what the audience needs in order for that presenter’s ethos to be successful.

Andrew Dlugan of Six Minutes considers ethos, pathos, and logos “the three pillars of public speaking.” He explains ethos perfectly in “What is Ethos? Why is it Critical for Speakers?”  Dlugan says an audience will measure ethos in four categories: trustworthiness, similarity (to the audience), authority, and reputation/expertise (Source).

We can also think of ethos as proof of your ability to lead your audience.  Leadership is best defined in John C. Maxwell’s 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership: Follow Them and People Will Follow You.  Maxwell’s book includes laws such as the Law of Influence; the Law of Navigation; the Law of Respect; and the Law of Magnetism among 17 others.  Pick up your copy of Maxwell’s amazing leadership text here to develop your ethos.

Now that you know what ethos is, prepare yourself for an in-depth analysis of the first mode of persuasion.  This week, we will examine ethos in many mediums: pop culture, television advertising, print advertising, and, most importantly, public speaking.  We will dissect ethos in all three legs of the presentation stool: speech content, delivery, and visual presentation.

What do you most hope to learn about ethos this week?  What questions do you have so far about the first mode of persuasion?


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