Ethos, Pathos, Logos: The Ancient Way To Appeal To Your Audience

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It’s easy these days to bring people to your website and look credible. You can spend all of your money on ads to send traffic to your site. Hire a designer and photographer to take photos of you wearing suits for your social media account. Write your own reviews (yes people really do it). But if you solely focus on “looking” credible, without actually being a valuable source of information, people will sooner or later spot the cracks in your image and scratch your name from their list of influencers to follow.

In ancient times, people didn’t have social media and the internet, as you can imagine. They actually had to talk to others to convince them of their theory and point of view – definitely not a good time to be an introvert. But precisely because of this openness, our ancestors developed enviable persuasion skills.

This brings us back a few hundred years in time – the 4th-century BCE to be more precise. When Aristotle wrote the Rhetoric.1 Probably the oldest handbook on the art of persuasion.

In this old-school text, he presented three means of persuasion – still used today – that an orator must rely on to convince others of his rightfulness: ethos, pathos, and logos. Also called Aristotle’s modes of persuasion.

And although these three techniques are mostly mentioned for improving your speech skills, ethos, pathos, and logos (plus the less-used kairos) can help you in every aspect of your life, not just when you’re about to give a TED talk.2

Yes, this also includes convincing someone of the opposite sex that you’re cool.

So, make sure to check these persuasion strategies and add them to your portfolio of skills if you have issues proving to others that you’re right.

What are Ethos, Pathos, and Logos?

Simply put, ethos, pathos, and logos are persuasive techniques – usually used together – that can help you convince people that what you are saying is worth listening to.

Here’s a quick definition of ethos, pathos, and logos:

  • Ethos (authority): The reason you’re worth listening to. What makes you an authority figure. Your past achievements.
  • Pathos (emotions): Emotionally connecting with your audience by speaking passionately, instilling fear, or provoking sympathy.
  • Logos (logic): What texts or logic supports what you’re saying? Mentioning facts, statistics, researches will convince others of your arguments.
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Combined, these three help you create an irresistible story that can convince even the loudest online haters that you’re a credible source of information.

And there’s a good reason people use them together, not separately.

If you mostly talk about yourself and your achievements (ethos) without trying to provoke some sort of emotion (pathos) or understanding of the needs of others, the people listening will consider you a selfish bastard and flee.

But not only that.

Say you share just the right amount of info about you (ethos) and also make others cry by tinkering with their emotions (pathos). If your story is not backed by any facts (logos) people will think that you’re full of shit and also stop listening.

Or in other words, you need to think of ethos, pathos, and logos as three ingredients of a cocktail. You need the right “dosage” of each for the persuasion to work.

Why We Need Ethos, Pathos, and Logos?

Well, there are a lot of reasons we need these modes of persuasion in our lives and the skill to convince others in our words in general:

  • You’re about to give a speech in front of others.
  • You want to start your own blog.
  • You’re writing a book.
  • You’re selling something.
  • You want your boss to raise your salary.

In all of these cases, knowingly or not, you’re convincing other people to listen to what you’re saying. And hopefully, take some sort of action.

Even in everyday occasions, like speaking with your friends about politics or trying to convince your wife that it’s her turn to wash the dishes, again, you’re still in a persuading mode.

“But my boss is a pragmatic person and he doesn’t need convincing,” you might say.

Wrong.

By default, we’re emotional creatures. If you think that by simply sharing how hard you work, you’ll convince your manager that he should give you an extra thousand, you’re thinking wrong.

Giving good reasoning won’t cut it. You need to use all three techniques to position your idea as appealing so others can later share your talk with their own fan base, buy your services, or get a salary increase.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos Examples And How To Apply Them

Let’s dive deeper into these 3 modes of persuasion so you can become a world-class persuader:

1/ Ethos

Ethos Definition

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Why books start with “about the author” section? Why speakers introduce themselves before disclosing their topic?

Simple.

If you’re about to listen to a talk on health and fitness but the speaker is nowhere near being in good physical shape you’ll question his findings.

Or in other words, ethos is about establishing yourself as trustworthy. To explain to others, verbally and not, that you have experience in the field. That way the audience won’t question your findings and will put blind trust in what you’re saying.

Ethos Examples

  • The most basic example of ethos is when in a toothpaste commercial the narrator mentions that 9 out of 10 dentists use and recommend this specific brand.
  • If you’re attending a conference, the first part of the speech is about building rapport. The presenter shares his past achievements, experiences, the major deeds he made. Basically, why you should give a damn about his slides.
  • In the online world is listing all of your achievements, mentioning testimonials, the positive reviews of people who used your services, plus, designing beautiful pages on your site.

How to Establish Ethos

If you’re about to speak on an event, don’t assume that people will know what you’re all about. Take a few minutes to explain who you are and what you do.

But that’s only part of the work you need to do.

In addition, you have to dress appropriately. Jeans and a t-shirt can be OK if you’re speaking in front of tech nerds (no offense) but it won’t be the right outfit if you’re presenting in front of CEOs and corporate investors. Or in other words, know your audience before going on stage.

And if you have a website and if you want to convince people to get your product, you have to do a lot of things.

You need to add a picture of you, include testimonials, share why the product is worth checking, explain how it will change their lives. Everything is important. Even the speed of your site. If it takes more than 3 seconds for your page to load the elements people will close the page and never return.

2/ Pathos

Pathos Definition

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Can you recall the best speech you have attended or watched online?

Why it was good?

Was it because the author shared a bunch of scientific data or because he made you laugh (or cry)?

Most probably the latter.

Pathos is probably the most important part of the persuasion game. If your lecture is dry, people will get bored. That’s why you need to connect with others on an emotional level to get them to listen.

So, the definition of pathos will be along these lines: Using humor, empathy, even anger, to convey your message. This will create an emotional response in the people listening and make your story more pleasurable. It’s like spicing a dish.

Pathos Examples

  • Pathos is often used by charity organizations. They add footage of small children who are living in extreme conditions to evoke pity in people.
  • In a speech, you can provoke sympathy by sharing a story where something bad happened (or good or funny). For example, in a famous TED talk, BJ Miller shares his story of electrical current passing through his body.3
  • If you have a site, writing like an academic won’t appeal to the masses. You need to share personal stories to connect with others. For example, the author and blogger Mark Manson is famous for his extensive use of the F word. To some, his writing sounds cynical but millions of people love the way he writes.

How to Establish Pathos

It starts with choosing the type of emotion you want to infect others with.

Want people to buy a course about building a business?

Inspire them.

Want to increase the donations for your cause?

Share something highly emotional.

And how do you do all of this?

By telling stories.

Most people still think that storytelling is solely about reading fairytales to your children before going to bed but it’s more than that. If you master the ability of storytelling, you’ll dominate your audience.

Remember, at its core, pathos is about forming some sort of sensation in the people listening. Stop for a moment and figure out what type of emotion goes well with what you want to say. Then, think of a story that can reinforce your statement.

3/ Logos

Logos Definition

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If I want to understand how black holes are formed I can probably hear the take of an Instagram influencer. But for what use?

If I’m really interested in the field, I’ll find adequate resources based on scientific researches. My first stop will be the NASA website or the Kurzgesagt YouTube channel.

That’s what logos is all about – the proof, the logic behind the argument.

Virtually anyone can share his thoughts about wormholes and black holes. But our opinion won’t mean a lot until there is evidence backing our words, plus, logic behind our words.

What you’re saying should make sense, sound logical, and also be based on some sort of proof if you want others to take you seriously.

Logos Examples

  • Logos is the most used tool by lawyers. If you’re a prosecutor and you’re trying to prove in court that the suspect committed the crime you’ll add evidence to build your case: fingerprints, the alibi (or the lack of alibi), a clear motive, and an expressed desire to commit the robbery.
  • In a talk, except mentioning their sources, people add specific details: dates, exact numbers, slides that explain the data. This makes the presentation more trustworthy.
  • Online, people use the logos mode to describe the facts in a straightforward way. For example, publishers add links to their source but instead of directly quoting the findings, they use words that will be more appealing to their audience.

How to Establish Logos

Ask yourself the following question when thinking about logos: “Why people should believe in what I’m saying?”

If you’re selling something, you can add before and after pictures. To share success stories from real customers. Testimonials from other people.

These are all proof that your product is working.

Additionally, you can follow the famous, mentioned by everyone online, syllogism reasoning framework: “All men are mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.”4

In your case it will be something like: My product is helping people struggling with X. You’re struggling with X yourself? My product will help you.


My personal opinion will be to tackle each one of the modes individually, at first. Especially if you’re preparing for a talk or crafting a sales page on your site. Once you have a separate message for ethos, pathos, and logos, group them together to create one strong thesis.

Some Closing Thoughts

Peter Gould famously stated: “Data can never speak for themselves.”5

Even if you have all the data in the world to explain something, you need more than plain facts to deliver your message and be understood. You need good verbal skills, the ability to express yourself, understanding of your audience and a strategy to connect with others on an emotional level.

Thankfully, we have the ethos, pathos, logos framework. This ancient persuasion strategy created more than 2000 years ago still works and can make you a smoking-hot orator, and not only.


Footnotes:

  1. The following articles outline the main concepts of Aristotle’s Rhetoric: Aristotle’s Rhetoric.
  2. The 4th, Kairos, which I don’t know why people don’t share often is about creating a sense of urgency. To convince others to act now.
  3. It’s surely a must-watch TED talk. BJ Miller talks about how suffering is part of the deal to be alive. See my list of best TED talks.
  4. You can read more about syllogism in the following wiki article, here.
  5. This is a quote from an article called Letting the Data Speak for Themselves.
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