Logos; Ethos; Pathos; the foundations, the basics of effective speaking – (and don’t neglect Mythos)

There are great speakers, just like there are great writers, and athletes, and leaders, and actors, and…  And, sometimes, those great ones do something really out of the ordinary in their greatness; something that no one else can quite match.

But, in reality, that is rare.

Often, greatness is seen in getting the basics right.  Perfectly right.  The basics, the foundational principles and practices; these really matter.

Last Friday, I lead my latest session of my Executive Public Speaking workshop.  And near the beginning, I taught the basics.  Some in the group did not know these.  Others “knew” them, but maybe had not thought about them in a while.

They are always worth re-visiting.Ethos; logos; pathos

Aristotle (384–322 BC) wrote of the absolute necessity of “finding the available means of persuasion.”  And he wrote especially of three primary means of persuasion. 

#1 — Logos– “word” – the “Logical” Appeal — (the content of the argument) – the speaker makes sense!

#2 — Ethos– the “Ethical” Appeal — the character of the speaker; creates believability, credibility – the speaker is trustworthy.

#3 — Pathos– the “Emotional” Appeal — the passion of the speaker – he/she really believes this! (And, an appeal to, a tapping into, the emotional concerns of the audience) – the speaker has a heart; and connects to the heart of others.

So, as a speaker, it helps to always ask these questions:

Concerning Logos:  Is my message logical?  Does it make sense?  Is it accurate to what we know to be true, and reliable?

Concerning Ethos:  Am I a person to be trusted?  Am I credible?  Have I developed expertise that others can rely on to be true?

Think of this:  would you hire just anyone who has a sharp knife to perform needed surgery, or would you want an accomplished surgeon?

There is also this element to Ethos: Quintilian (c. 35 – c. 100 AD) said that an orator (a practitioner of rhetoric; a speaker) was “a good man speaking well.”  The character of the speaker matters.  Expertise, from a person who is a person of good character, speaking a message to you for your own good.  In other words, the speaker intends goodwill towards the audience.

Concerning Pathos:  Does the speaker really believe his/her message?  Is their heart in it.  Is there an emotional connection?

There is also this aspect of pathos: is the speaker appealing to emotion that mattes to the audience?  An appeal to fear; hope; anger; loss/sadness?  These all valid appeals for the speaker.

These are the basics:
make sense with logos;
be trustworthy with ethos;
touch the heart with pathos.

And there is a fourth “available means of persuasion.”  This one does not come from Aristotle.  We’re not sure who first wrote of it.  But it is powerful.  It is mythos – the “Narrative” appeal — the overarching, ongoing, shared story.

I teach my students and workshop participants that mythos is the use of the overarching story; the story that everyone believes; that everyone recognizes as “this is our story.”

Martin Luther King, Jr. was a master of all of these, but especially a master in his use of mythos.  He basically said, in speech after speech, “Hey, America, live up to your promised story.” Here is one line from his last speech, “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop:”  All we say to America is, “Be true to what you said on paper.” In other words, “live up to the truth of your story, America!”

Get these four right, and you have a genuine shot at having a very effective message.  These are foundational– the true basics of effective speaking.

How effectively do you deliver on these four basics?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *